In 1998, Rabbi Daniel Gordis kissed a shiny life in Los Angeles goodbye. He took his wife and two children on a one-way El-Al flight to Israel and has become a fixture there ever since.
The founding dean of American Jewish University’s (then, University of Judaism) Ziegler Rabbinical School is now Senior Vice President of the Shalem Center, and writes extensively about Israeli society and the challenges the Jewish state faces.
Since his U.S. departure, he has written a series of “dispatches” which began as mass emails and have since filled the pages of two books.
His latest missive, “The Shame Of It All” regards recent events in Israel with malcontent, placing culpability with Israel’s national leadership. (I recommend reading it through the link in its full form, instead of what I’ve abbreviated below.)
There were days, and they were not that long ago, when Zionism was about something different. Days when Zionists could articulate what the purpose of Jewish Statehood was, days when Israelis understood that having a state was about changing the existential condition of the Jew. Not anymore.
When you’ve lost the sense that Jewish statehood is about changing the condition of the Jew, and when you can no longer recall that independence was designed (inter alia) to end the era of hunting seasons in which the Jews are the ducks, just because they’re Jews, when any semblance of a Jewish conversation is thoroughly absent from your worldview, it’s hard to say much about why the Jews need a State. It’s hard to say why the high cost of living here (and I don’t mean financial) is worth it. How do you explain to your friends, and to yourself, why you should drive your eighteen year old son to the base where he’ll be inducted, and hope and pray for three long years (or more) that he’ll be OK, if you have no idea why a Jewish State matters?
... you don’t allow yourself to be horrified by the fact that almost 8,000 rockets have been fired at Sderot, that life there has been transformed into hell. You don’t allow yourself to remember that for years, yes seven years, kids (and old kids, sometimes in their teens) have been sleeping in their parents’ rooms, making any kind of normal family life utterly impossible, elementary school kids have been wetting their beds, half the businesses are vacated, more than half the town is empty, the economy doesn’t exist and everyone is scared to death, all the time.
You don’t allow yourself to focus on the fact that this is exactly what Zionism was supposed to prevent. You get so used to it that you don’t see that Jews sitting like ducks, simply waiting to be hit by homemade missiles while the region’s most powerful army sits on the side and polishes its boots, is a bastardization of what Zionism was supposed to be.
When a country’s leadership can’t express a single coherent thought about why the Jews need a State, when its Prime Minister can articulate no agenda for the Jewish State beyond the hope that it will be “a fun place to live” (and look who gleefully cites that interview), you know we’re bankrupt… now, aside from being a marginally Hebrew-speaking version of some benign and characterless country, we can’t remember why we wanted this State to begin with. So we don’t defend it, because we don’t want to hurt their civilians (even though they openly target ours). We don’t want to earn the world’s opprobrium, because our Prime Minister loves being welcomed in foreign capitals. We don’t defend ourselves because we’re no longer sure that it’s really worth the casualties on our side that preventing these attacks on our sovereignty would require.
So we sit. And civilians keep getting targeted, and keep dying. And soldiers die. And Israeli towns become ghost towns. But George Bush most supports us, so we feel better. And the charade with Abu Mazen permits us to continue hallucinating about the possibility of peace, to pretend that the Palestinians aren’t simply an utterly failed people that will never make peace in our lifetimes or those of our children, so we feel even better.
...And before you know it, before your friend has even had five minutes to say anything about his book, all of the Blackberry’s are out, and all the cell phones are being used, because the news has reached us - it’s starting again. There’s been an attack at a yeshiva at the entrance to the city.
In the morning, the papers report the attack, but there’s not a single mention of a response, or even a contemplated response. Of course one will come, but not yet. It will have to get worse first, because a few people killed in Sederot, and a couple of soldiers, and even eight kids from a yeshiva - well, it’s sad, but just for that we’re actually going to start a war?
No, probably not, at least not yet. Because to go to war (or more accurately, to respond to the war that’s been unleashed against you) to defend your citizens, you’d have to be able to articulate why this country still makes any difference. You’ve have to be able to say something about why it was created in the first place. You’d have to have a sense of Jewish history. You’d have to have a vision for the Jews, an agenda for your country. You’d have to be able to see yourself as part of a several thousand year old conversation. You’d have to have some courage. And yes, you’d Âhave to love your people more than you love your office.
... Our Prime Minister doesn’t want to defend Sederot. Or Ashkelon. He doesn’t want to tell Bush that the charade with Abu Mazen is bound to explode, and that when it does, more of us will die. He just wants a country that’s “fun to live in.”