To me, Judaism isn’t about the prayers I can mindlessly recite on the High Holidays. It’s about the millions of Jews that have been chanting those same blessings for over 5,000 years, and in every corner of the Earth. It’s about the thousands of Jews that fought and lost their lives on October 6th, 1973 to ensure that Jews around the world would always have a homeland to freely recite the blessings of Yom Kippur.
To me, Judaism isn’t about the Passover Seder or the symbolic references to the bitter herbs or the matzah. It’s about understanding that after 2,000 years of living in the Diaspora, Jews can finally say “Next year in Jerusalem” and actually mean it. It’s about the strength and resolve of the Jewish men and women in 1948, with 7 Arab armies (inside and around their borders) threatening annihilation, deciding that nothing would stop them from declaring the Jewish homeland that they had created and earned.
When I think about my role as a Jew and the spiritual connections I feel to my people, Israel is the first thing that comes to my mind. Nothing makes me more proud to be a Jew than knowing that the Jewish people rose from the horrors of the Holocaust to return to their historical homeland and create a country that we can be proud of. What these brave pioneers had to overcome in order to reclaim their country is something that most people can’t even fathom; they dedicated their lives to one purpose, and endured misery and loss for the benefit of the Jewish people. Refugees that had never worked the land or fought a day in their lives suddenly emerged as a people capable, through dogged determination and a clear sense of purpose, of becoming the toughest soldiers and best farmers the region had ever seen. Dating back to the 1880’s, the pioneers’ efforts to cultivate swamp infested lowlands and barren desert land, bring back an ancient language, and integrate Jews from hundreds of different cultures into one cohesive nation, to me, is the essence of Jewish strength and accomplishment. Creating a vibrant democracy with freedom of speech, religion, and equal rights for Jews and Arabs alike should be admired. Doing all of this in an era clouded in Nazism, British Imperialism, relentless Arab attacks and threats of total, and imminent destruction is nothing short of a miracle.
I am extremely proud of my Jewish identity and passionate about the history of our people, and in ensuring that the history and ideals of Zionism are appreciated as we move into the future. My dad is responsible for instilling these beliefs and he did so by explaining world Jewry’s need for a Jewish state, and all of the sacrifice and suffering the early Zionists had to endure to earn it. Unfortunately, I feel that many young American Jews don’t have anything near this same sense of connection to Israel.
For those of us living in America (or anywhere else around the world) it is our responsibility to support the Israeli people to ensure that the Jewish state remains alive and strong. For two thousand years Jews had to live as outsiders in their communities (America’s birth was the first time Jews were completely free and equal since the fall of the second temple in 70 AD) and always with the fear that if anything went wrong, Jews would be the first people to blame. For two thousand years, Jews could not defend themselves against the world and were not in control of their own survival. This culminated in the murder of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany (with the complicity of many European nations), while the rest of the world looked on, refusing to open their gates to desperate Jews fleeing for their lives. Imagine how much different our Jewish families would have been if the Jews had a country to call their own during this horrific period.
As Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israel sentiments seem to be gaining steam around the world, and evil dictators are once again sprouting threats of our total annihilation, it’s important to remember why this time is different. It’s important to understand why, as Prime Minister Netanyahu argued, “Today the Jewish people are different. Today we have a state of our own. Never again will we not be the masters of the fate of our very survival. Never again.” It’s important to remember Jewish history and to understand how integral to the survival and success of the Jewish people the state of Israel has become and will always be. In the two thousand years that Jews lived without a homeland, there were too many pogroms and Holocausts to quantify; too many examples of supposedly civilized people trying to wipe out the Jewish people to count. It is our job to ensure that the people protecting and safeguarding Judaism are secure, empowered, and feel the support of Jews from around the world. While Israel may not be a part of your every day life as a Jew here in America, and while you may even disagree with some of their policies, it’s important to see the bigger picture. We need to appreciate the people that created the Jewish homeland, and support the people that currently defend it against those rooting, once again, for our destruction.
I am an American, and I am extremely proud of that, for we live in the most free and prosperous country in world history. But it is also important for us to remember, as American Jews, that we have a responsibility to support our brothers and sisters in the Jewish State of Israel. Because, if we don’t, who will?