I have been back in the United States for three weeks, and was asked to write about my feelings concerning Israel now that I’ve come home and allowed them to wash over me.
Returning to see the overwhelming support for Israel that this community possesses is extraordinary, and I’ll tell you why.
Israel unites us. Not merely as a community, but as Jews.
We grow up learning about the land and its legends. It is mythical. It is holy – the fields where heroes overcame impossible odds, the mountains where prophets communicated to G-d, and the days of glory when our people returned to win a country of our own.
Slogging through swamps, fertilizing the deserts, creating innovations to share with the world – and all within the storms of war in a region in constant turmoil. Israel is our nation. Israel unites us.
But Israel’s detractors do not know this, nor do they care to know, because many, if not most, have never been to Israel. They claim to “read books” and walk into arenas of various sorts touting their radical nonsense, fueled by emotion and not reason.
Some may call for a Palestinian “right of return,” or Israel’s complete elimination, but they see nothing more than the real estate. They have not seen the Israeli culture for themselves, and how the state has striven to form a unique identity in the eyes of the world, with Jews, Arabs, and Christians living together democratically.
They scream their political ideals by the roadsides, and post anti-Semitic slander on social media. They hide their hatred behind the curtain of first amendment rights and scream powerful words like “Genocide” and “Apartheid” with no consideration for the actual meaning of the words.
To support Israel means looking beyond political dogma. Jews are introspective, and we develop our own personal connections by going there and seeing the Israeli culture for ourselves with eyes wide open.
So I have a challenge for Israel’s detractors: Go to Israel. Go and establish your own bond.
Fear not, for this is not a message from the Ministry of Tourism, but you might be surprised by how easily accessible Israel is, and how warm the welcome you’ll receive there is.
Most Israelis speak English, and so it is very simple to navigate the buses, the Jerusalem light rail, and the new commuter trains that run throughout the country.
To know Israel takes work, countless hours of reading, understanding, learning the language, and above all developing the kind of soul that may absorb every possible feeling felt when walking Tel Aviv’s streets or camping in the Negev.
I ask nothing more of Israel detractors than I have not already undertaken coming to know Israel in my own ways. I’ve traveled from the North to the South – I hiked, swam, walked, ate, and many other of the usual activities associated with travel.
But travel to me is nothing unless you converse with the people you encounter. In my explorations, I found Israelis to be congenial, wanting to know my entire life story in the span of one bus ride from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and upon departing the bus I was invited to a home for Shabbat.
I met young people in the military. Some of the boys had not even started shaving, yet they carried their rifles and wore their uniforms with unconquerable confidence. One of my rides from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv took place on a Thursday night just as soldiers were going home for the weekend. Boarding a bus with 30 heavily armed Israeli soldiers, I had never felt safer.
So what is it about Israel that we love so much?
I think to be Jewish and to love Israel are one and the same. While others may disagree, hear me out.
To paraphrase somewhat Elie Wiesel’s sentiments, Israel is above politics. It is mentioned 600 times in our scriptures. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a strip of land by the Mediterranean Sea.
Israel is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain or define in our 21st century world.
When a Jew visits Israel for the first time, it is a homecoming. The first songs we are taught in our Hebrew schools or Shabbats are about Israel and a promise made to our people thousands of years ago. Today, Israel – her sadness and her joys – are part of our collective Jewish memory.
Israel is the embodiment and testament to Tikkun Olam – healing the world – providing groundbreaking innovations in numerous fields. And one day we might dare to dream of an Israel that may be allowed to live in a region that accepts the Jewish State’s existence, so that Israelis may spend more energy solving world problems and less energy worrying about the safety and defense of its citizens.
Indeed, we are beyond fortunate to live in a time where an Israel, our Israel, can exist. It exists for us, for the thousands of Jews who still experience persecution today in places such as the Ukraine and France. It exists as the re-birth for our people, who have endured innumerable hardships throughout history.
Jews have a duty to support Israel in the name of the millions since the start of the Diaspora who lived without it, and perished wanting nothing more than to see a State of their own.
As we approach High Holidays, we will sing our songs and prayers to commemorate a new year and atone for the sins of the past one. Either in your communion to G-d, or in your silent moments of meditation, I implore you to think about what the nation of Israel faces today.
Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, Iran, Islamic-Jihad, the list goes on, but just as it has in the past, Israel endures – in so many ways persevering because of supportive efforts by communities such as ours, reinforcing Israel as our homeland and giving back to it in any way we can.
To quote Elie Wiesel, “If the only prayer you say throughout your life is ‘thank you’ then that will be enough.”