As I sit here making plans to leave Israel, I am struck by how difficult it is to leave such an extraordinary place filled with such extraordinary people. The more I dwell on the subject of what makes this place so special, I would have to credit my paternal grandparents who filled me with a sense of duty to my people, likewise instilling in me the pride and respect owed to the nation of Judea.
I am in awe of our accomplishments in keeping alive the flame of our existence, our sense of belonging and our profound sense of responsibility to others who came before us and to those who will follow. I see it everywhere I go in Israel˗˗from something as simple as the way we carry ourselves when we walk to how we collectively feel concerning our duty towards our fellow Israelis and Jews in the wider world. It is not the “manifest destiny” that James Monroe spoke of and it is not even the “divine spark” that we all carry within ourselves. It is something else which impels us to achieve, succeed and thrive.
There is no other group on earth that has survived since antiquity intact except for the Jews of this region. Modern Italians bear little resemblance to their Roman forebearers and neither do modern Greeks appear to resemble their ancestors or even act remotely like them. Neither do Iranians today resemble ancient Persians. This may be due to the fact that we have our religion and our customs which have not changed dramatically in all these millenia. No other group on earth can make that claim. In some respects, Judaism is like the American Constitution since it adapts and can be altered if there is a consensus to do so. Since it breathes, it breathes life into our efforts and for this I am most grateful.
Our religion is meant to be inclusive, which is why you often find our Biblical figures adopting the faith and becoming one with the people when they began their lives as something else. Religion does not exist in a vacuum. It must adapt or it dies. That is why we can take comfort in the fact that religiously fanatical groups like Daesh will not long survive, as brutal as their tactics may be; because they want to use a tired and quite backward model for a modern world. Their “caliphate” idea is about as modern as a Studebaker and about as unweildy. Progress means “forward” not back to the Stone Age. Daesh is destined to die out and be relegated to the pages of history where it belongs as a cautionary tale, not as a way of life to be emulated. Jews recognized long ago that not adapting to change means stagnation and rejection by others. Accepting that we all have our small differences, preferences and desires does not make us less Jewish; on the contrary, it makes us fully Jewish since we see the “big picture” of inclusiveness and it suits us and our purpose perfectly.
I was fortunate enough to have spent one-fifth of my life in Israel, not an inordinate amount of time, granted; but it was enough to see what it is that binds us together as a nation and as a people. What non-Jews fail to recognize or often mischaracterize about our faith is our pride in who we are and our enormous sense of responsibility to our own people, wherever they live. They incorrectly label it as “exceptionalism” when it is in fact something else entirely. If you cannot feel a deep sense of pride in seeing our soldiers working to save the lives of total strangers in Haiti or the Philippines after natural disasters, you miss the point of what it means for us to be Jews. And you are also an anti-Semite. If you cannot visit a new wing of an Israeli hospital with the legions of names of the donors for the structure, then you likewise miss the point. If you do not admit our technology saves the lives of even the people we are technically at war with, you also do not grasp the subtleties of our faith. If a country has only a few Jews left after a millennia of presence there, then that country deserves to be relegated to the back pages of history as a footnote and nothing more. No country that harasses its Jewish population into exile and steals their wealth and property deserves respect. Condemnation is a better response. And no country that does not permit Jews to live within their borders unmolested thrives.
If history is any judge, then Jews are the glue that holds civilization together. Denying that simple fact imperils the world. Allowing one’s prejudice to stand in the way of common sense and thereby ignore the well-being of your own people is what backward countries like Turkey and Iran do. Iran lost thousands of its citizens to earthquakes and their aftermath because they refused to let our army into the country to help after it was immediately offered. I have spoken to Iranians often enough to know that this proffered assistance was kept from them by their misguided leaders. Turkey has most recently made statements and taken actions which are detrimental to our cooperation in times of disaster. “Cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face” is not really how modern countries that care about their own citizens should act.
As our world gets smaller, the harmful racism and prejudices imposed by Islamic regimes must be fought more proactively. Similarly, there should be no free ride for those who wish us harm. It does not matter if you are an imam at a mosque in the Middle East or a news reporter anywhere in the world. While stirring up the masses might be good for your job security, it is harmful in the extreme for society as a whole and it is to be soundly rejected.