Time of Anguish

In concluding this difficult month of November, I wanted to share some big picture thoughts. We have seen a historical terror attack in France where 130 people were taken from this earth by terrorism. I would also like to acknowledge the death and injury of so many young and old innocent civilians that have been robbed of their future while freely walking the streets of Israel — as every citizen, whether Jewish or not, has the right to do. The continued random stabbings, car-ramming attacks and shootings have not only claimed the lives of Israeli innocent civilians, but has recently claimed the life of a fellow American student, Ezra Schwartz, who like many other students was doing a gap year in Israel. So on this dark and solemn Sunday evening I would like to share some of my thoughts during the last 2 months and perhaps give some positive remarks about the current situation.

“There is nothing we can do” (ein ma la’asot), “It’s not ok” (ze lo beseder) and “it will be ok” (yihiye beseder) – these are the typical remarks of an Israeli referring to Israel’s corrupt politicians, the exorbitant rent, the mandatory draft or the unjustified government funds that go to the Ultra-Orthodox population. And these are just a few issues out of the pool of issues Israel deals with.

Currently, a lot has been going on in Israel. This month marked 20 years since the death of Yitzhak Rabin. Over the past 2 months, the atmosphere in Israel has been one of hesitation and uneasiness as random terror attacks fill up every Israeli’s newsfeed. Israelis think twice before leaving the house and do not walk the streets freely. It also marks a little over a year since Operation Protective Edge, or Tzuk Eitan, where Israel lost 64 IDF soldiers, who were mostly just boys. The current situation coinciding with the 20th anniversary of Rabin’s death, marking a time when peace seemed attainable, brings a feeling of downheartedness and hopelessness throughout the country. Yet, these painful and hard times are not new to Jews in history.

Politicians were corrupt in countries such as Russia, Germany, and South America where Jews lived and still live today. Historically, Jews frequently had to pay “special taxes”, such as the Dhimmi/Jizya tax paid under the early Islamic period, in Europe in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries or under the Roman Empire.

There was a mandatory draft in many countries where Jews lived. In the 1800’s Russia drafted all including young Jewish boys. During the First World Wars many Jews fought proudly for their country. And just one generation ago, in South Africa, the mandatory draft was still in place — where my own father served in the combat infantry mortar division.

A few weeks ago I heard Professor Rachel Hallote speak about the historical context of Fiddler on the Roof at Hillel of SUNY Purchase College. She spoke about the old Shtetl in the areas of Poland as disenfranchised citizens who would, every so often, experience a looting or a pogrom by their neighbors. This got me to thinking that despite today’s hardships we are somewhat privileged today.

Although we sometimes forget, before the 21st century, the world saw war at least every century – the World Wars in Europe, Balkan Wars, The Crusades, the list goes on. Pertaining specifically to the Jews, were the 11th century massacres in Europe, persecution and later expulsion in Spain in the 15th century, pogroms in Russia in the 19th century, and so on. These incidents occurred every 100 years or so.

So yes, Israel has problems, like any other country has problems. The Jewish nation has problems, like many other nations that have problems. But these problems are our problems. They are not problems imposed onto the Israelis in the form of a “special tax” or an oppressive hostile government. Rather the Jews are a free nation living freely among many other free nations and governing themselves. The highly diverse population living side by side is positively mesmerizing.

We cannot let thoughts of opportunity, aspirations and hopes as a vibrant Jewish community inside and out of Israel be drowned out by the negativity that is so easy to succumb to. We must own our problems and continue to debate, discuss and argue for progress and improvement as the Jewish people have done throughout the centuries.

Although we are living in challenging times where it may seem that anti-Semitism is resurging and that the conflict in Israel is endless, we have been through worse. We must always remember that although we have many concerns and issues to deal with, we have the State of Israel in which we can still dictate what our future will look like. So the next time debating with someone, I would keep the big picture in mind because there is more that unites us than divides us – surviving a millennia of persecution and reviving a nation in the homeland called modern Israel that has become the desert bloom.

About the Author
Yael serves as Westchester’s community Shlicha (Israel emissary), serving across the community of Westchester, New York. Yael holds a degree in Government Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Israel. Previously, Yael has worked as co-manager and instructor in a non-profit organization dealing with lone soldiers, president of a local chapter of Young Judaea in the USA and has interned that the International Institute for Count-Terrorism (ICT).
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