“The Customer Service Manager isn’t in the office this morning. Call back this afternoon,” said the brusque woman on the other end of the line, at the central branch of one of the leading financial institutions in Israel.
“But I’ve been a customer of yours for 30 years. Even my children are your customers… can’t you leave her a message to say I phoned and ask her to call me back?”
“Sorry, we don’t take messages here, that’s not our policy,” she snapped.
I made one last attempt. “Every time I land at Ben-Gurion Airport I see your company motto in giant letters along the walkway from the plane: ‘Being the Chosen Carries Obligations!*’ – So shouldn’t you live up to that?”
Tenafly, New Jersey. The beautiful Jewish community center of Tenafly, one of the most flourishing Jewish communities in the area. I had been invited to speak at the Center as part of their One Day University program.
The title of my talk was From Tahrir Square to Rothschild Boulevard. I started by presenting the thesis that, contrary to popular opinion, the Western world received the inspiration for the Occupy movement from the Arab Spring uprisings, a movement that began in the streets and squares of the Arab world, then made a stop-over in Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv and in other places in Israel, before landing in the cities of North America. I then moved on to discuss various challenges currently facing Israel.
The audience was alert and involved. They challenged me with various pointed questions. One question in particular was asked several times in one form or another by various people:
Why does the world demand of Israel standards of morality that are far higher than those it demands of itself?
Why is it that when the IDF accidentally kill 10 Palestinians the world cries out in horror, but when the American army kills 100 civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya that is considered just “one of those things” that happen in a war? Why do the world’s media look through a magnifying glass of criticism at the actions of the Jews, who are still fighting a war of survival on an island of relative sanity and democracy in the heart of the Arab world, where they are outnumbered many times over?
Fundraising is not an easy job, to say the least. Many people have told me, “I could never ask people for donations!” But one of the biggest privileges of working in fundraising is the opportunity for fascinating encounters around the world with smart, experienced, interesting people who are leaders in their fields. During working meetings in New York following my talk in Tenafly, I took the opportunity to pose the question to some of my friends in the fields of diplomacy, advertising, and investments. Why is the Jewish state expected to be more moral than any other country in the world?
Their answers can be summarized as follows:
The first reason is that we are called The Chosen People, as it says in our prayer book, “And you chose us from all peoples…” Both Christianity and Islam consider Judaism their precursor religion, are influenced by it and are, to a greater or lesser extent, based on it. We were chosen by God to receive the Torah. We were the first-born. Being “chosen” is not so much a privilege and more a burden and responsibility—this “chosen-ness” is very hard to renounce. After all, we cannot say, “No, I’m not chosen!”
The second reason, and one that has always been with us, is that the world still contains Jew-hatred and bigotry against Jews, even though it often wears different faces. I will leave it to the experts to determine the roots of this bigotry, but there is no doubt that one of the causes is jealousy: Jealousy of the sibling who is successful and smart—the “chosen” one. It is not by chance that the proportion of Jews among the students and faculty of the top universities in the USA is much higher than their numbers in the general population. And have we mentioned Nobel Prizes?
The third and most important reason is that it is a privilege to be the Chosen People! We should not allow our standards to drop. We should hold ourselves to the highest possible standards. Without this high expectation of ourselves, without striving to set the bar higher, to be stronger, smarter, and more ethical, we will not become the people we aspire to be.
After all: Being Chosen Carries Obligations!
*Slogan changed to maintain anonymity