During my recent trip to Israel, I spent some time at the Knesset in Jerusalem. In place of the heated rhetoric and tempestuous debates that often reverberate across the Plenary Hall, there was the sound of silence. With Prime Minister Netanyahu’s dissolution of the 19th Knesset, the lively and fiery discussions that generally take place there are on hold until the elections for the new Knesset are held in March.
The conspicuous absence of political dialogue was troubling to me throughout my two weeks in Israel. As someone who could be considered a “political junkie,” I was looking forward to speaking about the impending elections with Israelis during my stay and hearing different perspectives on how this latest episode of Israeli political drama may ultimately play out.
The fact of the matter is that but for a relatively small number of campaign signs and some talk on the radio about the primaries in the various political parties, there was little evidence of the upcoming election and politics was rarely discussed.
Yes, there was some talk of the snow that fell in Jerusalem and Northern Israel when I arrived. Yet, the leading topic of conversation while I was there was about the recent acts of terror in France and the frightening rise of global anti-Semitism.
With Jews in Europe being targeted simply because they are Jewish and terrorists in the Middle East intent on destroying Israel and murdering Jews, the reality is that we live in increasingly scary times.
My visit to Yad Vashem reminded me of the perils of anti-Semitism and the danger of getting too comfortable in our surroundings. As I watched people from all walks of life view the photos which document one of the most horrific tragedies known to mankind, I was reminded of how critically important it is that we continue to educate people about the dangers of bigotry and hatred. As I observed dozens of members of the Israel Defense Forces who were on a guided tour of the museum study the exhibits that detail the atrocities of the Holocaust with wide eyes and an apparent sense of wonderment, it struck me that they were comprehending why it is that they put their lives on the line every single day in order to defend the State of Israel and protect the Jewish people from the dangers that threaten their very existence.
In light of the intense focus on the upsurge of anti-Semitism, there was one question that I was asked repeatedly during my time in Israel. I heard it from the storekeeper in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Oleh from New York who moved to the city of Efrat twenty years ago, and the taxi driver in Tel Aviv. The question that was posed to me was not if I am going to make Aliyah, but when I am going to make Aliyah.
With the growing feeling that Jews in the Diaspora are facing an uncertain future, there is almost a sense of inevitability on the part of Israelis that we are all going to ultimately relocate to the Jewish State.
As I stood in the holy city of Hebron and prayed at the Mearat Hamachpelah, I had an experience that initially shook me, but which ultimately strengthened my resolve. While davening Shemoneh Esrei in view of the final resting place of our forefather Abraham with as much intensity and concentration that I could muster, the silence was suddenly shattered. The sound of the muezzin calling the Muslims to prayer over the loudspeaker from the nearby mosque was virtually deafening. As I prayed alongside my thirteen-year-old son, the thunderous cry of “Allahu Akbar” was ringing in my ears and sent a shiver up my spine.
After a moment, I smiled as I understood that the Muslim call to prayer, which shook the walls of the Mearat Hamachpelah, actually helped intensify my davening and bring me even closer to G-d. The loud call of the muezzin reminded me why it is crucial that we, as Jews, maintain a close and special relationship with G-d.
As Jews, we may be small in number, but we are strong in spirit. The fewer than 1,000 Jews who call Hebron home may be dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands of Arabs who also dwell in the city of Hebron, but that is of no consequence. We maintain a healthy and vibrant presence not only in Hebron, but throughout Israel, and nothing can change that – not the muezzin who is crying “Allahu Akbar” and not the Palestinian Arabs who wish that we were not there.
The idea that Jews moving to Israel is a virtual certainty is not so far-fetched when we take into account the world we live in and recent events that have shaken the core of world Jewry.
As an Orthodox Jew in the United States, I proudly wear my Judaism on my sleeve and relish the freedom of religion that we are privileged to enjoy. However, there is something special about being in Israel that always makes me prouder than ever to be a Jew. Israel is the land that Jews from every corner of the globe can always call home. It is a Jewish State where we not only feel comfortable, but where we truly belong. Some of us may move there next month, some of us may move there next year, and some of us may not actually have any plans to move there in the foreseeable future, but based on the sentiments that I heard while I was there, our ultimate relocation and eventual Aliyah is inevitable. It is not a question of if, rather, it is a question of when.