April 17, 2015 admin

Concern into blessings

I open the book to which I turn time and again over the years, Kolot Kore’im leZion, Voices Call for Zion. Here are the words of Jews and non-Jews through the centuries of exile from when Jerusalem fell to the Romans in 70CE until the early years of the new country, crying out ‘Yet my people lives’.
Here is the poet Yehudah Halevi as he sets sail from the western Mediterranean to follow his heart ‘which is in the east’. ‘Zion’, he asks, ‘aren’t you going to ask about the wellbeing of those imprisoned for your sake?’ a line which 900 years later gave the name ‘prisoners of Zion’ to the Refusenik movement in the USSR. Here is the Jewish Agency in 1942 declaring that the future homeland will give refuge to any and all who escape Nazi occupation.
But few voices are as haunting as that of Jan Karski. A young (non-Jewish) Pole, he was recruited into the Resistance, smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto and the death camp Belzec, then sent on false papers through occupied Europe to Britain and America to tell the world what was happening to the Jews. Reflecting years later on why his message went largely unheeded by Allied politicians and Jewish leaders alike, he said that the tragedy of the Jewish People was that it had no state, no internationally recognised political leadership to make itself heard.
We who were born since the establishment of Israel cannot fathom the depth of the difference which the existence of the state has made.
Today, the complex political, social and military issues concerning Israel, and the often ignorant and strident rhetoric with which it is discussed, mean that when we so much as hear the country mentioned our anxiety level often instantly soars. Yet this in itself is a measure of engagement, and there are two kinds of involvement from which, whatever our politics, we cannot and in my view should not be free.
I don’t know whether to call the first love, fellowship, participation or pride. It concerns each and every remarkable facet of Israel’s life: the replanting of forests and restoration of beautiful plants and animals which filled the land in Biblical times (in which I’ve participated with joy); the creation of medical care and facilities for the elderly which rival anywhere in the world; the deep, enduring  courage and skill of generations of Israeli soldiers (which we respect even more deeply with IS, as well as Hamas and Hizbollah, on the borders); democracy and the vibrancy of free and open discourse; the passion for social justice (such as the daily redistribution by Leket Yisrael of tons of otherwise wasted food to the poor); the establishment of outstanding universities; the brilliance of high-tech achievements; the reputation of Israel’s artists, especially in music and literature.
The second is worry, anguish, questioning, fear. It concerns every aspect of the challenges facing the country. How can Israel defend itself in a vicious world? What does that cost in Israeli lives; what does it cost in lives of hapless others? What of the prophetic dream of social and economic justice between different sectors of society, and between all peoples? What of the urgent need for equality of hope and opportunity for Israel’s non-Jewish citizens? What of the consequences of occupation for Palestinians; what of the consequences for Israelis? What of the long term impact on everyone of violence and its rhetoric, angers, wounds and griefs? What of the many in every faith and region who live below the poverty-line with constant food insecurity? What of the future of Israel’s and its neighbours’ beautiful natural environments? What of the future? What of the hope, however distant, for peace?
We care. We worry. My argument is simply that we should and must do both. We are not at liberty not to care, or to fail to turn that care, wherever we live in the world, into active engagement. There is no sphere in which there is not good we can do; possibly no other country in the world has so many avenues to express the ideals of tzedakah and hesed, justice and compassion, both hands-on and from a distance.
I don’t believe that every single Jew must necessarily live in Israel. I believe also in vibrant Jewish communities across the world. I believe in partnership and interaction with people of all faiths and none in the pursuit of universal ideals and the creation of free, open and plural societies. But I do know that wherever we live, our destiny is bound up not just with all humanity and life, but specifically with the Jewish People and that Israel is a central part of this identity and peoplehood. Israel concerns us all, and the more we can turn that concern into blessings, the better.

Get in touch...