Following President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, reaction across the Jewish world has been typical, with 18 million people expressing 24 million opinions. Personally, I want to thank the president for his actions both as an American and as a Jew. I also want to reassert that contrary to most public pronouncements, I believe his recognition not only does not destroy the peace process, it helps make peace possible.
Perhaps most striking for me has been the reaction of those who believe the President did not go far enough, ordering the Embassy moved right away and declaring an “undivided” Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Because of that, they fell there is no reason to be grateful.
To these people especially I offer the following, which is based on the best speech I ever heard. It was given on the top of Masada about 30 years ago by a tour guide whose name I don’t remember. The ending prayer is my own, but the story is his:
“It is from this spot on the top of Masada that you can best understand the dilemma that is modern day Israel.
When you read our history books, they will tell you that the Jews were forced into the Great Revolt by the oppressive practices of the ruling Romans, who insisted on dictating how the Jews ran their lives. The truth, however, is somewhat different. Actually, the Romans ran a rather liberal empire. Once they conquered a territory, they installed a figurehead ruler but mostly kept hands off. If you paid your taxes, raised your armies when they needed it and didn’t cause any trouble, the Romans pretty much left you alone. After all, they were Pagans and their empire was too big. Keep quiet, don’t make too much of a fuss, and you could go about your business.
This, however, was not good enough for the Jews. We couldn’t countenance another power having control over our lives in Eretz Yisrael. Terribly divided by internal strife, the center did not hold, and the radicals seized control. Unwilling to stand down or compromise, they insisted that the Jews rise up against of the Romans.
And so the Great Revolt came. It was brutal and vicious. For nearly seven years blood ran in Judea. The Jews fought like demons, surprising the overwhelmed Romans. Feeling their credibility at risk, Rome refused to relinquish control. By the war’s end, nearly half of Rome’s military strength had been brought to bear in the fight.
When it was over, the last Zealots committed suicide here on this spot. In their wake, the Temple had been destroyed, Jewish slaves cost less than horses, and our people were disbursed. Before the Revolt, it is estimated that 10% of the population of the entire Roman Empire was Jewish. By the end of the third and final Revolt sixty years later, Jewish life in Israel almost entirely came to an end, and many of the great Jewish centers throughout the Roman Empire had been destroyed. Prior to the Holocaust, this was the greatest disaster in Jewish history.
So traumatized were what was left of our people that for the next 2,000 years the goal of world Jewry became to just get along. We tried to stay out of politics, not rock the boat, not get too assertive and weather the storm.
It’s easy now to look back at our Jewish leaders in Europe during the 1930’s and scream why didn’t they try to assert themselves earlier? Why didn’t they see it coming sooner? But remember they were dealing with a mindset 2,000 years old. The Jewish leaders at the time did what they were trained to do. It didn’t work against the Nazis. If power without humility brought exile, death and desecration, humility without power brought a Holocaust.
That is the struggle of modern day Israel. We have power but are not invincible. Now we must decide when we stand firm and rely on our strength, and when we compromise and rely on our humility. There are no right answers, but we must always ask the questions.”
Those questions will never be more in focus than in the coming months and years. President Trump’s actions reshuffle the diplomatic deck and embroil the Jewish world. While I disagree with those Jewish leaders who opposed the President’s actions because they feel it is disconnected to a peach process, I also disagree with those who believe the President did not go far enough. Israel may have a strong military and the backing of the United States, but there are only 18 million Jews living in world of 1 billion Muslims. To flaunt excessive hubris at this time, I believe, would be the epitome of folly.
The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Therefore, we all must do the best we can. So for all of us, let us pray:
“Our God and God of our fathers and mothers, as we embark on a new international journey in which the old diplomatic order is being washed away, may we always remain strong both in our physical strength and in our compassion. May our heads always overrule our hearts. May we firmly assert our rights but always be respectful of the rights of others, seeking compromise and understanding whenever and wherever possible.
When our lives end, may we be willing and able to look at our future generations and tell them that we did our best both to preserve our rights, beliefs and traditions, but also to facilitate peace and understanding by seeking to understand the hopes, dreams and beliefs of others. Mostly, let us pray that we always will keep asking the questions, secure in the belief that we never truly will know the answers.
And let us say,