‘What is my duty to the State of Israel?’
That is the ‘one question’, as he put it, that President Rivlin put to the members of the Knesset as he asked them to form a government, after the failure of both PM Netanyahu and Benny Gantz to do so.
Put aside other considerations, he pleaded. He described the current situation as a time of ‘darkness’ in Israel’s history. He clearly reflects the will of the vast majority of Israelis who see the prospect of a third election as a moral failure of the entire body politic in Israel, but especially of its representatives.
And this was before the indictments of the Prime Minister were announced.
The President’s reflection mirrors one that has become essential to Jews the world over. We have a question to answer. Each of us. One question. Our future depends on it.
In the last several years, our physical safety in Israel and in the Diaspora has been threatened as never before, even as in many ways we grow stronger than ever. Our enemies and adversaries rise from the far left, the far right, and from radical Islam. Under prevailing circumstances, our recent history demonstrates that being under threat unites us in purpose and duty. These are not prevailing times, though. Jews are divided more than they have been in decades, if not longer. Our freedom to associate politically as and how we please has allowed too many of us to be shills for agendas that are not our own, sharing a rhetoric of hate and anger that leads to further division if not outright violence. This holds true for adherents of both ends of the political spectrum, and it bleeds towards the center.
We are divided by wealth, religion, ideology, age, geography, and motivation. We are influenced by the demands of the false narrative of intersectional grievance, and the false hope of an aggrieved isolationism. We no longer respect the idea of being respectful of others – their ideas, their property, their prerogatives, and if we have not yet forgotten how to listen, many of us have certainly forgotten how to hear.
Our fractured world can eventually overcome these challenges, but we Jews don’t have the luxury of time. Our internal political discourse is almost irredeemably broken, and our communal mechanisms are in a state of flux and sometimes failure, leaving the possibility that our most vulnerable will have little, if any support. Our physical safety is increasingly at risk, be it from a shooter in Pittsburgh, a craven loner in Halle, a bloodthirsty mob in Toronto, or from the growing mortal threat of Iran and its proxies.
We are out of time.
President Rivlin posed the question to the members of the Knesset ‘What is my duty to the State of Israel?’ I pose this question to each of you.
What are you doing to safeguard the Jewish People?
Not ‘What have you done?’. What are you doing? Now. Today.
If you devote your life to the study of Torah, and to prayer, then learn on behalf of the nation. Pray for us. If you devote your life to repairing the world, then repair our communities, repair our conversations, repair our capacity to be helpers, starting at home. If you devote your life to the physical safety of the Jewish people, be resolute, and see how you can help or train or inspire others to your honorable mission. If you are a keen debater, with strongly held opinions and a political position, advocate first for YOUR people. Recognize that thousands of others who don’t share all your beliefs are just as committed, just as proud, and just as genuine as you in their Jewish advocacy. If you are an educator, give our people a generation of brothers and sisters, with a common heritage, a common cause, a common respect, and a common understanding that our future depends on each other.
We can’t depend on anyone else. A fickle and fragile administration, in too many places around our world? A social justice movement that has turned its back on us and sided with those who would destroy us? A world body that singles out our national identity and homeland for condemnation and sanction? A population in the lands of our longest exile that harbors deep and growing anti-Semitic beliefs?
No. If we can only depend on ourselves, our identity, our faith, our common purpose, then let us be PURPOSEFUL about defending, supporting and being responsible for one another. And let’s take personal responsibility for it. Rabbi Warren Goldstein of South Africa created an incredible model of unity, The Shabbat Project, that has grown over the years since its inception to bring together Jews everywhere. That’s an example and a starting point. The Limmud concept growing across the world is another. The Kolot initiative in Israel is a third, deriving lessons in leadership and governance from Jewish sources. The Jewish people need such structures of unity and purpose in every field of endeavor. In fighting poverty, and in fighting anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. In creating purposeful dialogue, and in knowing how to leverage all the abundant resources, be they monetary, legal, or intellectual, that we have.
In short, get up every morning and ask yourself this question. What am I doing to safeguard the Jewish people? My father quietly reached out to those who had resources and helped the poor in our community. He taught Talmud in a synagogue filled with Holocaust survivors. He stood guard with others when danger loomed, long before there was a CSS or community trust. My mother raised funds for vulnerable Israeli children, cared for those in need, and served in our communal chaplaincy for those in hospitals around the region. My grandparents were all, in their own ways, devoted to community service. And my brother, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles have provided me with examples of commitment to community that inspire me to this day.
We all have people in our family or our community who inspire us. We all have examples to turn to and legacies to continue. What will your legacy be? What are you doing to safeguard the Jewish people?