A while back, Rabbi Sharon Brous framed a moving paean of her love for Israel by saying it with chocolate. For her, the Made-in-Israel appellation makes our confections all the more sweet. Her pride in our successes is outstanding. Her pain in our failures is really heartfelt. Just the other day, though, she penned a call for Israel and her supporters to “bet on peace;” a call which has struck many as less than savory, in fact, a tad bitter.
Now, I’m a chocolate Zionist myself. 35 years ago, on my first visit to Israel, I was amazed at finding that our very first meal, my first Zionist breakfast ever, consisted basically of chocolate spread. In awe and wonder, I decided then and there that if this is what Israel can offer — my God, chocolate for breakfast!! — then I will, one day, make it my home. Since I was only 16 at the time, it took me a few years — but I’ve been here my entire adult life. All because of chocolate. So, Rabbi Brous, I think that I know just where you’re coming from.
You’re a big fan of Israel. And like a true fan, you really do live and die with your team. You have season tickets, you turn to our news first—checking who’s doing well, who’s in a slump, who might be getting traded. You probably have even made a point of coming to away games, just to show the team support on the road. And everyone knows that without fans, there would be no game, would there?
But that’s the thing, Rabbi. We do need you up there in the stands. I mean without you, how will the concessionaires pay their bills? Who is going to make sure that the stadium lights stay on? And from where in the world will we get new uniforms if we can’t sell tickets? But on the other hand, as sincerely as we need and appreciate your support — whether you’re painting your face blue and white and sitting in the bleachers screaming or hob-nobbing in an elegantly appointed private box with the commissioner and the mayor, lobbying a new municipal bond issue to improve the stadium — we are the ones on the playing field. Rain or shine, day and night. It’s those of us who have endured the not too pleasant run of the minors in absorption centers, the two-a-days known as Israeli bureaucracy, and those long stretches of road games while doing miluim (reserve duty) far from home for weeks at a time, who actually play the game.
Now seriously, I understand that you’re invested. I know what it’s like to have the autographed ball given pride of place over the mantel and to be ready to defend the team against opponent’s invective. But down here in the churned up mud of the playing field, we don’t get the luxury of placing bets. We have a game to win. And if you think that we don’t take it seriously enough, that we’re just not giving it our all, that perhaps we don’t realize what exactly the stakes are, I invite you to come and stand beside some of the players like myself at our childrens’ graves.
They weren’t done in by an errant foul or an illegal tackle, no. They were murdered in cold blood by Palestinian terrorists. Just down the road there’s Shlomo’s grave — hacked to death with an axe; Koby’s — the life bludgeoned out of him with stones; and Avraham David, my own son, shot at point blank range with an assault rifle, his crime –sitting in a library in the heart of Jerusalem. Believe me – no one wants peace more than us. No one wants to spare the next victim’s family that unanswered phone call and the knock on the door in the middle of the night more than each and every Israeli citizen who stands silently on Memorial Day — thinking about his neighbor, his cousin, his army buddy — who won’t ever come and play again.
You spell out very clearly the play that you think we should call next (even though it sounds suspiciously like post-Kerry-meeting US administration talking points). Well, we’ve been running that same offense of land-for-peace for over twenty years. And you know what, despite picking up some good yardage now and again, it’s still third and long.
OK, maybe as Vince Lombardi said, it really is just all about execution. But, maybe, after twenty years of burying Rabin’s “casualties of peace” from Oslo’s hoary golden-age, and needing to pick through the remains of a Passover seder in Netanya looking not for the afikomen, but for body parts, and needing to teach nursery schoolers songs about running for cover when Gaza’s rockets are a’comin—maybe, just maybe, those of us still here in the actual game have a reason to question the call. Because, maybe we’re the ones who can actually see our opponent up close, and can really feel how that knee is holding up. And maybe right now, the best thing that our loyal fans can do is to let us keep our heads in the game knowing that we’re the ones who will be paying the actual price in body and soul.
Rabbi Brous, some of us have been on the court for quite a while and wouldn’t mind sitting on the bench for a moment of rest. But as much as you lament the state of the team you love, as many tears of joy and sadness as you shed, and as much good as you do up there in the red seats, nothing will make more of a difference than you actually coming on down to join the team. I know. It’s quite a challenge to actually suit up on game day instead of tail-gating in the parking lot. But, hey, my local municipal rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, left just as lofty a pulpit as yours, to actually live the dream (see Yoma 31b) and if you will it, I’m sure that someone as bright and energetic and committed as you can too.
Do you want to make a difference? Come and try out for the team. Please. Really. Every day is game day here and we need you and all the other educated, good-hearted, well-meaning Zionists who want to help. Believe me we do. Come and leave vicarious victory behind. But until then, a little more clapping and a bit less armchair quarterbacking just might be in order.