On the second day of Rosh Hashanah (which seems now like one hundred years ago, so much has happened since then), I delivered a sermon about the uniquely critical dangers facing Israel in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, and the ongoing turmoil in Syria.
I began by saying how reluctant I was to give a sermon like that, since speaking to a Jewish High Holiday crowd about the dangers facing Israel is hardly a risky or provocative choice of topic. But the circumstances at hand, I said, seemed to foreshadow a kind of geo-political perfect storm, and from what I could see, Israel was, indeed, in the greatest danger it has faced since 1967.
Events of the past week have proved that, provocative or not, I wasn’t really off the mark. And events of the next week or two will prove exactly how serious the deterioration of Israel’s relationship with Egypt is, and what the long-term price of that deterioration is likely to be.
For someone like me, who lived in Israel for a number of years and has very close family and friends there, times like these bring with them an almost physical sense of discomfort and unease. Like others with family members in the IDF and enough personal history with Israel to have walked many of the places where missiles are falling, experiencing this crisis from so far away feels almost like being AWOL. I find myself having almost exactly the opposite feelings from those people who had previously scheduled trips to Israel, but now are thinking about cancelling them. All I want to do is be there– to breathe the air, show my face, and be with friends and family. A brief solidarity trip will bring me there soon enough, but that’s more of a symbolic presence, as opposed to a substantive one.
Wehen all is said and done, no matter how out of sync one might feel, our Israeli brothers and sisters live there, and we American Jews live here. Their task at hand is to weather and defeat the blistering cascade of missiles that threatens to deliver both physical and emotional mayhem to the Israeli heartland. I hope that, by the time this article appears online, what is now the slim possibility of a cease-fire will have been realized, sparing the necessary brutality of a ground invasion. And I hope and trust that, if that is indeed the case, the cease-fire achieved will have provided for Israel and her beleaguered citizens the sense that what they endured was not in vane. Translation– the only cease-fire worth having is one that guarantees that Israel’s southern towns will not have to endure the unending reality of living in a target range.
That is Israel’s task at hand. What is ours here in America?
There is, of course, a steep price to pay– literally– for Israel’s Gaza operation. The costs to Israel’s economy in terms of lost productivity and commerce are staggering. Think of all the ways this is true: of physical damage done by missiles, of retail shopping that has been curtailed, of small businesses that have had to close, of restaurants where no one is coming to eat, and the resulting loss of work for all the support personnel, of hotels that have lost reservations, and, of course, the damage to Israel’s economy caused by for calling up tens of thousands of reservists who are summarily removed from the work force and service sector. Many billions of shekels have been lost even in this relatively short exchange of hostilities. No doubt, we will be asked to help shoulder this bill, and of course we must do so. Here in New York there may be a bit of “disaster relief fatigue” because of Hurricane Sandy, but that cannot be an excuse. We will be asked to dig deeper into our pockets, and as Con Ed might say, dig we must.
Side by side with the financial price tag of this operation is the ongoing, ever-present challenge of hasbarah – making Israel’s case in the wider marketplace of public opinion. To my eye, it appeared this time around that Israel herself, particularly via social media, did a much better job of explaining herself than in times past. That’s not saying all that much, considering how poor past efforts have been. But Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have been filled with new, easily understandable and high–quality entries each day of the conflict. Congratulations to Israel for finally making a credible effort in this critical arena where so much of public opinion is shaped these days.
But every single person who loves Israel and cares deeply about her security has a role to play in hasbarah. Making yourself well informed and able to articulate Israel’s case clearly and compellingly is more important than most people recognize. No slanted print media article or editorial, or electronic report that is sorely unbalanced and unfair, can be allowed to go unchallenged. Many of us live in areas where all of our elected officials are very much on board when it comes to Israel, but our local newspapers and TV stations are often heavily slanted against Israel. You may think of yourself and your voice as inconsequential when it comes to a paper like The New York Times, but together with the voices of others, yours counts! Those media organs that are habitually anti-Israel should be flooded with letters and e-mails when their stories and pictures paint a blatantly biased portrait of what we know to be other. Conversations at the water cooler, in health clubs, and particularly at holiday parties and gatherings so common at this time of year… all of these are our challenge. Get informed, stay informed, and let your voice be heard. It is the very least that we who are not running for shelter can do.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, we would be remiss if we did not take stock of the myriad blessings that are ours as citizens of this great country. One of the greatest blessings of all is the freedom to share our opinions as often and as loudly as we would care to. Take advantage of that freedom– and support Israel.
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the spiritual leader of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.