Israel is a complicated and complex society, a country that is still relatively brand new. This year Israel will celebrate its 75th birthday; there are many people alive today who remember a time before the State of modern-day Israel existed. Israel is now engaged in a wrenching and very public argument about the nature of its government and institutions. It is amid this deeply painful debate about self-governance that Israel is experiencing a devastating uptick of terror, one that has seen 14 Israelis murdered since the start of the year. All of this is occurring against the backdrop of a murderous and increasingly aggressive Iranian regime that is rushing headlong towards obtaining a nuclear weapon and has vowed to annihilate the Jewish State with that weapon.
In the Diaspora, Jewish leadership and the rank in file are grappling with what to make of the turmoil. The North American Jewish communal leadership structure has been vocal about the challenges that this newly elected government poses for diaspora Jewry and our brothers and sisters in Israel. In many cases those concerns are represented in Israel by the massive demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and all throughout Israel. Israel is a country that is engaged in a difficult and painful internal struggle for all the world to see. This is hard to watch. We pray that like other democracies, the United States included, these debates result in a stronger and more vibrant country.
Traditional Jews pray three times a day facing towards the Jewish homeland and its eternal capital in Jerusalem. In a few weeks we will end our Seders with the words Next Year in Jerusalem, a plea for generations that, at best was aspirational, but for most Jews simply fanciful. We yearn for our homeland because Israel is our spiritual, historical, religious, and cultural touchstone. We are inextricably linked not only to the land but also to the people of Israel. And those people need us in the Diaspora now more than ever.
I have heard people ask leaders of the Jewish community, “What should I do about Israel? I am so upset!”
“How can we support this government and pray for the State of Israel at a time like this?”. The counterargument to abandoning Israel and Israelis is: Our support for Israel and the people of Israel should not be conditional. And this might be the time when Israel needs us the most. Regardless of your opinions about the current political strife or even if the whole situation just makes you want to throw your hands up in disgust, now is not the time to turn away from Israel and Israelis. What Israel needs now is the Diaspora Jewry’s long and heartfelt embrace.
When a member of your family is struggling or maybe even G-d forbid is making decisions that puts them in danger we don’t run away from them—rather we run towards them and hold them tightly, offering love. kindness, understanding, and even some difficult advice. You can and should be able to disagree with the government of Israel and still love Israel and Israelis. One can surely find members of the Israeli government distasteful or beyond the pale of acceptability; I am sure that is also true here in the United States and in almost every other democratically elected government on the planet. You can loudly and proudly disagree with policies of this or any other Israeli government but just as loudly and proudly support the people in the streets of Jerusalem who are protesting what they believe is injustice. The young men and women who every day put their lives in danger to protect Israel deserve our respect, love, and support. It is an extremely dangerous time to wear the uniform of the IDF. These heroes stand a post across the country to try and prevent the next stabbing, ramming, or shooting attack regardless of your political affiliation. May G-d protect them. And the terrorists—they do not care if you are a member of Likud or Meretz or Yesh Atid, or even if you are an American—just that you are Jewish.
So, to answer the question, “What should I do about Israel?”, that, like everything in the region, is not straightforward. But you should recognize that this relatively new democratic state is going through a serious upheaval and these are perilous times for the state and its people. You should know that the threats from inside its’ borders and beyond grow every day. You need to know that the people of Israel face danger every time they stand at a bus stop or get in their car to go to the store. The answer to, “What should I do?”—well, that is different for everyone. But when a cousin, a daughter, a sister, an uncle, or a dear friend is hurting, our instinct should be to draw them near and tell them we love them; that might not be a bad start to answering the question.