Ziona Greenwald

Prisoners of Zion

After governments shut down the world almost overnight because of Covid, making travel all but impossible, I published an op-ed about how it felt to be grounded in Israel, no vacations or reunions with distant family on the horizon.  In it, I wrote in part: “For my family and I, immigrants from the U.S., having our movement restricted…felt confining, punishing, like a sudden amputation. And yet, through all the challenges and frustrations of the year (and then some) of corona, and despite our anger at the government for bumble after bumble, we felt exceedingly fortunate to be trapped in the holiest city in the Holy Land, the epicenter of the Jewish people – prisoners of Zion, you might say. What better place to be confined at home than in the heart of the Jewish homeland?”

I’ve been thinking back to those sentiments now as Israel’s National Security Council has reiterated its travel warning to Israelis (and Jews everywhere who are listening).  Don’t travel if you can avoid it.  Stay away from countries with large Muslim populations.  Avoid outward displays of Jewishness or Israeli nationality.  Steer clear of protests and remain alert at all times.

The NSC then provided an updated color-coded map of different level threat zones – echoes of coronavirus, again.  Most of the Middle East and much of Africa is red.  Parts of Russia and the East Asian republics, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, parts of Africa, and Indonesia are orange.  Virtually all of Western Europe and some of the rest, Australia, most of South America, and the rest of Africa are yellow.

The U.S. remains green for now – a determination which might have more than a little to do with diplomacy.  Oddly, a news story I saw about the NSC announcement was illustrated by a photo taken at an anti-Israel rally-cum-riot in New York City showing one of the most offensive posters I’ve ever seen:  “Keep the World Clean,” it read, showing a blue Star of David in a garbage can.

Canada, New Zealand, Mexico, Central America, a smattering of South America, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Greenland, Mongolia, and our neighbor Cyprus are among the other green zones.  All the designations are subject to change with changing facts on the ground; indeed, this new outline “updgraded” many countries to higher alert levels.

Notwithstanding the color-blocking scheme, the government’s travel warning applies to all international travel.  “Since the beginning of the war, there have been increased efforts identified from Iran and its affiliates, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to target Israelis and Jews around the world,” the NSC’s statement read.  “On this basis, along with rising levels of incitement, attempted attacks and antisemitism around the world, the National Security Council has reiterated its recommendation for Israelis to reconsider any nonessential travel at this time.”

Like most Israelis, with or without this sobering advice from the government, my family and I had no plans for a vacation abroad this Chanukah holiday – our country’s answer to “winter break” – or anytime in the near future for that matter.  Which one of us hasn’t seen videos and read first-person accounts of the most vicious, violent displays of hatred toward Jews in cities across the globe (including virtually every major American city)?  Who doesn’t feel a chill down their spine when they see the slogans and hear the shouting, the contempt of the masses unleashed like a river whose dam has been breached?  Do we really want to visit such places for sport?

Unfortunately, domestic getaways are off the table as well, due to fighting in the North and South and the transformation of hotels in popular vacation spots from Eilat to the Dead Sea to Herzliya into temporary villages for evacuees from within Israel.  And then there is the guilt factor:  Would it be right to take a leisure trip while the country is bleeding and so many are suffering?  And shouldn’t we devote our limited financial resources toward the great needs in our own communities?

So here we are, at home in Jerusalem, prisoners of Zion once again.  In light of the myriad hostages still suffering in Hamas captivity, let me be clear:  I do not use the word “prisoners” in this context as a plaint.  Being confined to the Jewish State is a blessing of majestic proportions.  The fact that the world doesn’t want us defiling its corridors, its noble centers of culture, reminds us what a gift we have in our beautiful homeland, a gift granted by G-d and vouchsafed by history.

More than a refuge, this is the single and singular place where every Jew who wishes can live Jewish – proud and strong and not on mute.  (Of course, Israel is a gift to the world as well – sending forth so much innovation, advancements, humanitarian aid and moral leadership – but most of that goes unrecognized.)

Some of our brothers and sisters around the world are waking up to reality, others still believe in the dream – the Diaspora dream, that is – and others are sadly “woke” instead of awake.  Until they all find their way home, we will be here, for now not budging even for a little sunny (or snowy) getaway.

And despite all the challenges, we are the lucky ones.

About the Author
Ziona Greenwald, J.D., a contributing editor for The Jewish Press, is a writer and editor and the author of two children's books, Kalman's Big Questions and Tzippi Inside/Out. She lives with her family in Jerusalem.
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