As we enter into the period of the Jewish Calendar from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shemini Ha’atzeret, it is a time to review your actions and reflect on your behavior. The Kotzker Rebbie wrote a book on this topic, Hesbon HaNefesh, or “Accounting of the Soul.” I heard a story once I believe attributed to the Kotzker Rebbie that right before Yom Kippur while eating the meal before his fast he would sit down and have a dialogue with HaShem of the events of the world around him. Some might find this chutzpadik; however, I believe it is a model of how we should perform our daily “Hesbon HaNefesh,” that is, within the context of what is going on in the world around us.
I believe there has never been a more confusing time in my life in the three worlds that I live in. I was born in and raised in New York, married a daughter of Canada, and then raising a family in Southern California, I, of course, have strong ties to North America. Looking around at the state of affairs in the US today, I struggle. I see a President who has done remarkable things, especially for my beloved Israel. From day one he was attacked by much of the mainstream media and even if he did something that most thought was good; he was never given much credit. He has been attacked for policies started by his predecessors without any acknowledgment of their actions. It is easy to make the case that he has been judged unfairly.
And yet I can also see what the detractors have against the President. I personally believe that in order to become President you have to be a narcissist; however, all those before him were able to present themselves through a veneer of poise and professionalism. Quite frankly, President Trump has no filter. I have heard from many supporters they wish he would just keep his mouth shut most of the time and refrain from Tweeting!
Finally, there are actions I find completely abhorrent from this President. Whether it is his lack of strong response to extremists on the right or the clearing of the streets during a peaceful protest so that he could have a photo opportunity, which I watched as it was happening, was too much for me to stomach. His handling of the Corona pandemic was another perfect example of his narcissism and failed leadership.
The second world I live in is Israel. Having made Aliyah, I now reside in Jerusalem. I watch in amazement what is going on around me. Yesterday was a perfect example. It started with announcements of Bahrain joining the United Arab Emirates in making peace with Israel. It then went to a Minister’s meeting where the Minister’s attempted to assign blame for the quantum leap from 2000 new cases of COVID 19 s a day to 4000 new cases a day within 2 weeks on the Health Minister and the Corona Czar. This despite the fact for weeks they have been proposing actions that have been struck down by the Corona Committee and the Ministers of the government.
A typical day would start with the announcement that some action is being taken; for example, Ukraine not allowing tourists to visit during September. Then the former Minister of Health, Yaakov Litzman, from the Hareidi party Agudath Yisrael, who violated his own restrictions and had to go into isolation during the previous lockdown, who then became the Minister of Housing and Construction, threatened to quit and bring down the government. Shortly their after you hear that the government is trying to work out how to accommodate a limited number of people to travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah.
The day ended with more protests against Prime Minister Netanyahu which have become a daily ritual. People tried to block the route to Ben Gurion Airport so Prime Minister Netanyahu would be prevented from flying to the US to sign the Peace Accords with UAE and Bahrain. The protestors had many issues:
- The Prime Minister was leaving during a time of crisis
- UAE is sending their Foreign Minister, so why does Israel have to send their Prime Minister
- The protestors accuse the Prime Minister of only attending the signing for political gain and a photo opportunity with President Trump
- The protestors object to the Prime Minister taking his whole family along
(I am trying to find out if Leah Rabin was present at the signing of the Oslo Accords for fair comparison)
- A whole range of issues beyond the peace accords
- Netanyahu serving as Prime Minister while under indictment
- Netanyahu’s lack of leadership to appease a slim majority to hold onto power
- Netanyahu’s lack of leadership during the Corona pandemic
- The antics of Netanyahu’s wife and son and their impact on the public
- Netanyahu and Likud’s attack on the Judicial branch of government
- Netanyahu’s attack on the free press
Finally, I have spent much of my adult business life in the International arena. I have traveled extensively to every continent, apart from Antarctica, and I have been blessed with being exposed to a broader perspective. And from where I sit, I see chaos all around.
Whether it is an emboldened Iran exporting terrorism, the fraying of the EU beginning with Brexit, the rift being formed between the US and Europe as evidenced through many actions, Russia and China asserting themselves aggressively on the world stage and most prominently a worldwide pandemic I see a world in chaos. It has become apparent that such institutions as the United Nations or the World Health Organization have become so politicized that they have become impotent.
On a more personal level, this chaos has led to a rise in the incidents of Antisemitism on a worldwide basis. It seems, whenever there is a need to blame someone, the Jews provide a convenient target. With less than .2% of the world population, it is easy to blame the Jews for all the world’s ills. This includes running the world controlling all the finances, newspapers, and entertainment to being the leaders of Socialism and Communism to destroy Democracy and capitalism. Whenever a population needs to prop itself up by putting someone else down Jews are the best choice.
When Theodore Herzl wrote The Jewish State, he believed the only solution to Antisemitism was to create a state where Jews would be in the majority to prevent discrimination against Jews. He came to this conclusion through experiences in his life. In university being a fervent Nationalist, he joined a club only to resign because the nationalist fervor included Antisemitism. He toyed with the idea of Jewish assimilation and even conversion to Catholicism en masse but rejected that seeing that even assimilated Jews were discriminated against as he witnessed the Dreyfus Affair. His realization was that Jews must be responsible for their own destiny. Being assimilated himself, this was not a religious concept, but a political one.
Ahad Ha’am took exception to the Herzlian view of Zionism. He did not believe the construction of a Jewish State would result in Jews leaving their homes and migrating to Israel. We can see that in fact, Jews of Eastern Europe where there was much discrimination and Antisemitism led the first and second Aliyot whereas, Jews of Western Europe, the United States, Canada, and even the Middle East where there was less discrimination had very few make Aliyah. Thus, as pointed out by Rabbi Arthur Herzberg in his seminal work, The Zionist Idea, the challenge that faces Israel dating back to the foundation was the divide between the Zionism of Herzl and Ahad Ha’am.
The majority of Zionists in Israel believe in the Herzlian view of Zionism; that all Jews should make Israel their home. However, those who felt safe and comfortable in their society have not felt the need to make Aliyah. They have felt safe and content in their host nation. Although many of them support Israel as a concept, they see no need to emigrate; thus de facto adopting Ahad Ha’am’s Zionism.
ADL’s Audit of Antisemitic Incidents in 2019 showed a 12% increase throughout the US which recorded the highest number of on record since the ADL began tracking. This phenomenon is not limited to the US. According to Statista Antisemitic incidents in the UK rose 15% to an all-time high. The same trend can be seen in France which prompted National Geographic to publish an article entitled, “’Things have only gotten worse’: French Jews are fleeing their country.” (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2019/11/french-jews-fleeing-country/)
It is not surprising then that Aliyah statistics showed that 2019 was a record-breaking year. Over 34,000 Olim returned home. Over the past decade, over 255,000 from 150 nations have made Israel their home. And it is no surprise that nations where Antisemitism is increasing have the largest number of immigrants including the US and France. In the uncertainty before the election where Jeremy Corbyn’s Antisemitism was ubiquitous, Israel saw the number of Olim from the UK increase. And the trend continues today with Nefesh b’Nefesh reporting a 50% increase in applications to make Aliyah from the US.
Prior to the Holocaust, many Jews did attempt to leave Germany and Europe for safer shores. There are many famous stories such as the “Voyage of the Damned” where Jews fled only to be refused entry and returned to Germany and the gas chambers. However, today, as Antisemitism rears its ugly head, Jews have a choice. Whether you are a person of history who believes that Israel was created as safe haven for Jews from Antisemitism, or you are a person of faith who believes we are witnessing the ingathering as prophesized in Devarim, it is clear that since the Holocaust there has never been more of a need, nor a better time, for Jews to come home to Israel.
I am extremely grateful to those who created the state of Israel. This year, as I sit down to do my Hesbon HaNefesh within the context of the world around me, I am thankful that my wife, children and I have made the choice to live in Israel. I pray that the chaos in the world begins to subside; however, if it continues, I am thankful that Israel is here to absorb any and all Jews who need her. Now is the time for all people of Faith, for religious or secular reasons, to rejoice in the State of Israel.
!שָׁנָה טוֹבָה וּמְתוּקָה