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Rachelli Prawer
More in love with my land and my people every day

How to exist in a lonely world

From the river to the sea, Israel stands alone (images via X, formerly Twitter)
From the river to the sea, Israel stands alone (images via X, formerly Twitter)

(סוטה מט:ב) “על מי יש להשען — על אבינו שבשמים”
“Upon whom can we rely? [Only] On our Father in heaven.” (Sotah 49b)

My son needed a time-out on Shabbat. Not exactly an unusual occurrence, but this occasion had a silver lining.

“Sorry that I’m laughing,” said a friend who was joining us for lunch, who is also the mother of a moody 4-year-old, “but I’m so glad to see that it isn’t just us.”

We all experience challenges, but many experiences are made easier to bear just knowing that we aren’t alone.

The last eight months have made many Jews feel very lonely in the world. We suffer, and receive limited empathy, if any. The hate towards us seems to increase daily. Calling for our extermination is considered acceptable in the right context, even trendy. Jews feel threatened and are actively targeted in public spaces, and most authorities just shrug their shoulders, making the haters even bolder the next time around. Most of the world governments relate to us with weak neutrality or outright hostility, falsely accusing us of the worst crimes, while crimes committed against us are not even acknowledged.

To be sure, we do have supporters, people who genuinely value truth and justice and are appalled at what is happening in our world. Nonetheless, it is the vocal minority of antisemitic thugs, and their willfully ignorant yes-men and useful idiots, who are dominating the public discourse.

We can look at the world around us in horror, and despair.

Or we can look around us, and back in time, and understand that it has long been destined for us to remain a solitary people.

The first Jew, Abraham, was known as אברם העברי, a difficult term to translate, but perhaps best understood as “Abraham of the other side.” In the Midrashic interpretation of the verse, Rabbi Yehuda explains כל העולם כולו מעבר אחד והוא מעבר אחד” (בראשית רבה פרשה מב, ח)”            “[The whole world] was on one side, and he on the other”.

Later on in the Torah, in Balaam’s divinely inspired monologue, the prophet declares “עָם֙ לְבָדָ֣ד יִשְׁכֹּ֔ן” – “[Israel:] a nation that will dwell alone.” Is this a statement, a curse or a blessing? Unclear. But there can be no doubt that his prophecy has been fulfilled more than once in our bloody history of persecution and isolation.

In Melachim I, chapter 18 (yesterday’s chapter in the daily learning cycle of Nach!), we read of the epic showdown between Elijah the lone prophet and the extensive apparatus of paganism that existed at the time (which itself sadly was Jewish). Imagine the scene: hundreds of prophets loudly and frenetically beseeching their gods, while Elijah stands, quiet and motionless, confident in the truth of his faith:

“.אֲנִי נוֹתַרְתִּי נָבִיא לַיהוָה, לְבַדִּי; וּנְבִיאֵי הַבַּעַל, אַרְבַּע-מֵאוֹת וַחֲמִשִּׁים אִישׁ”
(מלאכים א, יח:כב)

“Then Elijah said to the people, “I am the only prophet of G-d left, while the prophets of Baal number four hundred and fifty.” (Kings I, 18:22)

I can’t help but see echoes of this scene through time. Playing out in university campuses around the world; the frenzied pro-Hamas mobs, seeking out and violently harassing their “anti-Zionist” enemies. In the loud boos and jeers and hate directed at Eden Golan, as she sang quietly and with dignity while representing Israel in the Eurovision song competition. Not to mention the multitudes, also condemned by Eliyahu, who also today choose to “stay on the fence,”remaining silent in the face of such intimidation. Tanach really is timeless.

As in ancient times, today, we dwell alone. But we still have a choice: to sink into depression and despair, and to play the victim, all the while knowing that most people do not care enough to save us – or to realize the painful meaning of this reality: we can only rely on G-d and ourselves.

Living in Israel at this time is very painful, but also an incredible privilege. Never before have I personally experienced such a sense of national pain, pride and unity. In pain and difficulty, everyone is doing what they can to contribute, both on the front lines and on the home front. Israeli flags are everywhere, representing our hope and faith in our homeland and state and its ability to overcome adversity, together. I hope and pray that, moving forward, we can take these feelings and experiences with us to create a stronger Israel long into the future.

Outside of Israel, it is heartening to feel a sense of shared pain and shared destiny. From fundraising campaigns to events and other pro-Israel initiatives, the relationship between Jews in Israel and the Diaspora has never been closer. Jews worldwide have been forced to face the reality that regardless of our individual choices regarding identity and religion and where we choose to call home, our destiny is shared.

We are a nation destined to dwell alone, but G-d has not condemned us to loneliness. We have each other. We have our history, and the Divine promise we will survive every hardship. We have our mission and sense of purpose. We have our faith. We have our culture and religion of love, education and perseverance, even – and especially – in the face of adversity. We have hope.

(זכריה ד:ו) “לֹא בְחַיִל וְלֹא בְכֹחַ כִּי אִם־בְּרוּחִי אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת׃”
“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit’ said G-d of Hosts.”

About the Author
Rachelli is a doctor and currently works as a freelance medical writer. She moved to Israel from Australia 7 years ago, and currently lives in the beautiful Judean hills of Gush Etzion with her husband and 3 children.
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