Last Friday night I had the honor of speaking on behalf of the Consulate General of Israel in Glendale, CA at Temple Sinai’s service celebrating Israel’s independence. I debated whether to give the typical rah-rah, rally-the-troops kind of speech that one normally hears in synagogues on that day, and decided in the end to be as honest as possible about the disturbing, almost depressing current state of affairs in the Middle East. However, I remain optimistic that Israel will continue to prevail and to prosper.
From my outsider’s perch, Israel is clearly the most important contemporary Jewish issue. It is the embodiment of the yearning of generations of Jews for just one place on earth where they could be left alone to prosper and thrive. [Thankfully, there are now at least two places on earth where Jews can do this – the United States and Israel]. It is also the embodiment of the Abrahamic covenant, and of the covenant that God made with the Israelites at Sinai. Israel is active, not passive Judaism, and it is a modern miracle. How anyone who is familiar with the establishment and survival of this tiny Jewish state amidst dozens of countries who want to destroy it can doubt the existence of the God of Israel is beyond me. When I walk the streets of Jerusalem, I feel closer to God. When I pick up a Hebrew newspaper, I marvel that an ancient language has been revived, and is now used to run a modern stock exchange, a nuclear reactor, world-class hospitals, and high-tech companies.
I have traveled to more than a dozen European countries in the last two years to give pro-Jewish speeches in many languages because I feel that it is necessary. I’m very worried about anti-Semitism in Europe and Latin America, and believe that there is a direct correlation between someone’s willingness to identify himself as “pro-Jewish” and his level of support for Israel, regardless of nationality. I cringe whenever I hear a Jew say that a social or political issue is the preeminent Jewish one of our time. Whatever a Jew’s political beliefs may be, the welfare of a Jewish state with almost 6 million of his coreligionists has to trump them, at least as a Jewish issue.
Things are looking rather bleak for Israel right now, and it’s time for its supporters to circle the wagons. I shared with the Friday night audience some words of advice that a Jewish man gave me when I first started working in the Jewish community. I told him that many Mormons had asked me how to they could convince their Jewish friends that they too were members of the House of Israel. Did he have any advice? He quickly responded that it was not important whether Jews believed it – it was important that Mormons did. If Mormons strongly believe that they are Israelites, and this belief causes them to show great love towards Jews and to respect Judaism, what Jew is going to fault them for believing this? Similarly, supporters of Israel need to show their support for the country and to have that support translate into action. It’s always a beautiful thing to see this dynamic at work.
Israel at 63 needs our prayers. My prayer is that the country’s 64th independence day anniversary will find Israel and the other countries in the region living in peace. In the likely event that that does not happen, I’ll settle for seeing many previously apathetic Israel supporters mobilized for the tough times that lie ahead. I encouraged the worshipers at Temple Sinai to become ambassadors for Israel and for Judaism, and they responded positively to my challenge. The establishment of the State of Israel is one of the greatest physical evidences of God’s existence, and more people of all faiths need to be saying this. Here’s to hoping that more people around the world will listen.