This past Shabbat, we completed reading the Book of Numbers in the annual Torah cycle. The close of that book sets the stage for the Jewish people’s next steps, from wanderers to returnees to their ancestral land. But two tribes, Reuven and Gad, and one half of the tribe of Manasseh, remain on the other side of the Jordan and do not enter the land. Interestingly, while Reuven and Gad directly ask Moses for permission to remain in Transjordan, Moses is the one to designate half of the tribe of Manasseh’s portion in Israel and half in Transjordan (Numbers 32:33) Moses creates an intentional Diaspora, and causes the exile of one part of a family from another. Why?
Perhaps Moses foresaw the need to create a reality where Jewish people inside and outside of the land of Israel had a shared a past. The severing of direct family connections might better ensure their chances for a shared future. If only two whole tribes separated from the other ten, it would have been much easier for each side to forget about the other. But by splitting a single tribe in half, Moses increased the odds that caring would transcend geography and time, and that a family that was literally divided would better remember that a shared past meant an intertwined future, one in which each half would help the other in times of need.
And that is the contemporary situation of worldwide Jewry again. We share not just a past, but also a present in which many of us have immediate family members and some of our closest friends in Israel. We are both obligated and personally motivated to secure a shared, peaceful future for the State of Israel and Jewish communities around the world.
These are painful days, but we’ve faced more dire circumstances before. And beyond the immediate military operation in Gaza, there are more challenges to come that we need to prepare for now. These include:
Legal: having countries that hate Israel use the United Nations and its associated committees like the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and international judicial bodies like the International Criminal Court (ICC) to delegitimize Israel’s legal existence. These efforts contribute to the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement that has gained considerable international legitimacy and has major negative economic ramifications for Israel.
Historical: Revisionist historians who deny or minimize the Jewish people’s existence in the land of Israel.
Military: continued efforts to terrorize Israeli citizens and obliterate Israel as a Jewish state by countries like Iran, terrorist groups like Hamas and ISIS and a potentially more radicalized Palestinian population in the West Bank.
Political: continued harassment and even violence against Jews in parts of Europe, partially related to Israel’s existence, and also because of an increase in anti-Semitism related to nationalistic and Islamic extremism. And, increased protests in the United States against Israel on college campuses, some fringes of existing and emerging political parties and some Protestant denominations.
To be clear: we are not reliving pre-Germany Shoah times, even though some within the Jewish community like to portray it that way. Not all those who express vehemence against Israel are anti-Semites, and Israel owns some responsibility for the political situation it’s in. But it is once again clear that some Israel haters are simply Jew haters. The late Nobel prize-winning poet, Yehuda Amichai, known for his moderate political views, made this observation in an interview in the Paris Review in 1991. When asked about his upbringing in Germany, he said:
“There was, of course, zealous anti-Semitism before Hitler, which also had something to do with my family’s going to Palestine. Some people think that anti-Semitism didn’t really exist in Germany until 1933. I certainly don’t want to take anything away from Hitler’s guilt, but the anti-Semitism I grew up with predated Hitler. We were called names. We had stones thrown at us. And, yes, this created real sorrow. We defended ourselves as well as we could. Funny thing, the common name we were called was Isaac—the way Muslims are called Ali or Mohammed. They’d call out, Isaac, go back to Palestine, leave our home, go to your place. They threw stones at us and shouted, Go to Palestine. Then in Palestine we were told to leave Palestine—history juxtaposed can be very ironic.”
Twenty years ago, I did not expect the reassertion of this kind of virulent anti-Semitism in Europe, and I cannot imagine what the few remaining survivors of the Shoah in Europe, Israel and around the globe are feeling. After the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, American Jewry turned inward to focus on Jewish continuity and renewal. But anti-Semitism is re-emerging in Europe and as past trends have proven, what starts in Europe eventually makes it way to America, so we still have to keep our gaze outward.israel-isnt-eager-for-a-big-escalation-in-gaza-but-might-get-one-anyway.jpg
The operation in Gaza will end and now is the moment to look into the future and prepare a global Jewish community for more events. We don’t have to despair because we are strong and have enough allies who share our concerns. And we will have to work harder with our friends toward lasting political solutions that enshrine the right to life of all Israelis in a Jewish State of Israel and advance sovereign rights of Palestinians who are ready to live side-by-side, without weapons of war and terror, with Israelis. Being part of an intertwined family means being there for one another—in good times, in bad times and at all times.