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Monday, January 12, 2009

2009/1/6 -- DAY #10c: United As ONE …

This day (Tuesday) was one of the more difficult days of my journey to Israel. Beginning with the subdued dedication of the synagogue at the Beit Hachayal in Be’er Sheva and continuing with hospital visits with Israel’s wounded soldiers and their families; the pain of war was palpable in every interaction and experience. The day would conclude quite differently.

Upon returning to Tel Aviv, I joined a dear friend with whom I was delighted to have reconnected just a few days earlier and attended a rally in support of Israel's southern citizens and the IDF in the center of the city. Approximately 5,000 people were expected to attend. Tel Aviv is at the heart of one of the more liberal regions of the country. The steadfast solidarity expressed by the diverse crowd that gathered was encouraging and energizing.

Popular Israeli bands warmed up the crowd. The Deputy Mayor of Ashdod, a city hit hard by Grad-type missiles in the course of Hamas’ war against Israel’s civilian population, spoke eloquently of the unity that was both required and exhibited throughout Israel, during this difficult time. A young soldier, having recently concluded his three years of armed-service in the IDF, reflected upon his service in Lebanon and exhorted the crowd and all of Israel to strengthen with their spirit and without qualification all of Israel’s boys serving in defense of the country. He shared that, from his own experience in Lebanon, he understood, and wanted everyone to understand, just how important it is for Israel's soldiers to know what almost 90 percent of all Israelis feel: Israel is, indeed, entirely behind this the boys of the IDF and in solidly supportive of fighting -- and truly winning -- this war.

The Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel then urged those gathered, from Orthodox to secular, to pray, expressing his belief that no group of Jews has a license on prayer or a monopoly on God’s ear. I was stunned when he went out of his way to engage the crowd in a prayer on behalf of Jews world-wide who might be in peril or might need support; yes, Israel, even at war, expresses its care and concern for the entirety of the Jewish People, wherever we may be! This was one of the most unselfish and inspiring moments of prayer that I have ever experienced.

Finally, two young girls from Sederot, 9 and 11 years of age respectively, addressed the crowd. They shared their personal stories of their own survival of Hamas and other Palestinian terror; stories that neither of them should have been old enough to have been told about, much less to have lived. Their hope for a future of peace and tranquility were nothing short of courageous. Finally, the nine-year-old girl said the following: “Im K’var, Az Kvar! – If we have already taken the initiative to fight this war, let’s win it!” The crowd roared. I found myself choking back tears, hearing in the sweet voice of this adorable little girl both the return to a peaceful existence that victory would facilitate for her and her family and the utter terror and devastation that would obtain for them with any lesser result.

I left the rally, heading to dinner with my dear friend, holding these two little girls, their traumatic memories, and their courageous dreams of peace and quiet - all close to my heart. Li-El, his father, his entire family, and every soldier and family that I visited with earlier this day continue still to weigh heavily on my soul (see my earlier posts today to this blog). Back in Los Angeles, I have two boys of my own. If a ship had sailed 50 years ago from Europe, southeast into the Mediterranean Sea, instead of westward across the Atlantic Ocean, my two boys could easily have been this evening two boys from Sederot. Where we are, at any moment in time - as Jews in particular given our wanderings at the hands of our oppressors -- is nothing but an accident of history; that is, unless we aspire, or somehow manage, to be in the one place where we can shape our own history and master our own destiny as a People, rather than anywhere else, where the cauldrons of history have tended to mold our fate, and all too often leaving bereft and forgotten in our hour of desperate need.

This night, and whenever we so demand of ourselves as a People, we are all ONE; in our dreams, in our fears, in our love, in our yearnings, in our passions, and in our hopes -- in our conviction and in our solidarity. Such Achdut -- such unity -- is achievable only and ultimately when we are at home in our Homeland, and especially so when we are blessed, for even a moment in time if not forever, to share it all -- all that matters most to us, with those who matter most to us; when we're blessed to share all that we love, in the place that we love, with those whom we love.

Hear, oh God, Your People is Israel, Israel is ONE

Rabbi Isaac Jeret
Spiritual Leader
Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay

2009/1/6 -- DAY #10b: In Memoriam – A Synagogue Is Dedicated

This morning (Tuesday), I traveled to the IDF’s Beit Hachayal (a Soldier’s Residence facility) in Be’er Sheva, to attend and participate in the rescheduled dedication of its synagogue in memory of my father and its adjacent library in honor of his two grandsons, my own sons, Jacob and Judah. The dedication was supposed to have taken place six days ago, but the bombing of Be’er Sheva that morning forced me to turn around when I was approximately halfway there from Tel Aviv; the early warning system for civilians to alert them to incoming missiles wasn’t working correctly and the IDF did not want to risk that something might happen during the dedication.

Between last Wednesday and today, the IDF’s ground-incursion into Gaza began. Israel’s foot-soldiers are now engaged in a war to defend Israel’s citizens and defeat those enemies that have attacked Israel’s citizens mercilessly for the last eight years. As such, today’s dedication of the synagogue at the Beit Hachayal was unlike any other that I had ever attended or participated in. It was subdued. No Torah scrolls were danced in, no food was served, and no music was played or sung. Israel is at war. The soldiers with whom I’d have otherwise danced and sang were in Gaza, defending the country. I cut a ribbon with minimal fanfare, posed for some pictures, and then I shared some remarks. I will share here an expanded version of my remarks in memory of my father and in dedication of the IDF synagogue at the Beit HaChayal in Be’er Sheva; an abbreviated version was spoken this day, very much in the hope that a more joyous and complete dedication will occur in the near future, when all of Israel’s boys of the IDF will have returned home safely from their sacred mission to defend our People and our Homeland:

My father, Henry Jeret, Harav Hanokh Menachem BEN Harav Yisrael V’Miriam, was a proud Jew. He grew up in Poland, watched his world disappear amidst the murderous destruction of the Jews of Europe at the hands of the Nazis, and vowed that he would do his part to ensure that such horror would never-again befall the Jewish People. Given the opportunity to assist in the effort to create the State of Israel, he did his part. Trading black-market cigarettes for arms – seeking willing traders among the Allied troops stationed in Austria and Germany, his job was to procure arms and to help to smuggle them to Palestine for use both in the defense of Jews living there already and in the endeavor to establish a sustainable and protectable Jewish State. My father lived for just longer than four decades subsequent to these undertakings, but he took his greatest pride in his participation in these historic achievements of the Jewish People; out of the ashes of the Holocaust, leading up to the declaration of the State of Israel, and culminating with Israel’s victory in its War of Independence.

My father was a man of faith. He witnessed God’s miraculous hand where others saw random chance and arbitrary choice. As much as he experienced his own survival during the Shoah as an expression of God’s Will, he experienced the creation of the State of Israel as the commencement of the redemption and ultimate liberation of the Jewish People and humanity on the whole. For my father, Israel was more than a dream or even a vision, it was a guarantee; one that began and would always sustain with the assurance that our People would never-again be led to slaughter as sheep and one that could, in potential, evolve into the most beautiful and inspiring expressions of both Judaism and Jewishness in our history. However, at minimum, Israel was for my father and remains for me, a guarantee that Jews will continue to exist; with this guarantee, the Jewish future is at least as certain as any other and a vibrant and compelling one is at all possible.

My father taught me many lessons. I carry them with me, both intellectually and as they are indelibly inked upon my soul. He taught me that the words, “never-again” are sacred words; that they bring meaning and honor to the numerous past degradations and sufferings of our People as much as they can bring safety and security to any current generation of Jews, if acted upon, and when done so before it is ever too late. He taught me that “never-again” begins with our freedom as Jews to express in our Homeland our own unique values, toward our own unique purposes, as we, ourselves, choose to define our own destiny. He taught me that “never-again“ begins with our freedom as a People to organize without fear, to make Jewish and secular choices as we desire and as would benefit our People, and to defend these God-given rights, on our God-given land, as ever necessary.

Finally, he taught me his greatest, and most important, life-lesson, one that I strive never to forget and always to teach unto others: The survival of the Jewish People is the deliberate choice and ultimately the obligation of the Jewish People alone; God can help, but, only if we help ourselves before it is ever too late, and we ought never entrust our security or defense unto any other nation or state, for no one holds our interests and concerns at heart as we do so ourselves. To my father, who watched as one transport after another led our People to their murderous ends, and as the Allies in the cause of Freedom and Liberty failed to intervene as they might have, this lesson was obvious. How it can be anything other than obvious to anyone in the world today remains a mystery to me, given only the most recent history of the State of Israel, much less the entirety of its historic national defense over the last sixty years. It is with this, my father’s greatest life-lesson, in mind, and equally mindful that our People is facing a treacherous and hateful enemy in a war that is truly existential in proportion for the Jewish People and for the State of Israel, that I share the following observations upon this sacred but rightfully understated occasion.

As the world has entered the 21st century of the common-era, we, the Jewish People, are challenged more so than we have ever been to view clearly our strengths, vulnerabilities, opportunities, and responsibilities, and to respond wisely to the realities that they represent. Illusions abound, often the result of our newfound freedom and prosperity in a modern world, and particularly as we have been granted the rights and opportunities for each of these in North America. We have come to believe our own press, to see our strengths, but, to ignore – and even to deny - our vulnerabilities, cherishing instead the illusory-myths that cloud their view:

1. The volume of that which Jews produce, Israelis in particular, in the way of intellectual, scientific, and artistic achievement, and the overall excellence that Jews achieve per capita in any of the disciplines in which we strive, suggests that we must be quite large in number; in actuality, we are very few.

2. Our rate and breadth of achievement should suggest that many in the world would want to join us, or join forces with us, toward the betterment of all of humanity; yet, we are decreasing in population and the line is short with nations and individuals courageous enough to ally themselves with us.

3. We feel so secure financially and politically, acting as if we were barely a minority, if one at all, and often airing our dirty laundry in public; yet, many who seek to cause us harm turn our scornful words toward one another against all of us as a whole and encourage the world to count the days until our destruction is at hand.

The irony is that, if we were to focus upon the truths above rather than the illusions, we would likely have fewer vulnerabilities to worry about; if we acknowledged the minority-at-risk that we are, we would be more protective of our reputation as Jews, more appreciative of the unlikelihood of the extent of our achievement, more careful to act wisely and decisively to defend our present and sustain our future, and more prudent and thoughtful in prioritizing our efforts and contributions to the world-at-large when our relatively scarce resources dictate that we, ourselves, should be our greatest priority.

Our collective escape into an illusion of security and influence is well and dangerously apparent in our current-day distortion of the “never-again” imperative. Let me explain. Today, we imagine that diplomacy will achieve our greater aims for security so that we will not ever-again need to utilize force to defend ourselves and protect our Homeland. We imagine that the degree to which we show ourselves as flexible and considerate is the degree to which others in the world will do the same toward us, including our fiercest adversaries. We assume that our military strength is a given and that it is insurmountable. When our enemies exhibit a complete lack of regard for our might, we describe them as irrational, imposing upon them our own values and concerns as we would apply them, reassuring ourselves that with the right leadership they would surely see the world as we do. With every one of these self-deceptions, we have deluded ourselves toward the belief that our enemies will respond positively to us because they truly want to do so, but cannot yet do so because of political or social circumstance. We elevate tyrants to the virtue of moderates to sustain our self-deception and to live within the fantasy of false-hopes. In Israel, one of the primary underlying motivations for this self-deception is the belief that, if Israelis are not to able to participate in the freedom, security, and prosperity that the rest of the Western World appears to enjoy, then Israelis will simply give up on the Zionist dream and even leave Israel, a theory backed by statistics that appear to show this trend.

These assumptions are erroneous, however, and for two reasons. Let’s remember first and foremost that trends explain the past and the present of social phenomena; however, one moment, a new awareness, or one current event can bring any trend to a grinding halt. Secondly, the great illusion shared by Israelis and by the rest of the Western World has been that Israel has faced treacherous enemies while the rest of the West has not. In fact, the only differences between Israel and the rest of the West are the following:

1. Unlike the rest of the West, Israel has faced directly and unceasingly – for over six decades – the powerful hatred and destructive intentions of political Islam, whether expressed in a secular or religious manner. Israel has suffered and defended itself against the aggression and political expansionism of Arab countries, Islamic states, and Jihadist terrorists throughout its existence. The rest of the world has only recently come face to face with these phenomena and is inexperienced, and often na├»ve, in its quest to understand and deal with them.

2. The effects of the war against Islamic expansionism are beginning to include a financial and military cost to the rest of the West that Israel has had to bear uniquely until now. The economies and security considerations of other Western countries may well come to look like Israel’s long before Israel’s comes to look like theirs.

3. Israel’s view of Islamic expansionism is not clouded by anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, the rest of the West, Europe in particular, is easily confused by Islamic expansionist propaganda, in part due to its own history of misguided distrust and destructive hatred of the Jewish People.

4. “Peace is our preferred option, while it is our enemies’ last resort” -- another of my father’s teachings. The lesson, not only of the Holocaust, but, also very much of the sum-total of Jewish History is that diplomacy may work when it is the only option left to our adversaries, and it may not work, even then. The diplomatic possibility of peace-making with the enemies of both Israel and the West, with any enduring hope, exists only when our enemies know that we have the force to defend ourselves and the absolute willingness and intention to use such force as required. Moreover, whether peace is ever achieved or not, our survival is not dependent upon it with this approach. A life of meaning can be achieved without the extravagance that financial and material wealth – the so-called, “peace-dividend,” might provide; it cannot be achieved if we are destroyed. Peace is not a necessity, it is a preference. We must revaluate peace itself as our preferred option, rather than a necessity for survival. When our enemies understand that we can live without it, they are far more likely to join with us in seeking it.

It is time for the Jewish People worldwide to reclaim the never-again imperative without reservation and with pride. It is time for the State of Israel to make no more apologies whatsoever for its undertakings in the defense and protection of Jewish lives; this is the guarantee with which its existence was initially and can always be justified, whether the world understands it or not. It is time, once again, for Jews to take care of Jews, not while ignoring the rest of the world, but not by allowing the rest of the world to define or limit in any way when, how, or with which measures the Jewish State should act in its own self-defense and in defense of Jews worldwide. No one has, ever-again, the moral right, to dictate to the Jewish People whether and how we should enact the guarantee of survivability that the State of Israel represents for the Jewish People. The entire Western world would be wise to follow suit.

In closing, when King Solomon dedicated the first Temple in Jerusalem, he instructed all Jews to direct their prayers to the one place that God would reside with God’s greatest presence in our world, the center-place of the Jewish spiritual experience, the Temple in Jerusalem. He then prayed to God, petitioning God always to hear the prayers of those whose hearts were turned in prayer toward Jerusalem’s Temple. Today, upon dedicating this synagogue, knowing with pride that Israel’s finest young men and women share their heart’s concerns and gratitude in this Beit Tefilah – this House of Worship, humbly, and with no illusions of any comparison to King Solomon, I petition God to dwell in this space. I pray that God will always hear the prayers of every individual who enters through the doors of this synagogue, that God will protect them, that God shield them from harm, and, always, that God will bring the soldiers of Israel home, back to their families, back to their country, and back to their People, alive and well, and victoriously. AMEN.

Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh Ha-Olam; Shehecheyanu, Ve’Key’manu, Ve’hey’ge’yanu, La’Z’man Ha-zeh / Blessed are You, God, our God, Sovereign of all Time and Space; Who has kept us alive, and sustained us, and brought us unto this moment. AMEN.

Rabbi Isaac Jeret
Spiritual Leader
Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay