Answering the Door: Reflections on 75 years of Jewish Statehood
Seventy-five years since the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael, notwithstanding protests and dissent sweeping the country, it would be proper for every Jew, in Israel and in exile, to ask what his or her stake is in the future of Zionism, and, by extension, in the future of the Jewish people. The miracle of modern Israel and the return of the Jewish people to active participants in world history, rather than passive observers uprooted from their land, has been and continues to be discussed at length. It must not be lost upon all of us, however, that this miracle is not assured, and that the eternity of the Jewish people does not necessarily equate to the eternity of the State of Israel. It requires constant effort by every individual Jew, wherever he may find himself, to ensure that “reishit tzmichat geulatanu,” the dawn of our redemption, transforms into a complete, final redemption for the Jewish nation. This requires not only Jewish unity in Israel and in the Diaspora, but also the individual contributions of every member of klal Yisrael.
On Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach, we read Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs, written in the days of the First Temple and first Jewish commonwealth by King Solomon. It is largely understood by our Rabbis to be an allegory for the love between HaKadosh Baruch Hu, the Holy One Blessed be He, and His people Israel. The following will be a summary and my interpretation of a drasha given by my shul Rav in Bradley Beach, New Jersey, Rabbi Maury Kelman, who took the opportunity to explain HaRav Soloveitchik’s zt”l support of Zionism through verses in Shir HaShirim. The woman represents us, the Jewish people, and her lover is Hashem.
אני ישנה ולבי ער קול דודי דופק ״פתחי לי אחתי רעיתי יונתי תמתי שראשי נמלא טל קוצותי רסיסי לילה״
I was asleep, but my heart was awake. The voice of my beloved knocks. ‘Let me in, my own, my darling, my faultless dove! For my head is drenched with dew, my locks with the damp of the night.’ (Shir HaShirim 5:2)
The woman hears the voice of her lover, and her heart is still awake in its love. Yet, she lies in bed, ready to sleep, bathed and undressed for the night. Was she to get out of bed, soil her feet, don her robe once more? She contemplated and hesitated to heed her beloved’s call. She at last went to the door, to welcome in her beloved, but he had already gone.
“I sought, but found him not; I called, but he did not answer” (Shir HaShirim 5:6)
Sometimes, G-d knocks at our door. He is there, waiting for us to heed the call and let Him in. Far too often, we do not answer, and when He leaves, and the Jewish people, or us individually, suffer, we ask where Hashem is. We proclaim that He has hidden Himself from us, that if only He were here we would let Him in.
Sometimes, G-d knocks at our door, but He does not wait forever. It is upon us to heed His call, or to bear the consequences of His absence.
For two-thousand years of exile, in every land of our dispersion, we contributed everything to the national cause, to civic life, to science, medicine, law, and theology. We gave our all, and how did the nations of the world repay us? After a generation, or two or three perhaps, of respite, we were met, in nearly every country, with expulsion, persecution, murder, and even genocide. In America today, “the land of the free,” we are witnessing an unprecedented rise in antisemitism, particularly among younger generations. Where is Hashem?
In the past seventy-five years, with the reestablishment of a Jewish State in Eretz Yisrael, G-d’s knocks have grown progressively stronger, with the liberation of all of Yerushalayim and Yehuda vShomron in 1967, continuing to this day with Israel’s miraculous successes. G-d is knocking at our door, and the question is, to the Jews of the Diaspora, will we listen, or will it be too late?
I decided to make Aliyah because I do not want to sit on the sidelines of Jewish history, nor do I want to miss the opportunity to return to and settle the land of our forefathers and to bring a definite end to millennia of Jewish suffering. I was recently in New Jersey for Pesach, and two events I confronted were perhaps Hashem’s knocks on my own door. On the last night of Pesach, I was walking from dinner to my parent’s house, about forty minutes away. I was wearing a white shirt for Chag, tzitzis and a kippah. The boardwalk at the Jersey shore was desolate as is expected on a Wednesday night in April. A group of teenagers on bikes and skateboards came up behind me and shouted “Jew!” and antisemitic slurs. I did not engage, and after a few minutes of shouts and threats, they sped up and rode away. As they left, one boy turned around to me and threatened, “Expect more of this, man.” The following night, Motzei Pesach, I was parking at an ice cream shop a few towns away. When I left my car, two men in the car behind me rolled down their window and shouted “Jew!” They proceeded to mock and threaten me and mock Jews in general. I took a picture of their license plate and walked away.
Baruch Hashem, I was not physically threatened or attacked, yet these two incidents, less than a day apart, vindicate, in my eyes, my decision to make Aliyah. Despite terrorist attacks from Israel’s enemies, I have never felt unsafe walking the streets of Israel as a religious Jew, for I know that the Jewish people are backed by a strong army and police force, a Zionist government, and by G-d, who protects His people as we return home. I refuse to live as a guest in a country where increasingly I would have to choose between my physical safety and my Jewish identity and pride. It is not only physical attack I fear. More than that, it is the snide remarks, the silent suspicions that too quickly can turn into hatred, the mocking comments, and the detrimental effect this all has on the spiritual health and on the character of a Jew in exile. And while American society at large has accepted Jews, for the time being, I do not earnestly believe that traditional Jews, with their “backwards” customs, “parochial” sensibilities, and communal enclaves are or ever can be fully accepted in any gentile society. As such, nor too can any Jew.
G-d is knocking at the door of American Jewry. The choice of our generation is whether we will heed the call and return to our homeland, or continue to support Zionism from afar, only opening the door far too late. I have decided to seal my fate with that of the Jewish people in our land, for my ancestors’ blood, buried in a foreign land, calls out to me from the cruelest depths of Jewish history and demands to be avenged. We avenge their blood not through more bloodshed, but rather with every Jewish home and town built on the soil of our homeland and through the building of a society where no Jew will ever again face prejudice or persecution. The choice before us is painfully clear. Will we hear the knock at our door, will we heed the call, or will we hesitate and falter for just one moment too long? I have made my decision.
Yom HaAtzamut Sameach. Moadim l’simcha, l’geula shleima. To a complete redemption!