While the Jewish people are pepping their spirits in celebration of Israel’s 60th birthday, the hype has begun to overshadow serious talk about the perils facing the Jewish state. âNot now,â we think; after all the struggles, pause to celebrate is a tremendous relief.
The mood shifted though, when Rabbi-cum-Dr. Daniel Gordis, who has long been my Zionist exemplar, stopped by Sinai Temple April 2, during a Shalem Center business trip and delivered an ominous message.
Since I first read his dispatches in high school, Gordis has always seemed to me a man full of hope, someone for whom “Lech L’cha” was not mere verse but a commandment; someone who loves Israel romantically but isnât afraid to ask her hard questions, who craves peace but knows too well the reality of living in a region that does not.
His speech, delivered eloquently and with animation was uncompromising in its content. The greatest threat to Israelâs future he said, is neither Hamas nor Hezbollah terrorism, not the Arab-Israeli conflict, or even the existential threat to Israelâs existence posed by a nuclear Iran (though that threat is real). Instead, it is the combination of these hostile elements affecting international discourse, and serving to erode the very idea that the existence of a Jewish state is a good idea at all.
He aired a concatenation of multilateral hostilities towards the State of Israel, from international degradation to Israeli civilian apathy; from Walt and Mearsheimer’s smear on the America-Israel relationship to Ahmadinejadâs unchallenged hate speech. More frightening than any imminent danger, he said, is that these disparaging and confused sentiments have begun to take root in Israel herself, at her newspapers and universities, in her homes and among her people.
But the couple of Israelis I spoke to this weekend said they didnât buy that message. âIsraelis arenât afraid of getting killed by a bomb,â a young woman pronounced at the Shabbat table. Nuclear threat or not, Israel will âtake care of itâ and life will go on. Realizing that they live in Tel Aviv, where the party never stops and not in Sderot, where the rockets never stop, curtailed my wanting to believe them.
Gordis the hard core Zionist compared the status of Zionism with the dusty dissolution of Communism in Russia, something that began as a great idea but lost gravity and disappeared.
A man who was once hopeful is now fueled by desperate determinism. Israel will survive until 2048 because âit has to.â
He didn’t bother to sugar coat his message for the Sinai Temple crowd or its rabbi, David Wolpe, whose discomfort and despondency took turns realigning the lineaments of his face. Gordis drove a hard reminder about the status of world Jewry when there was no Jewish state. True, Jewish life in America is quite nice, but imagine what would happen to Jewish liturgy, to say nothing of Jewish life, if there was no Israel to pray for?
Whether you believe in the doomsday message or not, itâs clear that the Gordis who chose the Israel of 1998 is a changed man, and the Israel that lured him there is no longer a fledgling country, but a world power facing unique challenges and called upon to make difficult decisions.
The question is then, what should the Jewish community do? Ignore the fact that the worldâs largest Jewish population may soon live in the crosshairs of a nuclear-armed country led by a president who makes no secret of his ultimate aims? Deny that Sderot is a possible microcosm for what might happen when those same terrorist groups have greater destructive capabilities? Tell ourselves that because Tel Aviv is fine, everything else is—and that if we keep going, believing and praying it will one day be alright?
When there is no easy answer, or any answer at all, living a Jewish life makes Israel not a dream or an idea, but a necessary reality.