July 6, 2000
It Would Be Nice if We Did Something
Several years ago, before I became an attorney, the news of Iran's star-chamber proceedings and convictions of Jews would have sent me protesting in the streets. I would have joined - or organized - massive protests, including nonviolent sit-downs at major arteries, like Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles and Park or Lexington Avenue in Manhattan.
Now, because I am an attorney, I will not do that. And I essentially believe that nothing less than that will help these Iranian Jews. I believe that prayers to G-d will not change this verdict. And I am an Orthodox, Torah-observant Jew. There are times when G-d demands action, when He will not do everything Himself. Yes, He may help the action succeed. He may perform miracles to augment the action. But He demands action, not just prayers out of a book.
When Soviet Jews were held in prison, we prayed. We also acted. By all rights, the actions of small numbers of Jews in New York, Los Angeles and other cities need not and should not necessarily have worked. It was G-d's miracle that the actions really made a difference, that they "worked." It was His miracle that the Soviets reacted as they did, that Americans responded as they did, that those who did the actions and performed the actions and perpetrated the actions somehow never really did prison time, while the process unfolded before our eyes that culminated in the liberation of Soviet Jewry and ultimately the fall of communism.
It has ever been true in Jewish practice that action must be accompanied by prayer. Nachshon ben Aminadav had to jump into the Red Sea before it split. Until that moment, while all the tribes argued over who would jump in first, nothing hap-pened to split the sea. Similarly, it took action to enter the Land and to claim it. And, for that matter, when Iranian Jews were threatened with peril in biblical times, their salvation did not come before they took action that included sitting publicly in the streets of Shushan with sackcloth - yes, fasting and praying, but not in a business-as-usual manner. Rather, out on the streets of the main drag, making a national spectacle of themselves.
This is the way - as, philosophically, it should be. If the way to free Jews were as simple as opening a book and reciting some prayers - without doing more - then the whole world, in time, would become a mixed multitude of Jews, terrified into becoming Jewish by seeing that, if one is a Jew, all he must do is to say some prayers, and G-d answers directly.
Well, it does not work like that, not in the post-biblical epoch of hester panim (G-d hiding His face). Certainly, we differ from those who act without prayer, and we understand that action without prayer is like freedom without the Torah's restrictions. The Torah defines freedom, and prayer defines action.But if the dreamers and lovers of Zion had contented themselves with prayer and with the writings of Nahum Syrkin and A.D. Gordon, there would never have been a Jewish state. It was not only the prayers and the writings, but also the actions - including those of the Irgun Tzva'i Leumi (the Irgun), the Lochmei Herut Yisrael (the Sternists of Lechi), and the Haganah - that contributed to the freedom of Israel.So it is about prayer and about action. And the prayer has been coming in droves. But, gevalt, there is no action.
There will be those who say that the prayers alone succeeded or that the press statements succeeded. After all, the 10 sentences were only for prison terms, not death, and only between four and 13 years. That's all. It could have been worse or longer.
Yes. But 13 years ago, it was 1987, and I was still living in Israel, discussing with my wife whether we should stay or return to America. My children were ages 6, 5, and 4. Over the next 13 years, I returned to America, became a rabbi in Los Angeles, helped build a con-gregational community from 10 people to 60 and more, started a yeshiva day school that did not exist and that now educates some 200 kids, went to law school, clerked for a United States Court of Appeals judge in an experience that changed my life, traveled through more than half of Ameri-ca, saw my daughters grow from sweet little girls to extraordinary teenagers, helped bring a son into the world who carries my father's name and who now knows how to handle the Pokémon challenges of life, even as he does mitzvot and learns Torah with me, and figured out how to use a computer. So much happens in 13 years. And therefore the statement "Well, it's only 13 years" is obscene.
If some Jew-hater in Iran had taken away those 13 years of my life, he effectively would have deprived me of some of the most important life experiences I ever would have had. And he would have deprived those who loved me and benefited from my presence - my children, my congregants, my students, my friends.So the frustration factor is great. And, if nothing else, it seems more than ever the time to press for legislation or other action to enable Stephen Flatow of New Jersey to collect the millions of dollars that he was awarded in a federal lawsuit against the government of Iran for its support of terrorism.
Until now, we have been told that it would hurt American foreign relations if Flatow collects his judgment. We also have been told that it would hurt American foreign relations if we move our embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It would be nice if some renewed action on one of these issues would develop from within our community, whether to get Flatow his money or to move that embassy to Israel's capital - just as we put our embassies in the capitals of all other countries, ranging from those in China and the former Eastern bloc to the smallest countries of Africa, the Caribbean, wherever.
It would be nice if, in response to Iran's latest crimes against humanity, we would do something. Not just pray, for G-d's sake.