“To be a Jew is to be an agent of hope in a world serially threatened by despair,” wrote the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. If not for a firm foundation in hope, would any Jews have survived the Holocaust? Would there be a State of Israel. Hope for the coming of the messianic era is a central pillar of Judaism.
While hope has often been the salvation of the Jewish people, it often also has lulled them into a false sense of security that ended tragically. Hope that the golden calf would deliver them from the Biblical desert. Hope that false Messiahs would launch holy times. Consider the fate of Jews living for centuries in England, Spain, Yemen and other countries hoping for the best until they were eventually expelled. Most particularly, consider the fate of German Jews in the 1930s assimilated into one of the most educated countries in Europe who ignored early warning signs of the devastation to come and hoped that things would improve.
We live at a time where hope among the Jews transcends reality. At this New Year’s, we need to abandon false hope. We must face harsh reality and act accordingly. Two examples will suffice, one among Israeli Jews, one among American Jews.
Since the founding of the State of Israel, the conventional wisdom for resolving the Palestinian Israeli conflict has been the two-state solution, two states, one Jewish, one Palestinian, living side-by-side in peace. In fact, the United Nations partition plan which created the State of Israel in 1948 was premised upon this notion. It called for the creation of two states, one Jewish, one Palestinian. The Jews accepted the plan. The Arabs rejected it and instead sent five Arab armies to drive the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea.
Over the course of the next seventy years, during an elongated “peace process,” the Arabs were offered their own state on at least six other occasions, in 1967, 1995, 2000, 2008, 2014, 2020. They rejected each initiative.
And yet, in spite of Arab rejectionism, the hope that a two-state solution eventually would resolve the conflict remained strong, including among Jews. Over the past decades, this formula has been endorsed by most every country, the United Nations, every American administration, virtually all the major American Jewish organizations, as well as American Jews individually, and the vast majority of Israelis. When it was pointed out to Israelis that the Arabs have rejected every offer for fulfilling the two-state solution since the founding of the State of Israel and have answered every initiative to implement the formula with rounds of violence and terrorism, Israelis have generally shrugged their shoulders and answered “we can only hope.”
For Jews, the two state solution became the golden calf of false hope.
Only recently, has hope in the two-state solution begun to fade in the face of indisputable reality. This is because the world, and Israelis in particularly, have come to realize that the Arabs have never really wanted just their own independent state to live side-by-side in peace next to Israel. It is beginning to dawn on even the most ardent proponents of the two-state solution that the Arabs do not support two states, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, but only one state, a Palestinian state where Israel would be dismantled and Jews are banned (as they currently are from all of the Palestinian-controlled areas on the West Bank). This became apparent to even those most wedded to the two-state plan when Arab protesters started flooding the streets with signs and posters exhorting “Free Palestine from the river to the sea,” meaning from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea – – in other words, all of present day Israel.
In 2014, a poll taken by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy found that 60% of Palestinians said the final goal of their national movement should be “to work toward reclaiming all of historic Palestine from the river to the sea.” According to Middle East experts David Pollock and Catherine Cleveland, as of 2021, the majority of Palestinians say they want to reclaim all of historic Palestine, including pre-1967 Israel.
In spite of its decades long support for the hope that a two-state solution would resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Israel is just now coming to grips with the reality that its hope masked acknowledging the actual genocidal goals of the Palestinians: the destruction of the world’s only Jewish State. Seemingly, just in time, false hope seems to be descending in Israel.
At the same time, it is ascending in America. In the United States, hope springs eternal that, unlike all the other countries in the world over the last two millennia, the United States will prove the exception as a welcome home for the Jewish people. For almost two centuries, the United States has allowed Jews to assimilate into its (largely Christian) culture without (too much) fear or persecution. Now, however, the tide might be turning.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, 2021 was the highest year on record for documented reports of harassment, vandalism and violence directed against Jews. The American Enterprise Institute states that Jews were the most likely of any group, religious or otherwise, to be targeted for hate crimes in the U.S. in 2018. The current streak includes the 2018 attack on the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue – – where a gunman killed 11 Jewish worshippers, as well as the deadly rally in Charlottesville, Va. where extremist demonstrators chanted “Jews will not replace us” during a torchlit march, and also thousands of other incidents like vandalizing Jewish schools and community centers, extremist flyer campaigns, and the beating of identifiable Jews in major U.S. cities. Jews are no longer comfortable on college campuses or walking down their streets wearing a traditional star of David. They are excluded from many progressive forums. They are attacked while dining outside or playing in their own yards. Their houses of worship are subject to vandalism and arson and are now surrounded by walls and private security guards that matches Fort Knox. The golden age for Jews in America may be coming to an end.
And yet, the overwhelming majority of American Jews are not panicking, not immigrating to Canada or Israel, not significantly changing their belief in the American dream. Instead, they are betting the ranch on “hope.” “We hope things will change.” “We hope things will improve.” “We hope the situation will get better.” Despite having spent tens if not hundred of millions of dollars fighting anti-Semitism in the United States over the past decades, anti-Semitism continues to rise with no end in sight. American Jews, however, are just doubling down on more donations to ADL, more calls for “education” and “empathy” and “tolerance.” Mostly, they just bury their heads in the sand and respond with the silence that is the fatal trademark of Jews in exile.
It is well past time for Jews everywhere to pay heed to the stark words inscribed above the entry to the Dachau death camp (a quote from Dante’s “Inferno”): “Abandon hope all who enter here.”
It is well past time for Jews to stop embellishing reality in the hope that they will escape their forbear’s fate by relying on the good will of others. It is time for Jews everywhere to learn the fundamental lesson of the State of Israel: the nations of the world will not save you; only you can save yourself. Above all, it is time for renewed faith in the traditional Jewish proverb: “hope for a miracle, but don’t count on it.”