So, the rabbi turns to me one day this past summer as we are jogging alongside each other.
He says, ‘Rabbanit,’ nah he doesn’t call me that; he says ‘Batya, you are Beth Israel’s spiritual co-director – it’s time you address the congregation during the High Holy days.’
I turned to him and said ‘That sounds great. When exactly did you have in mind?’
He pauses – not from jogging — and then says, ‘How about the Israel Bonds speech?’
‘You’ve got to be kidding’ I said, ‘that’s the speech that’s given every year, everybody’s already heard it and besides I’m told that once people walk through those doors, they have already decided if they’re going to give and how much they’re going to give this year.’
But then it hit me! What is Israel Bonds really about anyway? Israel Bonds is about supporting and loving the Holy Land – how one can be a direct investor in Israel so that it can ensure the safety and security of our people! How can I NOT give this speech? I am honored to stand here today and represent the Israel Bonds annual High Holy Day campaign and I will tell you why this year is different – besides the fact that your rebbetzin is addressing you at Kol Nidrei – I am going to give you three reasons why this year is so crucial for you to purchase Israel Bonds.
The war this past summer is still fresh in our minds, “with the murders of the three teenage boys, and the barrage of rocket attacks Israeli civilians experienced, and the loss of 67 IDF soldiers” – Israel needs our help. They need to rebuild what has been destroyed and continue to expand so that the economy can move forward, so that they can build roads, bridges, trains, and yes even tunnels. “Yael in Modiin is contemplating whether or not she can accept a hi-tech job in Tel Aviv – the commute alone by car can take at least 1.5 hours and that’s one way! While Hamas is blasting terror tunnels to destroy us, Israel is blasting tunnels in the Judean Hills for the new high speed train. Now Yael can accept the job without any hesitation and be home for dinner with her family. Israel Bonds do not buy iron domes. Their funds are not used for defense. Infrastructure projects like the high speed train make the large city accessible to the peripheral areas so that Israelis don’t need to make a choice between their community and livelihood. These projects improve the lives of Israeli citizens and further strengthen Israel’s economy.” This is what Israel Bonds do.
During the war and its aftermath, there has been an increase of anti-Semitism around the world. Attacks in Europe – in Belgium and France and the UK – have increased; recently even in New York City! Some even say it feels like we are back in 1930’s. My paternal grandmother Ella was studying dentistry at the University of Berlin in 1936. She saw the demonstrations against the Jews and the boycotts of Jewish shops. She was lucky enough to see the writing on the wall and knew she had to get out.
She went to Hamburg to get a tourist visa to Italy and when the German customs officer gave it to her, he said ‘Please tell us all about your vacation when you return.’
She looked at him and smiled and said, ‘Absolutely I look forward to it.’ On that trip to Italy she took a boat to Haifa, never to return to Europe – she knew then that Israel was the only safe place for her to live. She opened up a dental practice in Ramat Gan, married my grandfather, a journalist, Yitzchak Ivry who was sent to Israel by his father, Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Mishkinksy, the rav of Sevisluch who stayed with his congregation and was murdered at the hands of the Nazis, may their names be erased. Tragically, most were not lucky enough to leave Europe and get to Israel.
The major difference today is that we have our own State – we do not have quotas and we do not need to worry about the rest of the world turning us away – we have the land of Israel! Since 2002 Nefesh B’Nefesh has brought over 40,000 olim (new immigrants) from USA, Canada and the UK. Europeans are making Aliya in droves. A survey in 2013 by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights showed that almost a third have considered emigrating, with percentages as high as 46% in France and 48% in Hungary. The Jews in Europe do not feel safe. Israel needs our help to ensure that they have a safe and secure place to escape to. This is what Israel Bonds do.
I don’t usually boast about where I received my undergraduate degree – after all it was not an ivy league, it was just a city college, CUNY of Brooklyn. Today I am ashamed of it! Prof. Corey Robin at the City University of New York in Brooklyn outright promotes BDS – boycott and divestment from Israeli products. He always considered himself an anti-Zionist, but was never outspoken until recently when the University of Illinois revoked a job offer to a professor who tweeted provocative anti-Israel remarks. Robin felt his freedom of speech was denied — so now he makes it his life mission to stand up against Israel. This is why you should buy Israel bonds, because investing in Israel is the opposite of divesting from Israel. One of Israel’s greatest threats is boycott and divestment from its economy. That is another way to destroy a country.
“Look at where Israel was 60 years ago and look where it is today. What country in the world has made that kind of progress in such a short time? When you think about it, where has any group of 6 or 7 million people made that kind of progress anywhere in the world?”
Warren Buffet says, ‘If you’re looking for oil, don’t go to Israel. But if you’re looking for brains, energy and integrity, invest in Israel.’ And so he did. Everyone should read the book Start Up Nation – it explains why Israel is so successful with innovations and why it has surpassed Silicon Valley’s reputation.
Not only do Israel’s innovations contribute to Israel but it makes us an or lagoyim – a light unto the nations – it is doing the ultimate Tikun Olam by sharing these innovations with the rest of the world. I may not be proud of where I got my undergrad degree, but I am proud of my graduate alma mater. Our own University of Alberta recently purchased the REWALK, allowing patients to experience Israeli technology. Now that is investing in Israel. That is what Israel bonds do.
So to sum up: Buy Israel Bonds, invest in Israel; because one, while Israel’s enemies are using international funds to create destructive tunnels, Israel Bonds help create constructive tunnels.
Two, Israel Bonds is not a charity, I am asking you to give a loan to Israel so that our brothers and sisters in Belgium, France and England do not feel alone.
And finally, if you are not investing in Israel you are divesting from Israel.
So, after hearing why you should invest in Israel, please fold down the tabs on your Israel Bonds pledge cards wherever you feel most comfortable.
Now let me conclude with a story. My friend, Chedva lives in Netivot, which is a mere 12 kilometers from Gaza. She did not have, to say the least, a peaceful summer. She was too scared to leave her house with her kids because she didn’t know if she could make it to a shelter in 15 seconds or less. Fifteen seconds or less! She was NOT comfortable this summer. Now let us not be comfortable this Yom Kippur and fold over one higher tab. Let us be uncomfortable for Chedva and for all our brothers and sisters who were and remain uncomfortable in our Holy Land.
Thank you to Rabbi Jonathan Gross of Beth Tfiloh for your suggestions and input (direct quotes noted accordingly).