Remembering What Truly Matters

Following last week’s somber ceremonies marking Yom Hashoa, Israel will, on this coming Monday, observe its annual Yom Hazikaron, a solemn memorial day for her fallen soldiers. Rare is the family in Israel that does not know someone who has died in Israel’s defense, or have a family member who has. And then, on Monday evening, the celebration of Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Israel’s Independence Day, will begin.

The current chill in the relationship between Israel and the United States, whether real, as reported, or exaggerated by either side for different reasons, provides a most unhappy backdrop for a celebration of Israel’s birth.

When all is as it should be between Israel and America, we Zionists who live happily in America (I know, there are some who would challenge me as to whether or not that is really possible) are able to effortlessly navigate the inherent tension in having two countries that claim our allegiance. As sister democracies, Israel and America share a basic commonality of values. Neither of the two is without flaw, but each, in its own unique way, represents a living, breathing embodiment of the realization of just how precious freedom is. We can be proud and supportive of both- in different ways, to be sure, but without exposing ourselves to the "dual loyalty" issue.

But of this I am sure. If the current administration in Washington is sincere in its stated goal of working aggressively to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the days and months ahead will be even more difficult and confusing than the past few weeks have been.

Regardless of where I might stand personally, I have no issue per se with the President of the United States prodding Israel to cease building new settlements in the West Bank (*not* talking about Jerusalem here). Clearly, at some point, if there is going to be a Palestinian state- and it seems impossible to envision any solution to the current problem without it- building new settlements in land the Arabs are claiming for their state will surely complicate matters even further. The American government, even with a White House Chief of Staff with Israeli roots, is not a Zionist entity, and doesn’t see the world through Israel’s lens alone. After eight years of President Bush, that is a difficult reality to adjust to, but that doesn’t make it any less real. America must have a larger view of the conflict than Israel’s more right-wing ideologues. If Israel is going to hear this message, better to hear it from a friend than from an enemy.

My concern- and I hope and pray that I will be proven wrong on this- is that President Obama does not continue to do what he has begun to do, not so subtly: associate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the safety of American troops. First General Petraeus did it, and just recently, the President did it again. The net effect of making this connection will be to ratchet up the pressure on Israel (much more than the Palestinians) to make concessions, and, inevitably, to create a terrible conflict in the minds and hearts of American Jews, who love both America and Israel. Like I said- I hope and pray that I will be proven wrong…

For now, those of us who love Israel must not allow the current difficulties, along with all other "issues" we have with Israel, to compromise our ability to recognize the existential significance of Israel’s rebirth and existence, and celebrate her vitality and strength. We should all look as good at sixty-two!!

Hag Sameah!

Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is spiritual leader of The Forest Hills Jewish Center, a Conservative congregation

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.