At the conclusion of our Yom Kippur services we will gather together, blow the shofar, and enthusiastically sing aloud: “L’Shanah HaBa’ah B’Yerushalayim”, hoping that perhaps next year we will be privileged to celebrate the holidays in Jerusalem. This powerful moment (which also takes place at the end of our Passover Seder) underscores our connection to Israel, and the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.
Today we simply take for granted just how easy it is to realize that dream. You buy a plane ticket, pack your bags, and a few hours later -- you’re there! A trip that was unimaginably difficult just a few generations ago, today is no big deal to transform into reality. And not only is the trip itself fairly simple, but when you arrive, you can enjoy magnificent beaches, stay in deluxe 5 star hotels, explore impressive archaeology, and sip coffee in delightful outdoor cafes.
Those of us who have visited Israel understand this quite well. But it’s amazing how many folks I still come across who equate a trip to Israel to taking a perilous journey through Taliban controlled Afghanistan while having your tallit and tefillin on.
A few days before our most recent trip to Israel this past summer, I paid a visit to my barber to get my regular haircut. When I told him that I was flying to Israel the next day, the color left his face and he exhorted me to be careful and come back safe. Apparently good customers like myself are just so difficult to find today!
But who can blame people for not knowing any better. With all the media hype anytime something bad happens in Israel, it’s only natural that people get the wrong impression. Virtually any Palestinian attack or ensuing Israeli response -- no matter how small -- makes it to the front page of all the newspapers; while truly horrific attacks elsewhere in the Middle East often escape notice altogether, or are deemed worthy of only a passing mention.
Ironically, many people overseas get a similarly distorted impression of life here in the United States, since world media often focuses on the bank robberies, tornadoes, or tragedies like Sandy Hook.
Nevertheless, Israel is not without profound challenges, even though you may never encounter anything alarming during a casual visit or on an organized group tour. Israel still faces significant threats, both from external enemies who lust after her destruction, and from internal struggles which sometimes plague Israeli society from within. The internal threats can sometimes be the most challenging. But for the external threats, thankfully we have a strong and capable army; something that Jewish history hasn’t seen for quite some time. And had such an army existed during the holocaust, there would certainly be a great many more of us around today.
For the connected and engaged among us, love for Israel and concern for her well-being remain uppermost in our thoughts. We roil at the propaganda issued by Israel’s enemies and relentless critics despite all the good that Israel has brought to every field of human endeavor. And the continuing BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) efforts to delegitimize Israel and isolate her from the rest of the world, leave us bewildered and outraged.
But what Hizbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran fail to understand is that Israel is not about to simply go away and vanish. Am Yisrael Chai, despite all the challenges and adversity, the Jewish people live, and will continue to do whatever it must to ensure Israel’s continued survival.
In the Talmud, our Rabbis taught (Ta’anit 11a): “When Israel is in trouble and one of them separates himself from them, then the two ministering angels who accompany every man come and place their hands upon his head and say, ‘So-and-so who separated himself from the community shall not behold the consolation of the community’. Another Baraita [Tannaitic source from 200 C.E.] taught: When the community is in trouble let not a man say ‘I will go to my house and I will eat and drink and all will be well with me’…But rather one should share in the distress of the community.”
While teaching this text, Rabbi David Golinkin explained: “The message of this passage is clear: when Jews or the State of Israel are in trouble, other Jews must share in their distress by giving tzedakah, taking an active part in rallies and solidarity missions, etc. And while the cynical may say such efforts are a waste of time; they are not. They give encouragement to the Jews of Israel who are constantly criticized by the United Nations and many countries, and they strengthen the Jewish identity of the participants. This is at it should be. Jews must share in the distress of the community and our fellow Jews everywhere.”
Let us hope and pray that in the coming new year of 5774 peace will indeed arrive to Israel and the rest of this troubled world. May we all see that day bimhayrah biyamaynu – speedily in our day. Amen.
Rabbi Mark Zimmerman