Joshua L. Schonfeld

Reflections on Ahavat Yisrael–April 2024

People who know me well are aware that my connection to Israel and to my Israeli family and friends is very personal.  The Jewish value of Ahavat Yisrael (love of Israel) was fostered by my parents and my grandparents and we have done our best to instill it in our family.  I have been to Israel many times and have written of these experiences and about our deep bond with Israel numerous times over the years (most recently, in July, 2023, Memories of 1967 and 1968—just before a family trip that now seems as though it was a very long time ago).

That background provides some context to our (Suzanne and my) decision to fly to Israel to participate on a Volunteer Mission with the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in February. Since the horrific and barbarous attacks on Israel and Israelis on 10/7 (as well as other foreign nationals who were in Israel that day), we have been glued to all forms of media, attempting to stay up to date–and show support for our family and extended family in Israel.  And, immediately following the attack, we felt a deep internal pull (or calling).  We simply had to go to Israel.

The mission was profoundly moving and inspiring.  Each day, I posted diary entries about the trip (as well as a few photos).  They were my attempt to give our family and friends a sense of what we were experiencing.  Now that it has been over six months since the start of the war, several weeks since our return and there has been time to reflect, I have to admit that I have been struggling to express my thoughts about our journey and the current situation—a situation made all that much more upsetting after the direct attack by Iran.

During our visit, what was clear–and quite inspiring to us–was that the Israelis we know (and those we met) were determined.  They were grateful for our visit and assistance but there was no sense of victimhood, despite the fact that Israelis were the victims of the one of most barbarous of attacks from an enemy with no remorse, that respects no boundaries and lies without hesitation.  With the determination we experienced firsthand, Israel, the Jewish State, will endure and Jews will never again return to being powerless or stateless.

That does not mean that people’s opinions in Israel are uniform or that the pathway forward will be easy.  I am not naive.  That said, the spirit we encountered provided us with considerable hope, even in the face of adversity in Israel and rising Jew-Hatred around the world. That hope is what we took back with us when we returned to Maryland and we have retained that hope in the weeks since.

To be honest, I had crafted a much longer post, outlining our activities during the profoundly moving and inspirational JNF Volunteer Mission.  After the Iranian attack on April 13 and days spent tied to our phones and TVs, I decided to simply provide my reflections as to where we stand.

Simply put, our trip, changed us. Much has been written about the change in Israel and for Israelis–but 10/7 and our mission also clarified certain aspects of our existence, as Jews who live in the US.  Despite many decades of acceptance at the highest levels of society, we feel profoundly vulnerable.

The daily calls for Israel’s dismantling and destruction have been present since before Israel’s founding in 1948.  Now, however, the calls for its dissolution (screams, really) approach a point of madness–provoking in us profound frustration, fear and anger.  For those of us living outside of Israel, seeing the calls for “From the River to the Sea” and other hateful slogans shouted across campuses and around the world takes those emotions to another level.  No other country has its very existence questioned repeatedly.  It is as though the right of Jews to a homeland should be reversed as some sort of historical mistake.  Those calls can no longer be dismissed as “background noise.”

Some might respond and say the call for Israel’s destruction and the murder of Jews is hyperbole.  In fact, when a genocidal regime, Iran, and its proxies continue to call for your people’s annihilation—-and then undertake, in an unprovoked and barbaric attack, to do just that—we must cease being politely quiet in response.  And now, Iran, the country calling for Israel’s destruction for 45 years, and the sponsor of decades of terrorism, has attacked Israel directly with hundreds of missiles and drones.

I do not claim to have the answers to the conflict between the Israelis and Arabs/Palestinians that is now well over 100 years old (that, since 1979, also includes Iran) and I will not presume to play diplomat.  That said—I emphatically reject the double standard Israel is repeatedly subject to by those who have little knowledge or experience of Israel (nor do they understand the closeness of the distances involved—that we experienced firsthand).  I do not accept the moralizing by the politicians who actually know better and by many of the pundits who think they do.  This does not mean that Israel is perfect (no country is) and it also does not mean that I agree with certain policies of the current Israeli government—because I do not (and those qualifications are not the reasons for this post).  Really, those qualications I just offered do not matter.  For, in the end, for so many of these critics and those who demonize Israel, nothing Israel does or does not do will ever be enough.

What I do know is that before the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews were relentlessly persecuted and/or discriminated against wherever they lived.  Jews have endured millennia of humiliation, exile, torture and murder.  They were subjugated, powerless abandoned and alone.  The list is too long to describe here but during the twenty-year period from the 1930s through the 1950s (even after the establishment of Israel in 1948) alone, millions of Jews from Europe as well as those throughout the Middle East and North Africa were forced to flee-expelled or murdered (including many members of my family murdered during the Shoah).

Jews have been present in what is now Israel for thousands of years.  The fulfillment of Zionism, the reestablishment of the Jewish State—Israel—in our ancestral homeland changed our people’s powerlessness and statelessness but it was not (and is not) an act of reparation.  Israel is the culmination of millenia of hopes and dreams and she has provided us a place where we—as individuals and as a people—can live our lives as Jews.  In this time, I will not (we should not) be silent while Israel fights for her existence!

Despite the horrific rhetoric from Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, its other proxies and even the Palestinian Authority, I am not (we are not) without sympathy for civilians in Gaza.  We were also deeply upset by the deaths of the aid workers who were recently killed as a result of a terrible case of misidentification during the fighting.  Seeing suffering by other human beings is very upsetting but it is quite clear that the responsibility for the civilian toll is clearly the fault of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (and their Iranian sponsors), who initiated this war.  And this is a war they will not win.

I have always been a proud Jew and Zionist—and the events of these last six months and our experiences on the volunteer mission have only strengthened my resolve and deepened my love of Israel.  Jews around the world are connected and our fates are intertwined.  I will continue to pray for the well-being of our family and friends in Israel, the safe return of the hostages, the success of the IDF, the destruction of Hamas and Hezbollah (and the heinous regime in Iran) and an end to this heartbreaking war.  And please note, my prayers are not to erase Palestinians or dismantle Syria, Lebanon or even Iran—they are to eliminate their horrific Jew-Hating ideology (and their ability to act on it), an ideology that seeks the destruction of Israel and the Jewish People.

Finally, I pledge that we will return to Israel to assist in whatever way we can.  The Israelis are determined and so are we.  We will continue our advocacy for Israel, our Jewish homeland, and maintain our heartfelt support for our extended family—Am Yisrael.

!עם ישראל חי




About the Author
Josh Schonfeld lives with his family in Potomac, Maryland. He is originally from St. Louis, Missouri. He has served as a board member for a number of Jewish communal organizations and is an active member of the community.