Israel Struggles
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Israel Struggles

Israel Struggles

If there were justice in the world, Israel would be seen as a role model among the nations.

by

This is the text of the speech given by the British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Saks at the Finchley Road Synagogue on Yom Haatzmaut 5765/2005

 

Not lightly does the Torah give the name Israel to our people, for it means "you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed." To be a Jew, to be a member of the people Israel, has always been a struggle, sometimes with God, sometimes with our fellow human beings. But that is our destiny, our call, our task...

The American writer Milton Himmelfarb once said that we are a tiny people, but great things happen around us and to us. Already before the 20th century Jewish history was recognized as unique: by Pascal, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Tolstoy. Little could they have known that some of its most dramatic chapters were yet to be written:

The Shoah, the attempt once and for all to silence the Jewish voice and eliminate the Jewish presence. Yom Hazikaron, when we remember those who fell in Israel's defense as they discovered that the Jewish people still has to fight for the right to be, to exist, to have one place on earth where we can defend ourselves. Yet out of the depths of those very tragedies came two of the greatest moments in 2000 years of history, Yom Ha'atzmaut -- the restoration of Jewish sovereignty after 1900 years, and Yom Yerushalayim, the return to the ancient and holy city, home of the Jewish heart, focus of all our prayers, embodiment of all our hopes.

Yet once again Israel is under attack, after four years of a savage, ceaseless, brutal onslaught of terror. At the very moment that terror is being contained, Israel is facing a new attack -- a systematic campaign of delegitimization and demonization among the media, non-governmental organizations, university teachers, and perhaps even among the churches -- as if the cause of peace, or justice, or reconciliation, or coexistence were served by listening to only one voice in the conversation, one side in the conflict.

No one summed up the irony of our present situation better than Amos Oz. "in the 1930s our enemies said: Jews to Palestine. Now they say: Jews out of Palestine. They don't want us to be here. They don't want us to be there. They don't want us to be." Why?

Why, after 57 years and more of seeking peace, is Israel still seen as the aggressor?

Why, after ten years of negotiation, in which the Palestinians were offered their own state in all of Gaza, 97% of the West Bank, with a capital in East Jerusalem, is Israel still seen as the sole obstacle to peace?

Why, in a world in which there are 57 Islamic states and something like 100 Christian ones, is the desire of the Jewish people to have just one state of its own seen as -- God forbid -- racist, exclusionary, retrograde?

Why, when Israel occupies a quarter of one percent of the land mass of the Arab world, is it deemed to be Goliath against David?

Why, alone among the almost 200 nations that comprise the United Nations, is Israel the only one whose very right to be is still called into question?

Why is Israel blamed for almost every problem afflicting the 21st century?

Why is the Israel-Palestinian conflict seen by one European public after another as the greatest threat to world peace, when anyone with the most rudimentary understanding of the contemporary world knows full well that were -- God forbid -- Israel to cease to be, not one of those problems of the world would be changed by a millimeter. There would still be conflict in Kashmir, Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Sudan, Algeria, and Zimbabwe. There would still be global warming, poverty, illiteracy, disease. Most people of the world would still be deprived of the most basic freedoms and human rights. All that would have happened is that the bravest experiment of modern times -- the introduction of freedom and democracy into a corner of the Middle East -- would have failed, and with it the hopes of many peoples, not just our own.

Why is Israel blamed for almost every problem afflicting the 21st century? Why is its very existence held up as the explanation for the underachievement, inequality, and lack of human rights in other countries? When the Tsunami occurred, with its devastating loss of life throughout the Indian Ocean, here was a disaster for which Israel could not be blamed. But it was. Within days a religious teacher let it be known that it was caused by Israel's program of nuclear testing. When it comes to hate, the capacity for self-delusion knows no bounds.

Why, when the whole history of the 20th century tells us what happens when hate is unchecked, when lies are told in the media as truth -- as they were in the case of Jenin --when universities discriminate against this group or that, do these things still happen?

Do we still -- after 60 years of Holocaust education, anti racist legislation, and interfaith activity -- have to defend the right of the Jewish people to be?

All too often, in defense of Israel against defamation, we have had to stand alone. No people should be left to face hate alone. As Martin Luther King said, "In the end we will remember, not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends."

You shall be called Israel, for you have wrestled with God and with men.

Consider the five overriding problems that will face humanity in the 21stcentury:

The environment:

Israel was the first country in the modern world to plant trees, not cut them down, to reforest not deforest. Long before ecology had entered the moral imagination, the Jewish people were turning a land that for centuries lay desolate into a landscape of farms and forests and fields.

Asylum seekers:

Israel is the only country other than the United States built out of asylum seekers. They came from 103 different countries, speaking 82 different languages, and out of that global mixture a nation was born.

Terror:

Israel's security fence, so often described as a wall, is the only effective non-violent protection against terror yet devised in this age of global terror.

Economic divisions:

According to Harvard University's Professor of Economic History, David Landes, only one country in the world has moved in fifty years from being a third world economy to a first world one: Israel.

Democratic freedom:

Not only is Israel the only genuine democracy in the Middle East, but it has sustained its democratic freedoms under strains and stresses that would have broken the back of weaker cultures.

If there were justice in the world, Israel, a tiny country of indomitable courage, would be seen as a role model among the nations, not as a pariah among the nations.

We are betrothed to Israel in unbreakable, unshakable loyalty. Nothing will stand between it and our love.

Yet today is a religious moment, and of all the words in the religious vocabulary of Israel, the key one is Emunah. Emunah is usually translated as faith, but it does not mean faith. It means faithfulness, loyalty, not walking away when times are tough. It means being steadfast in our loyalty to our people and our land, the home of all our hopes, the place where long ago the Jewish people was born, and where, within living memory, it has been reborn. Ve-erastich li be-emunah. We are betrothed to Israel in unbreakable, unshakable loyalty. Nothing will stand between it and our love.

Not for nothing were our people and land called Israel. Throughout more than a hundred generations of our history, we have known that to be a Jew involves struggle -- sometimes with our fellow human beings, sometimes with God, sometimes with both. Yet in that very name a momentous hope, a promise, was born -- that though the people Israel must struggle, it will always prevail. That, for the state of Israel, on this its 57th birthday, is our faith and our prayer.

Israel is our hope, our people's freedom and our pride.

Published: April 25, 2009


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Visitor Comments: 10

(9) Cindy, June 6, 2012 9:24 AM

The Prophets Said: A Stiffnecked People

Where is H-Shem in this entire post and in the replies? Do you read the Torah at all? H-Shem constantly refers to His people as stiff necked, refusing to accept rebuke, refusing to seek His face, and instead willfully following their fetishes. Now is no different. How can you lament the treatment and vilification when so many Jews shrug off things like Passover observance? My very first two seders here in NY were with wealthy (stock market) families who refused to find any meaning or common ground with their ancestors and claimed that Judaism was nothing special. In fact, it was a drain on their time, money, and just meaningless routine. I had many horrible experiences with Jews, especially in New York. I was used because I was considered expendable (poor, single mom, and from the "backwards" South) and in fact found myself in the center of the rabbi organs-for-the-rich scandal in the NJ/NY area. Remember that little gem? Politics in the synagogues rob the soul of true meaning. Non-profits lavish wealthy patrons with honors that their personalities do not warrant. It becomes about who got the best reward for donating. Things like that do make society in general think of Jews - and Israel by extension - as an elitist, heartless, money-hungry machine. It turned me away from H-Shem for a few years. Yet, my connection to Torah and my relationship with H-Shem led me to continue down a path to conversion. It turns out I actually may be a born-Jew but that's another story. In the Torah, what happened when the Jews turned back to H-Shem, repented, and asked for His help? He knocked down walls for them, defeated their enemies, and made them to prosper in peace! Does that sound like what you want? Everyone else has the excuse of being normal humans. Jews and Israel are supposed to be the "light unto the nations" but you can't claim to be special while simultaneously negating that specialness. Stop trying to be normal! Just bow down to H-Shem and let Him do His thing!

(8) 3rd party, February 24, 2010 3:11 AM

1/4 of 1% of Arab Land Mass

this tiny little new country ought to be able to live in peace and quite without threats and harassments from arabs.

(7) Beverly Kurtin, April 27, 2009 1:28 PM

The world needs OUR approoval!

Harry Kuperschmidt has asked a wonderful question: “Why are we so obsessed with gaining the world's approval?" It is perhaps one of the most valid questions I have seen asked in a long time. And it is so because we are not obsessed with gaining the world’s approval as much as we are obsessed with what the rest of the world wants: To EXIST AND BE LEFT ALONE. It is the world that is obsessed with undermining us, with delegitimizing us. As PBS’ (Palestinian Broadcasting?) Scott Simon, while talking with Richard Ben Cramer, as self-hating a Jew as I’ve ever heard who had recently written a book called, “How Israel Lost: The Four Questions” asked a question he would have asked of no other country: Is there still a need for Israel? Heavenly Father! Would this Mr. Simon ask is there still a need for Ireland or the United States or Germany or France (a major Muslim country)? No! Of course not. This shows how Mr. Simon views Israel, as a temporary thing that will go away. Later, Mr. Simon apologized, but his subconscious had already told us what he thinks of us and Israel. Which, by the way, is why I would never give so much as a penny to “Public Broadcasting.” As long as they run BBC at night as they do in the Fort Worth/Dallas station, they will never see anything from me and I won’t listen to them. I do not think I have to tell this particular audience why I hold the BBC in disgust. Personally, I do not have to justify myself or ask for the world’s approval. I am a Jew, I am proud to be a member of the only people who have survived for so long in such a vile and despotic world because by being a Jew I am what Israel is: A light unto the nations! We came out of nothing to be one of the world’s most successful economies. We are a beacon of light to the world and the world hates us for it. Why? Don’t ask my brother Harry (all Jews are one) ask one of our greatest foes, Adolph Hitler. Hitler wanted to be rid of us so that the world could return to what they were before we came about: BARBARIANS. He wanted the might to be right. He wanted the strong to overpower the weak. He wanted to do away with what it means to be human, to destroy the human soul and be only animals again. What was preventing that from happening? Us, the Jews, so we had to be destroyed. He said something I find fascinating. He said that if you take one Jewish person with no Jewish training of any kind, the “disease” of goodness, and kindness, and justice would spring out from him or her and once again infiltrate the world. THAT IS WHY WE ARE HATED! We are a light to the nations, we have not only survived but thrived and will never, as long as we are alive, permit the world to be what it wants to be, Animals with no conscious, no justice and no morality or ethics. Let the strong devour the weak…but we won’t let them. I am proud to be hated. And now I ask all Jews to love each other despite their level of Judaic practice. The world hates us and we hate each other. Don’t let that happen! Love each other and then watch what happens. Now, let the world be obsessed with gaining OUR approval. I love all Jews, please be kind to each other.

(6) Anonymous, April 27, 2009 4:45 AM

an excellent speech

This is excellent, it sums up brilliantly Israel's right to survive. I am not Jewish but I am regularly amazed at the extent of hostility towards Jews and Israel. A state of Israel is absolutely necessary - if only because there needs to be somewhere where Jewish people can live if their own country seeks to persecute them.

(5) Beny, April 27, 2009 4:37 AM

"Why?" is the wrong question

The "why" is pretty obvious. Jews have always been the perfect scapegoat for all the world's troubles, and an entire country of Jews to blame for everything is heaven for antisemites, for which they are even willing to pretend that they care for the Palestinians. What bothers me more is the question of what we are going to do with this. Sit idly by? No thanks. Too much trauma from the last time we tried that. The conclusion is already here. I've organized a group of friends and penpals around the world, working together with organizations such as Jerusalem Watchmen (a tad bit too religious for me, but they have more experience) and even government agencies (a joint office of the Foreign Affairs and Absorbtion ministries), and fighting the propaganda in the world media. We leave numerous comments that often turn into heated arguments. We leave our mark on many articles in many sites, and sometimes email editors of particularly infuriating articles. At this point we cover 4 languages apart from Hebrew: English, Russian, Ukranian, and German. We need more people, however, with enough time on their hands to cover more parts and languages of the world. Especially needed are Arabic and French, but also other European languages (Scandinavian languages especially) and if someone knows some asian language, like Chinese, that would be wonderful. If anyone is able and willing, please contact me at chebky@gmail.com Beny Falkovich, Rehovot, Israel

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