Published in The Jerusalem Post on September 14, 1997
You ask how we can go on like this, with tragedy after tragedy hitting us daily. You question the wisdom of our move, and yours, to this country, where your sons and grandsons have to serve in the army, and your granddaughters might be attacked by suicide bombers at the mall, G-d forbid. And you challenge me to sharpen my own reasoning for living here, and to reassure you.
Obviously, it’s been a difficult time. Your friend’s daughter was killed on Ben-Yehuda street, about one hour after you finished a lunch meeting at roughly the same spot. One of the navy commandos killed in Lebanon was a friend of a friend, as was the officer killed the following day. That’s our country; when tragedy strikes, everybody knows somebody connected to it in some way. And go figure: my colleague tells me that her son spends his days fighting to get accepted into one or another of the elite and most dangerous army commando units — Duvdevan, Golani, etc.
Why? Wouldn’t it be just as well to grow-up safe and comfortable in North America, you ask me. Well, no. You and I both know that there’s an ideological imperative, tied to a grand historical drama, that draws us here. It’s just hard to wrap oneself around such perspective when the wounds are raw and the pain palpable.
Refreshing our Zionist weltenschlang, then, is part of the healing process, and it’s worth repeating some of the beliefs we hold true, because it’s healthy for us all.
Rebuilding the Jewish people as a nation in its ancestral homeland, after 2000 years of exile and a holocaust that almost decimated us, is a one-time opportunity that can’t be missed. If you will, this is a grandiose joint project between us and G-d. Reclaiming Zion, not Vancouver, is the historic challenge of our people in this generation, and we’re fortunate to be part of it.
Our grandfathers ran away from the Russian army, served in the Polish army, and would’ve been proud that their sons and grandsons can be part of a Jewish army. And had there been thrice-weekly flights from the pale of Jewish settlement to Palestine on a Jewish airline, with or without an absorption basket waiting for them on the other end, they would’ve clawed their way aboard.
We’re doing great things here – absorbing immigrants, growing high-tech crops, inventing better drugs to heal the sick, studying Torah, creating works of art to international acclaim, developing a new Jewish-Israeli literary culture, educating our children in Hebrew, settling the land and rediscovering our relationship with G-d. Most of all, we’re recreating Jewish national ‘arevut’ – concern for one another. That’s why some boys sit on the Lebanese border to defend the rest of us, and we seek to rescue Jews from Addis Ababa to Khazakhstan.
We don’t live here because Jewish life abroad is that bad; because the standard of living here is necessarily so much better (although it is in many ways); or because we haven’t another passport. We’re not refugees. We’re the lucky ones. Pioneers. To put it differently, in theological terms, the twentieth century Jew has got to have a pretty good excuse not to be here. Being here is a mitzvah.
It’s nice to be fulfilled, or answer the Divine call, you counter, but what of the bombs? Defiance is a good part of the answer. We’re a stubborn people says the Bible, and neither malaria-infested swamps, nor Arab armies, nor the psychological warfare waged by Hamas is going to run us off the range. (Remember, that’s what terrorism is – psychological combat. We aren’t scared off the highways despite the horrendously higher death toll).
Bravado, you say? Purpose, I respond. “Those who sow with tears shall reap in joy” (Psalms 126). Whether your beliefs are eschatologically-driven or not, meaning stems from effort and investment. Despair is taboo. We just have to work harder, to be better soldiers, better Jews, better peace negotiators.
Besides, let’s not make ourselves too quickly into martyrs. On balance, life here is good, with opportunity for personal fulfillment and material advancement on par with many western democracies……
Gird your spirits and replenish your soul, Mom, with this charge by Rabbi A.Y. Kook:
Great powers have towered above
to annihilate the Jewish nation…
But its spirit is most sturdy, indestructible
everlastingly tied to the source of creation…
Any people with a grain of human soul
Can only stand in holy fascination,
At the majesty of our return
and splendor of our anticipation.
The prophecies of old
Teach us determination,
And lift our ancient people over obstacles
Towards our destination.