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I Am A Jew — with Israel #679

06/04/2021 11:44:55 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Beha'alotecha
I Am A Jew — with Israel

I am a Jew.

I’ll tell you what that means to me.

Being a Jew connects me with a 4,000-year-old tradition to seek justice within an often-unjust world.

Being a Jew is to draw on a history dating back to the time of slavery in Egypt and reminds me through the DNA of a storied people to ensure that no one under my immediate or extended watch is ever enslaved.

And while many religions teach the importance of pursuing peace and justice, it is my job as commanded by God and guided by tradition to work every day to leave the world better than I found it.

I do not seek reward in a world to come, but rather to make a difference here and now, in sacred pursuit of Tikun Olam, the repair of an often-imperfect world.

In part, that’s what makes me a Jew.

I’ll also tell you what I am not.

I am not an Israeli.

I have never voted in an Israeli election. I have never sent a son or daughter to war against an enemy who thirsts for the destruction of my family, my community and my people.

I have never, been called upon to comfort a relative, friend or neighbor, whose loved one has perished in the bombing of a bus, a pizzeria or a supermarket.

And although I stand with Israel linked by heart and deeply interested in its history, its politics, its conflicts, its victories and its challenges I do not pay taxes there, or know where my nearest bomb shelter is, or lay awake wondering what tomorrow may bring.

Yet, like you, in recent days, I have been watching attacks against Jewish people across the world, as so many influenced by incomplete information condemn Israel, and by extension, the Jewish people.

This is anti-Semitism.

It implies that because I am Jewish, that I am somehow responsible for the actions, legislation and strategies of an independent country, which although I adore it ultimately controls and is responsible for its fate.

Jews attacked while dining in restaurants in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto. Synagogues targeted in Chicago, Miami and Montreal. Swastikas on houses of worship from Florida to Alaska.

The connection is racial. 

Within this country, we have seen crimes against Asian Americans increase since the beginning of the pandemic; Black Lives Matter directs attention toward the targeting of African Americans. I have seen politicians and athletes raise their flags in support of these and other “racialized” groups in America.

But rarely does anyone lift a finger to condemn baseless hatred against Jews.

The political landscape within Israel is complicated. But what other country would allow an organization bent on murder to shower them with rockets without consequence?

Hamas’s militants have fired missiles embedded in nursery schools, day care centers and hospitals, while Israel has attempted to strategically eliminate launch points without loss of human life.

War is never perfect. Yet, in the words of Golda Meir:

“We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”

The shallowness of media coverage the need to compact complex issues has helped redefine the Israeli narrative. We have unfairly been painted as Goliath in ongoing combat against David.

So untrue.

Yet, I do not believe that the troubling wave of anti-Israel tweets and posts especially from college students and other young Americans is based completely on hatred and anti-Semitism. 

This generation is no different from the many that have preceded it. However, I believe that this current wave of anti-Semitism is not based completely on hatred, but rather, in part, upon naïveté.    

And although this current wave of misguided attacks against Jews is extremely disturbing, it does not accurately reflect an America which, at its core, is fair and just.

Still, we are people of action. For if we do not effectively rebalance the narrative, who will?

It is worthy to note to ourselves and to our friends, both in person and virtually, that:

  • Israel is a rare democracy in the region — one of the only nations in the Middle East where men and women enjoy equal status at the voting booth, in the military and behind the steering wheel.
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in Israel are considered the most developed in the Middle East. Tel Aviv is recognized as one of the most gay- and lesbian-friendly cities in the world.
  • Israel is a country where every citizen — including Arab Christians and Muslims — receive free education and health care.
  • Israel is responsible for more medical, environmental and technological advances per capita than, perhaps, any country in the world. Lives are being saved — the environment protected.
  • Israel recognizes its neighbors’ right to exist and longs for peace, but that philosophy is not reciprocated.

Comedian Sarah Silverman came out this week and noted that while she is Jewish, she is not Israeli. Haters on the internet told her otherwise. How interesting that as much as we try to distance ourselves, anti-Semitism follows us.

It is the price from generation to generation of being slightly different, or going against the grain, or choosing the repair of an imperfect world over a world of easy answers.

And while we are ultimately safe in this country, we need to ensure that Israel continues to exist as a haven, which upon the ashes of the Holocaust reminds us that we will not tolerate the systematic killing of our people.

The Torah teaches that we always try to make peace first. But when our adversary is hell bent on our destruction, then we stand our ground.

I am not an Israeli, but I am a Jew. And because I am a Jew, I am linked. That is part of my inherent right to free speech and association.

But it does not entitle anyone to make me or you a physical target.

Is Israel an imperfect democracy? Certainly. But name me one democracy, including the United States of America, which is perfect.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, the great rabbi, the Vilna Gaon, noted that we are on earth to make ourselves into something better. That goes for Israel as well.

It is distressing that Jews around the world are being held responsible for events and misconceptions thousands of miles away.

Perhaps that is our destiny. We are a good people, here to make this world into a better place never to hurt anyone.

Stand tall in that understanding! Israel will survive and so will we.

Ultimately, this too shall pass, as we continue our sacred mission, to make this world a little better. No one ever said the journey would be easy.

For I am a Jew. Free to associate and support in peace, the causes and countries of my choice.

For I am a Jew and like all those living in this country it is my right.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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