But Do You Love Me?

July 15, 2022 – ט״ז תַּמּוּז תשפ״ב

“But do you love me?” asks Tevye of his wife Golde in the famous scene from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“What do you mean???” she retorts and lists all they did for each other for over 25 years.

Of course, they love each other. All those things they did for each other are part of what it means to love one another.

Israelis (apologies for the broad generalization) are much like Tevye. Americans are much like Golde. Beneath the many interactions, diplomatic relationships, State visits, pomp and circumstance, lies the question of the insecure almost 75-year-old Jewish state:  Do you love me?

Yes!  A resounding “Yes,” exclaimed President Biden on the tarmac at Ben Gurion airport this week. Our love for one another “It’s bone deep. Bone deep!” he exclaimed during his welcome ceremony.

Phew. Now we don’t have to worry.

That said, Israel is like a traumatized child with an ongoing fear of rejection. On the cognitive level, Israelis worry about rejection as our worst fear—that we’re unlovable, destined to be alone, and have little chance of being accepted by the international community.  Though Israelis like to appear tough and independent and that “we don’t care what the world thinks of us,” as Ben Gurion said in Yiddish “Oom Shmoom,” (referring to the United Nations).

On the contrary, we Israelis have a deep need for love and acceptance. It’s what pushes Israel to remind the world that it is the ultimate victim. No message is more clear than President Biden being taken to see the Iron Dome and Iron Beam missile defense system acquired from Israel’s greatest ally and friend. From there, Biden was taken directly to Yad VaShem, and Dani Dayan, Chairman of Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, said President Biden, “knows Yad Vashem so well, he could give the tour!”

Biden responded:

“The scourge of antisemitism still marches around the world. We must never forget the horrors to which an unchecked hatred can lead. That’s why I wanted to visit Yad Vashem when I landed, to bear witness and remember and renew our vow of ‘never again,'”

Israelis felt: “Yes! He understands us.”

Many Americans and others seem disappointed that Biden’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority appears to be pro forma, banal, and without tangible results. They presume that his visit in Israel is merely a stop on the way to his more significant visit to Saudi Arabia. While in Israel, there will be no new peace initiative, and no plan to revive negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The significance of this visit, however, is not lost on Israelis.

For Israelis, this is a perfect moment. After the love affair with President Trump went off the rails – even after he moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and canceled the Iran deal, all of which gave him near messianic status, Israelis now realize that Trump wasn’t playing with a full deck. The Jan. 6th hearings portray an unstable power-hungry megalomaniacal character (shocking, I know). Israelis raised an eyebrow after Trump dismissed former Israeli PM Netanyahu when Bibi called Biden to congratulate him on winning the presidency: “Oh Bibi, F*&^ him.

For Israelis, Joe Biden’s is a true and deep love. He is Clintonesque in his sincerity, Nixonian in his willingness to show up, and well, Biden-esque in his way of connecting with and charming people. Israelis know that he is sincere. His stories of meeting Golda (Meir), the young Yitzhak Rabin, and every Prime Minister since, bring us warm fuzzies as Biden waxes on about being in his “emotional home,” and “not having to be a Jew to be a Zionist.”

The significance of the document signed between Israel and the U.S. should not be underestimated for the love-starved Israel. “The Jerusalem U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration,” is incredibly important. The U.S. pledges never to allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and commits to partnering with other countries to confront Tehran’s aggression and destabilizing activities in the region.

That is needed now more than ever as Iran is within days of making weapons-grade nuclear material, though about a year from actually being able to make a nuclear bomb.

President Biden confirmed that the U.S.-Israel Memorandum of Understanding will be renewed and be ‘bigger and better’ than it was before.

Rather than a tripartite meeting with PM Lapid, Chairman Abbas, and President Biden – instead Biden, Lapid, Indian Prime Minister Modi, and United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan introduced a new forum dubbed the “I2U2” which hopes to further spark Israel’s regional integration.

We are slowly overcoming our fear of rejection and isolation. Herzl felt that rejection/isolation. Millions of Jews in the Holocaust experienced it. In the 1970s, Israelis felt it with the Arab boycott and oil embargo. And though the BDS movement is not a serious threat to Israel’s economy, it tugs on the emotional heartstrings after centuries of rejection. That’s why many Israelis often downplay the Occupation and Israel’s own actions. “Yeah yeah, we know, we know, and it’s complicated… but do you love us???” they often ask.

Regional integration, (aka the Abraham Accords) is for Israelis a “breakthrough.” “See, they do love us! We can be accepted by the world and even by Arabs who decades earlier called for our destruction.” (Ok, the Emiratis and Bahrainis never actually called for our destruction).

Despite all the stated purposes, for Israelis Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia is about one thing only:  recognition.

The fact that there is the possibility of direct flights from Tel Aviv to Jeddah is huge.

Israelis know that while Biden is having his lovefest, he may be a relic of the past given that he is a near octogenarian leader. Israelis understand that the currently constituted Trump Republican party represents an extremist populism, and they don’t know what to make of its Israel-loving but Jew-hating trends. Israelis are nervous also about far left-wing Democrats’ hostility to Israel, which seems to be growing.

In an exclusive interview with Israeli Channel 12’s Yonit Levi, just prior to his departure, President Biden dismissed the increasingly loud anti-Israel voices within the Democratic Party.

“There are few of them. I think they’re wrong. I think they’re making a mistake. Israel is a democracy. Israel is our ally. Israel is a friend…there’s no possibility, I think, of the Democratic Party or even a significant portion of the Republican Party, walking away from Israel.”

His reassurances won’t cure Israel’s anxiety.

Biden’s visit comes as we read Parashat Balak (Diaspora) when an enemy king employs a sorcerer to curse the Israelites. God intervenes (through an angel and a talking donkey) to offer words of blessing and praise.

Israelis continue searching for that praise, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when the President of the United States, the world’s most powerful leader, touches down on hallowed ground and utters his version of these words of blessing and praise:

מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶ֖יךָ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
כִּנְחָלִ֣ים נִטָּ֔יוּ כְּגַנֹּ֖ת עֲלֵ֣י נָהָ֑ר כַּאֲהָלִים֙ נָטַ֣ע יְהֹוָ֔ה כַּאֲרָזִ֖ים עֲלֵי־מָֽיִם׃
יִֽזַּל־מַ֙יִם֙ מִדָּ֣לְיָ֔ו וְזַרְע֖וֹ בְּמַ֣יִם רַבִּ֑ים וְיָרֹ֤ם מֵֽאֲגַג֙ מַלְכּ֔וֹ וְתִנַּשֵּׂ֖א מַלְכֻתֽוֹ׃
אֵ֚ל מוֹצִיא֣וֹ מִמִּצְרַ֔יִם כְּתוֹעֲפֹ֥ת רְאֵ֖ם ל֑וֹ יֹאכַ֞ל גּוֹיִ֣ם צָרָ֗יו וְעַצְמֹתֵיהֶ֛ם יְגָרֵ֖ם וְחִצָּ֥יו יִמְחָֽץ׃
כָּרַ֨ע שָׁכַ֧ב כַּאֲרִ֛י וּכְלָבִ֖יא מִ֣י יְקִימֶ֑נּוּ מְבָרְכֶ֣יךָ בָר֔וּךְ וְאֹרְרֶ֖יךָ אָרֽוּר׃
(במדבר כד:ה-ט)

How good are your tents, O Jacob,
Your dwellings, O Israel!

Like palm-groves that stretch out,
Like gardens beside a river,
Like aloes planted by
Like cedars beside the water;

Their boughs drip with moisture,
Their roots have abundant water.

Their ruler shall rise above Agag,
Their sovereignty shall be exalted.

God who freed them from Egypt
Is for them like the horns* of the wild ox.
They shall devour enemy nations,

Crush their bones,
And smash their arrows.

They crouch, they lie down like a lion,
Like a lioness; who dares rouse them?
Blessed are they who bless you,
Accursed they who curse you!

(Numbers 24:5-9)

When asked, “Do you love me, Do you love me, Do you love me???”

As Reform Zionists, we should respond: “Yes, we love you. You are cherished and accepted. Now, let’s roll up our sleeves and work together for continued acceptance in the region and the world and to build greater prospects for peace.”

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Rabbi Josh Weinberg is the Vice President for Israel and Reform Zionism for the URJ, and President of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America. He was ordained from the HUC-JIR Israeli Rabbinic Program in Jerusalem, and is currently living in New York.

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