November 16, 2012
Pogroms interrupted: The era of Jews fighting back
As I’ve been watching images of Hamas rockets falling on Israel, I’ve asked myself: If Hamas had the ability to murder thousands of Jews, wouldn’t they? And if Israel didn’t have a strong army, wouldn’t we surely witness another pogrom?
Since the destruction of the Second Temple some 2,000 years ago, has there been a more physically abused people than the Jews?
How many Crusades and Inquisitions and pogroms have been recorded where Jews were virtually helpless to defend themselves?
Oh sure, we always managed to survive and pull through. We were strong with our values, our Torah, our culture and our wits in adapting to whatever limits were imposed on us.
But physically? We were always at the mercy of our landlords.
My ancestors in Morocco survived only because they knew their place. You never heard of a Moroccan Jew fighting for the same rights as Moroccan Arabs. Jews were the dhimmis, the second class citizens of the state. And still, there were stories of pogroms against Moroccan Jews.
The physical abuse of Jews reached its darkest and most murderous hour with the Holocaust.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say you have to reach your own bottom before you can turn things around. Well, the Holocaust was our absolute bottom.
Perhaps not coincidentally, within a few years we were blessed with our own sovereign state. What would happen now? Would our enemies still come after us?
Indeed they did, but this time, something weird happened.
The Jews fought back.
A ragtag band of Jews fought mano a mano against five invading Arab armies and won.
That miraculous victory saved Israel and signaled a new era in the story of the Jews.
The era of Jews Fighting Back.
We’ve been in that era now for 64 years, and the truth is, we’ve become pretty good at it.
This has shocked our enemies. After 2,000 years of seeing Jews cower so as not to get slaughtered, they've seen these weak Jews transformed into fighting warriors.
This doesn't seem very “Jewish.”
Even among Jews, this success has created a lot of handwringing and intellectual agony: What shall we do with all this power? Are we using it responsibly? Will it corrupt us?
I have to confess, I’ve had very little agony over this. The Jews’ ability to finally fight back has been a source of great satisfaction for me.
Of course, I’d be a lot happier if we were at peace and didn’t have to fight in the first place-- if we weren’t surrounded by enemies trying to destroy us.
I wouldn’t have to shed tears when I’m alone in my car, thinking of Israel at war, or talk to my daughter in Herzliya about bomb shelters.
But if Israel is destined to live, at least in the near term, surrounded by enemies, what are we to make of this dark circumstance?
Is it possible that all this fighting might be serving an additional purpose, beyond the essential one of defending the country?
As I’ve been reflecting on all this, the thought occurred to me that maybe Israel is more than a country.
Maybe it’s also a statement.
An official statement that says to the world: The Jews will never go away.
This statement of strength after 2,000 years of weakness is so astonishing that it needed a singular, dramatic instrument to make the point.
And what better instrument than a strong country?
A country so powerful it has managed to thrive on so many levels despite being virtually under siege for 64 years.
So, that is my Jewish take on all this ugly fighting: Our enemies need to see, once and for all, that the Jews will never go away.
Maybe only then will there be peace.
The other night, at a Technion event at the home of Frank Lunz, our Consul General, David Siegel, said: “Our enemies have tried for thousands of years to destroy us, but they’ve always failed.”
The difference now is that we’re surviving on our own terms, not by cowering but by holding our heads high.
I’m sure some people will find this tone of defiance a little unseemly, not very nuanced.
But there’s no nuance in hatred. There’s no nuance in the desire to murder Jews. There never has been.
The statement that the Jews will never go away is a statement that must be made. We can thank Israel for making that statement in the most compelling way possible, even at the risk of upsetting a world not used to seeing Jews fight back.
At the Technion event, they played a video showing some of Israel’s global accomplishments, such as finding renewable energy, curing diseases and helping crippled people walk.
We can thank Israel for that statement, too: A world in which the Jews survive is not just good for the Jews, it’s also good for the world.