Confessions of a Diaspora Jew

It was supposed to be a typical summer morning in Israel; old men sipping Turkish coffee at outdoor cafes; children filling up playgrounds; men and women sweating their way to work. But at 9AM on July 12th, 2006 Hezbollah interrupted summer, launching rockets into Israel and instigating what is now known as The Second Lebanon War. Children accustomed to seeking shelter from the sun and finding it under a tree’s canopy now hid from a far more dangerous adversary, ironically coming from the very same sky, finding “shade” only within the walls of a concrete shelter.

When the first sirens sounded, word quickly spread and my mind drifted towards worse case scenarios and the fate of my friends and family in the north. Rumors of another kidnapping were soon confirmed when Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz told Israel’s Channel 10, “If the soldiers are not returned, we will turn Lebanon’s clock back 20 years.” The fate of the Jewish State seemed to be in question yet again, and the country began to mobilize.

As my eyes remained transfixed by the war’s play-by-play unfolding on my television, I did a mental inventory of the bomb shelter. Supplies, gas masks, and water were all up-to-date and only seconds away from my apartment door. I wasn’t a soldier, but I was young, capable and prepared to assist in any way I could. I spoke the language, knew the land, and with fathers and sons away at war I could be of use, I thought.

I was calculating the fastest route to my family in Haifa when a voice interrupted, “Are you coming down for dinner!” It was my mother. She’d been preparing my favorite dishes every night since I’d returned to Boston from Israel a little over a week earlier. Her voice woke me to the fact that while my heart and mind were in a Jerusalem apartment and entwined with the fate of the Jewish State, my feet were firmly, and dare I say safely, planted on the ground of Diaspora. I peeled my eyes away from the news just as the anchor announced the day’s causalities. As Jews living in the north of Israel huddled in bomb shelters, I walked into my parent’s kitchen to enjoy a steak.

Haunted by a helplessness and disconnect, I watched another of Israel’s wars from afar, and wondered, “Am I but a spectator to the greatest undertaking in the history of the Jewish People?”

In 1947, Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, announced, “No state is ever handed to a people on a silver platter,” yet here I was 58 years later holding it firmly in my hands! Sitting comfortably in my home in Boston I looked down to examine what I held. The silver platter upon which the Jewish State had been served to me shined with a polish of privilege, and, staring at my reflection, I asked, “Have I earned this?” The young man staring back at me remained silent, and so I pledged to him to raise Jewish children, lead a Jewish life, study Torah, teach others Torah, dedicate my life to advocating on behalf of the Jewish People and the Jewish State, and, on most days when I ask, “Have I earned this?” I can answer, “Yes…If the world is a stage and the 3,000 year story of the Jewish people one of its greatest dramas, I am, indeed, playing a role. I am a part of the story.”

But on these days, the 7 days of Shiva between Yom Ha-Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and Yom Ha-Zikaron (Day of Remembrance)…our sad, slow march to Yom Ha-Hazmaut (Israel’s Independence Day)…my answer changes. It is hard to even look at my reflection. I hold the polished, privileged silver platter in my hands, summon the strength to look deep into the eyes of the young man staring back at me, and ask, “Am I doing enough?” Again, he remains silent.

About the Author
Adam Watstein is currently the Rabbi of B'nai Aviv, a Conservative Synagogue in Weston, Florida.