Let your feet speak

Circumstances being what they are, there is an event occurring next weekend that demands your active participation. Common sense demands it. Practical politics demand it. Jewish law demands it.

The event is the annual Celebrate Israel Parade along Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.

Among the circumstances is the overarching one: Israel increasingly is being demonized on the world stage. World leaders refuse to acknowledge the realities of the Israel-Palestinian dispute. They prefer to see Israel as the harsh occupier of a helpless people who yearn for peace and freedom.

Never mind that the Fatah movement, the central player in the Palestinian Authority, only last week publicly reiterated the PA’s true end goal: “From its [Mediterranean] Sea to its [Jordan] River…, [all the land] is ours.” (See Fatah’s main Facebook page; the statement was published on May 13.)

Never mind that in the first half of 2015, the PA either sanctioned or at least actively promoted events — including an indoor football tournament, a marathon, and a chess tournament—that were held in honor of terrorist murderers of Jews, Israeli and otherwise. All these events were gleefully reported in the PA’s official daily newspaper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida.

The world, the United States to a degree included, prefers not to see any of this. The Vatican, which recently signed a formal treaty of friendship with “the State of Palestine,” offered the latest example of this head-in-the-sand approach to statecraft. (For the record, news reports that Pope Francis called PA President Mahmoud Abbas an “angel of peace” were false. Rather, he wisely said to Abbas, “May you be an angel of peace.” There is a big difference, and the New York Times and others should be ashamed of themselves for such inaccurate reporting, which only furthers the demonization of Israel.)

Another circumstance demanding feet on the ground at the Celebrate Israel Parade is the waning importance of, and even support for, Israel among what the Pew Research Center calls “Jews of no religion,” and especially among the under-30 crowd.

According to last year’s Pew survey on Jewish life in the United States, while “[a]mong Jews 65 and older, about half (53%) say caring about Israel is essential to what being Jewish means to them,” only 32 percent of Jews under 30 believe that.

The report also noted, “Jews of no religion are more likely to see having a good sense of humor as essential to what it means to be Jewish than to see caring about Israel as essential to their Jewish identity (40% vs. 23%).”

Of lesser importance, perhaps, is an antipathy caused by a smear campaign run by extremists on the far right against parade participants on the far left, especially the New Israel Fund, but essentially also targeting Americans for Peace Now, Partners for Progressive Israel, and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. The purpose of the campaign was to force the parade’s organizers to take back permission for the NIF and the others to march in the parade.

Yes, these groups have some wrong-headed ideas, but to call them Israel-hating —  and to do so in mean-spirited and even vicious language in op ed after op ed—is way beyond the pale. All this campaign has managed to do is turn some people off from wanting to attend.

The world needs to see Jews from the far left to the far right marching side by side in support of the Jewish state. It needs to see that regardless of whether Jews support the policies of the present government in Jerusalem, they continue to support the safety and security of Israel.

Politicians count heads. If there is waning attendance at the parade, they will interpret it as waning support among American Jews for Israel. That must not happen.

From the Torah on, it is clear that Jews in the diaspora have an absolute obligation to support the State of Israel in every practical way possible, including “showing the flag” when circumstances warrant it. In this case, that means standing on Fifth Avenue as the parade marches by.

This obligation even pre-dates the conquest of Canaan, which marked our assumption of our patrimony. It goes back to the days of the sojourn in the desert, following the Exodus.

We see the birth of the diaspora in Chapter 32 of Numbers. Virtually on the eve of Israel’s crossing over to the west bank of the Jordan to claim its rightful inheritance, at the very moment Israel has to be united, Moses creates the diaspora, with God’s obvious approval, if not under His direction. Moses does so by granting the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe the right to live outside the Land.

There can be only one explanation for such a remarkable event: The diaspora was created to benefit Israel. Moses made that clear in Deuteronomy 3:18-20, when he recalled the moment he approved the request of the two-and-a-half tribes to live outside the Land of Israel:

“And I commanded you at that time, saying, ‘The Lord your God has given you this land to possess it; you shall pass over armed before your brothers the People Israel, all who are fit for the war.…[And there you shall remain] until they also possess the Land which the Lord your God has given them beyond the Jordan. And then shall you return every man to his possession, which I [in this case clearly referring to God] have given you.’”

Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe may have thought living outside the Land was their idea, but Moses said it was God’s plan all along.

The right to live outside Israel exists only for those who actively assist the people inside Israel to live securely. For those who are not active in assisting their brethren in Israel to live securely, that right never existed and they sin every moment they live anywhere but Israel.

Plan to be on Fifth Avenue on May 31.

About the Author
Shammai Engelmayer is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel of the Palisades. He hosts adult Jewish education classes twice each week on Zoom, and his weekly “Keep the Faith” podcast may be heard on Apple Podcasts, iHeart Radio, and Stitcher, among other sites. Information on his classes and podcast is available at www.shammai.org.