I’m sipping my ice coffee outside a café on Jaffa Street, Jerusalem. This city, the spiritual, historical, yet politically contentious capital of the Jewish people, is full of diversity. People from all types of cultures, nationalities and religions are strolling up and down Jaffa St. As I write these words, across from me stand three Muslim women, each wearing a stylish hijab of different colors. They’re laughing, texting on their iPhones, and toting the Israeli equivalent of Macy’s shopping bags. You might think it out of place for me—as an identifiably religious Jew, with my kippah and tzitzit on display—to additionally note that these women are all wearing pants. I do not think so. As a fervently orthodox Jew, I am proud to testify to the liberal and progressive elements of Israeli society; especially knowing that such liberties are violently suppressed in Israel’s neighboring countries.
To my left, some Israeli is nursing his Turkish coffee and reading Spinoza. I’m not sure who to pity more: the guy reading him or the miscalculating Spinoza himself. A few nights ago, on Ben Yehuda St., I heard a bit of shiur (lecture) from an Israeli yeshiva student (whose Rabbi has a PhD in probability) on probability assessment in the Talmud. How do statistical outliers have an effect on normative halackah? My God, Spinoza or not, I love this place. The intellectual intensity that can be found in Israeli culture is like rich, chocolate icing on the cake for a wannabe intellectual like me.
We, the Jewish people, have so much to be proud of, in addition to having established a caring, vibrant democracy in our national homeland. As a Jew living in the diaspora, the pride intensifies every time I return to the Jewish State. It is here, in Israel, where we have a tangible grasp of the well-being and progress of the Jewish people. Diaspora Jews should know full well that, through thick and thin, for better or worse, our Jewish identities as well as our national destiny are deeply rooted to Israel. Our national history over the past century has given us so much to be grateful for. It has given us a strong foundation for some good, hearty nation-building. We also have a lot to learn from one another.
Given the state of things, sometimes it amazes me to see how reserved or disheartened we can become when it comes to Israel. What ails our hearts? Is it the presence of existential threats or anti-Semitism that brings us down? Well, Jewish literature has calmly acknowledged this reality for ages, so it cannot be the main problem. Is it the tensions between secular and religious Jews? Well, if we look at the mixed communities throughout Israel, like Zikhron Ya’akov or Tekoa, they demonstrate the fact that we’re slowly learning to live with each other’s shtick.
Is it our conflict with the Palestinians? Well, only until there is a willing partner for peace can we proceed to resolve this issue. In the meantime, we’re waiting. “No!” objects the genuine but overly critical Zionist, “We are at fault too, in our conflict with the Palestinians. There are steps and sacrifices we must take to bring about peace.” Well, it is rather uncontroversial to point out that painful sacrifices for peace have already been made by Israelis. The significance of this objection is only relevant inasmuch as Israelis, and not diaspora Jews, decide on what those additional sacrifices are. For the time being, the jury is out. In the meantime, let such soul searching individuals be pacified and busied with reviewing the reality that Israelis can only do so much independently and unilaterally without reciprocation from a unified and peaceful Palestinian leadership. With that said, our wait might be longer than we like to think.
Okay, maybe I’ve earned myself a C- in the don’t-worry-be-happy department. With a brief account of these problems, it can be easy to understand why the Jewish community can become so cynical sometimes. However, these obstacles, challenges and concerns should not drain our enthusiasm. Sure, they can be stressful, but a life without stress is death. Leave the ideal of resting in peace for the dead. When we work through these challenges, I am confident that more challenges will be quick to pick up the slack. Take heart! The challenges we face should be perceived as a call for us to grow, to think, to hold fast to our values, and to unite. (No, I did not copy and paste from one of the speeches in President Obama’s reelection campaign.)
There is reason to share in the struggle of building and developing our country; there is happiness and fulfillment to be found in such a task. What’s more, it is not only Israelis who have this opportunity. (Yeah, you know you want in on it too.) A significant part of this struggle rests in the hands of the diaspora Jewish community. This entails educating ourselves about Israel, proudly promoting Israel in our communities, and ruthlessly defending her against the lies and propaganda that pose a threat to Israel’s well-being. It is for this important business that I’ve joined up with Hasbara Fellowships, an organization dedicated to educating university students about Israel and enabling them to advance both the romantic ideals of Zionism and the voice of reason for Israel beyond her tiny borders.
In my experience, the Jewish community in the Diaspora feels overwhelmed by the tidal wave of anti-Israel propaganda. There is a particular hesitancy, a reluctance and fear to advocate for Israel in American Universities and on college campuses. Contrary to what some of the soul searching Zionists to whom I’ve earlier alluded might insist on, you do not have to be a frowning scholar and openly self-critical to protect your people and to promote the Zionist vision. The opposition is great, and outlandish lies about Israel are said too casually and too often for such a luxury. Simplicity and repetition of the truth is key.
Though erudition and a study of a complex Middle East are all well and good, we need to stop ourselves from placing such things as the highest value when we endeavor to defend Israel. Ironically enough, an appeal to intellectualism as the highest value serves as a mental block. It dulls our brains. It inhibits us from appreciating the simplicity and the righteousness of the Zionist cause. In his poem, “Gone Like a Dream,” the Israeli poet, Natan Alterman drives this point home:
Then said Satan:
This besieged one,
How shall I overcome him?
He has courage and ability,
He has weapons and imagination.
So he said:
I shall not take his strength,
Nor muzzle nor bridle him,
Nor soften nor weaken his hands,
Only one thing I’ll do:
I shall dull his brain
And he will forget that he is in the right.
For many of us who feel besieged, shy, or intimidated by our antagonists, the task, first and foremost, is to remember that we are “in the right.” What does remembering that we are in the right mean? It means embracing and educating ourselves about one big, ridiculously fat, simple truth: the Jewish people have a right to a Jewish State in their homeland. In the words of Harvard professor Ruth Wisse, “Indeed Jews have more concurrent rights to their land than any other people on this earth can claim: aboriginal rights, divine rights, legal rights, internationally granted rights, pioneering rights, and the rights of that perennial arbiter, war.” This truth is so profound and so significant, that the need to invoke and defend it in a discussion or debate is often indicative of the fact that you’re wasting your time with hopeless opponents. Someone who denies Israel’s unreserved right to exist is not worth reasoning with.
As for the rest of the world, there are three simple truths to communicate: (1) there is a vibrant and progressive society that Israelis have built in their homeland (2) the fact that Israelis want peace, have made sacrifices for it and (3) the sustained hope that Israelis will have a partner for peace. These are the party lines, typed to you all while standing on one leg (honest). They are also indisputable. See them as such. The rest is commentary. You can elaborate and express them in a way that speaks to you, as I did in this op-ed.
If you would like more assistance, information, to be exposed to more of that commentary that intellectual soul searchers need in order to feel good, or you just need to hear these three very simple truths patiently and happily repeated to you over and over again, I and my colleagues at HasbaraFellowships.org are here for you. Shoot me an email at Jshore@hasbarafellowships.org.
It is easy to promote the simple and wonderful truths about our national and spiritual homeland. It is understandably more difficult to want to take on the responsibility. If we succeed in the realm of values and ideas, that victory will manifest itself in the physical protection and development of the Jewish State. It will also assist in yielding a reasonable and truth-based resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Think of it as your contributing to the hearty nation building of our people. Think of it as lighting a candle to brighten a room full of darkness. Do you need a match?