My Community Never Told Me

Across American college campuses, it has become commonplace for anti-Zionist Jews to complain about various Jewish institutions and their failure to properly address the supposed sin of modern Israel’s founding (the “nakba”) or of course the “occupation”. From Birthright and Hillel to Jewish summer camps and Hebrew schools, organized protests are aiming to change the conversation and cast Israel in a negative light. Some of them even started a multi-media “You Never Told Me” campaign. these groups and individuals may be misinformed and their intentions may often be malicious, they are right about one thing — there is a lot that our Jewish institutions never told us. To the Jewish institutions that helped raise me:
You never told me about the Arab riots of 1920 when warnings of a potential pogrom were ignored by the authorities, and Jerusalem was attacked due to the incitement of Arab leadership. I was never told how the British “protectors” shut the gates to the Old City and prevented the Hagana from coming to the rescue of the defenseless Jews, yet managed to arrest their leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky for illegal possession of firearms.
You never told me about the Arab riots of 1929 that arose from Jewish prayer at the Western Wall and the incitement of the Mufti who began false rumors that Jews intended to destroy al-Aqsa. I never knew about the 133 Jews who lost their lives because of this incitement, including 67 in the holy city of Hebron alone. The rapes and mutilations contributed heavily to the destruction of the Jewish population in the city and was immediately followed by mass looting.
You never told me about the Arab riots of 1936-1939 that left over 300 Jews dead and  how these riots and their leaders’ incessant demands influenced the British Mandatory Government to pass the White Papers of 1930 and 1939, restricting Jewish immigration until it reached zero and made selling land to Jews illegal (often punished by death by Arab leadership) at a time when Jews were desperate to flee genocide in Europe.
You never told me that Israel was created despite the Holocaust rather than because of the Holocaust. We young Jews often imagined that Israel was merely gifted to our people, ignoring decades of hard work and reclaiming the land. We were not made aware that even in the days following the Allied victory, the world kept the Jewish people in Displaced Persons camps while Her Majesty’s government tried every way possible to maintain control of Mandated Palestine. Jewish Holocaust survivors spent years living in these camps, sometimesamong Nazi war criminals while the world continued to look the other way.
You never told me about men like Shmuel Zygielbojm, a member of the National Council of the Polish government in exile who committed suicide in 1943 to protest the indifference displayed by the world after his wife and son were killed in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Elie Wiesel’s commentary taught us that the world was silent, but some like Shmuel were not.
You never told me about the Bergson Boys and Ben Hecht who fought to save Europe’s Jews through illegal immigration before touring America to raise awareness and funds for a Jewish army to fight the Nazis. I was never told about Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook), Samuel Merlin, Eri Jabotinsky, and Yitshaq Ben-Ami and how they were met with opposition at every turn by Rabbi Stephen Wise and the American Jewish establishment who slandered them as liars and terrorists, hampering any progress they made in turning the tide for our doomed people in Europe.
You never told that while the Bergson Boys were in America, the Mossad Aliyah Bet was ramping up their illegal immigration efforts, trying to rescue as many doomed Jews as possible before all hope was lost. I never heard of the men like Shaul Avigur and Ehud Avriel who dedicated their lives to smuggling as many Jews as possible on ships that were often caught by the British and interned in camps rather than allowed in to Palestine.
You never told me about Shaike Dan, who parachuted behind Nazi lines in the Balkans and rescued tens of thousands of Jew in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Czechoslovakia, and who remained there even after the Third Reich had fallen to continue his rescue efforts and to use his high level connections to help secure the weapons that would go on to save the Yishuv in the War of Independence.
You never told me about the countless Jewish women who risked their lives for our people. I never heard my teachers talk about Esther Raziel, the freedom fighter and Irgun leader who helped found the Herut party and served in the very first Knesset, or about Hannah Szenes, the paratrooper who was dropped behind enemy lines into Yugoslavia on a mission to rescue Hungarian Jews. Although she was captured and tortured, she never gave up any information to the enemy. My educators never spoke of Sarah Aarohnson, one of the founders of the Jewish spy ring known as the Nili who helped the British in the first World War and who committed suicide rather than give up information to her Ottoman captors.
You never told me that only months after the League of Nations gave Britain the Mandate of Palestine, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was created in 1922 using three quarters of the land that was to be used for the Jewish home. I was never corrected in my embarrassing belief that our people were being greedy in wanting “all” of the Mandate when in reality, the negotiations were over only the remaining quarter.
You never told me about the circumstances surrounding the attack on Deir Yassin, and was therefore left open to mistruths and propaganda that was generated to place blame on the Irgun and the Lehi. I was never taught about the “retaliatory” massacre on the convoy to the Hadassah Hospital which left 78 doctors, students, and patients dead.
Without our community discussing the Independence War in-depth, I was never exposed to all of the attacks against Jewish villages that preceded the war such as the Battle at Tel Hai, the massacres in Safed, Kfar Etzion, and Tiberias. Why are the only attacks that we talk about the ones that are controversial for our own people rather than the ones that were carried out against Jews?
You never told me how war between Jews and Arabs could have been avoided altogether, as a peaceful solution was advocated for by Zionist leaders from David Ben-Gurion to Ze’ev Jabotinsky. The latter, often decried as the most extreme of Zionist leadership, said “I am prepared to take an oath binding ourselves and our descendants that we shall never do anything contrary to the principle of equal rights, and that we shall never try to eject anyone. This seems to me a fairly peaceful credo.” When Golda Meir was sent in secret to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah in an effort to avoid war, her attempts failed as the leader wanted Palestine included in his Kingdom.
You never told me that while the Jews prepared for the imminent attack following the UN partition plan, Arab leaders from Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia squabbled amongst themselves over how the Palestinian Mandate would be divided amongst themselves after the war against the Jews, rather than discussing the future of the people living there.
While Yitzhak Rabin is mostly spoken about in terms of the Oslo Accords and the peace process, my community never spoke about him as a warrior who strongly believed that the only way to peace was through strength. As Rabin told President Nixon, “We, too, believe that it is vital to reach agreement with our adversaries in the Middle East. But negotiations can only begin when Israel speaks from a position of strength and has concrete backing.”. Falsely transmitted as the ultimate dove, Jewish educators rarely explain that Rabin was elected as “Mr. Security” for his desire to wait for the right moment to make peace, when the IDF had reached “invincibility”.
You never told me about the long Arab Palestinian history of rejecting all peace offers, from the Peel Commission and the UN Partition Plan to Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David in 2000 and Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008. Without this information, it appears to the Jewish youth that Israel is at fault for the lack of peace, ignoring decades of genuine attempts. These failed efforts once led Shimon Peres to say, “One must remember, just as a bird cannot fly with one wing and a man cannot applaud with one hand, so a country cannot make peace just with one side, with itself.”
You never told me about the history of the Sephardic Jews and how many of them living in Arab-ruled lands had to give an outward appearance of practicing Islam while secretly remaining Jews in the privacy of their own homes.
You never told me about our ancestors in Soviet Russia, afraid to express their culture for fear of being sent to the gulags. I never knew about the bravery of the refuseniks, daring to be proud Jews and risking everything in order to hold on to their Judaism and state their desire to return to Zion.
You never told me that descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees from 1948 inherit refugee status, and to this day are kept by their leaders in squalid camps so it looks to the world that Israel is to blame for their misery.
There is a lot that the Jewish community does not teach its youth. This is a shame, if for no other reason, those parts of our history include endless people, events, and stories that would bring us closer together. Zionism was created as a constructive national liberation movement in which the Jewish people were seeking peaceful coexistence with their Arab neighbors as evidenced by the words and deeds of Zionist leaders across the political spectrum. With more complete understanding of our history, the Jewish youth would be less susceptible to the negative influence of those who wish us divided.  We spend too much time learning how to defend Israel and justify the actions of our ancestors, when we should be using that time to instill a greater love of our people.
While it is easy to blame this on our community leaders for not “telling us,” we need to stop pointing fingers and look at ourselves. Despite the complaining of some, the history of our people is not hidden from us. We are the people of the book. It is about time that we took it upon ourselves to pick one up and fill in the knowledge gaps that are left from an incomplete education.
About the Author
As a Jewish New Yorker trying to do his part to support Israel from the Diaspora, Jared is an advisor/ member for the B'nai Brith Youth Organization, Legion Self-Defense Program, and Fuel For Truth Advocacy Boot Camp, as well as a Birthright Madrich.
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