When Chaim Weizman, the modern founder of Zionism was once asked, “Why don’t you just accept the offer to establish a Jewish state in Uganda ?” He said, “That’s like me asking why you drove 50 miles to see your mother when there are so many other nice old ladies so much closer.”
We drive the 50 miles because we only have one mother. And we stand up for Israel because we only have one ancient homeland. Israel first became a Jewish nation in 1312 B.C.E.- that’s 3,300 years ago – two thousand years before the rise of Islam in the 7 th century. But the world suffers from a unique form of collective amnesia when it comes to Jews, and so Yassir Arafat could stand at Camp David , reject Israel ’s offers of peace and a Palestinian State and declare that the Jews had no historical connection to Jerusalem at all.
And in what could only be understood as an insult to all of Christianity as well, whose very religion is founded on the story of the Jew Jesus walking the streets of Jerusalem and courtyards of Solomon’s Temple Arafat and radical Islamic jihadists from Hamas to Hezbollah continue to declare that there was no such thing as a Temple in Jerusalem or Jews in the land of Israel.
Like Adolph Hitler who preached that if you tell a lie big enough, often enough, with enough passion, and enough denial of the truth, eventually people will believe you no matter how outrageous the lie. In fact, the more outrageous the better. So the Arab world, and radical Islam, and Palestinian terrorist keep telling the lie over and over and over and over again – there were no Jews in Israel until the Holocaust forced Europeans out of guilt to import them as refugees and kick out the Palestinians and take it by force for themselves.
They tell the lie so often that even Jews forget who we are and where we came from. Even Jews forget that for 3250 years there have always been Jews in the land of Israel – always. For those 3250 years, various peoples, religions and empires marched through Jerusalem , Israel ‘s ancient capital. Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Maccabeans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Egyptians, the Crusaders, Mamelukes, the Turks for 500 years until the British drove them out during World War I and stayed until May 14, 1948 when in the words of “Hatikvah” our national anthem of the Jewish people, we became am hofshee be’artzaynu – a free people in our own land once again.
No nation, other than the ancient nation of Israel has ever ruled as a sovereign national entity on this land through all the foreign occupations of the Jewish homeland from Nebuchadnezor of Babylon until today.
That is why when the missiles began landing on Haifa in the first days of the Hezbollah war this summer one moment, one scene stood out forever in my mind. A newscaster was interviewing the dazed and shell shocked Israelis who were standing amidst the wounded and rubble of a shattered apartment building. One of them asked a man why he didn’t leave and move away?
The man turned to the camera, almost screaming in defiance, he pointed to the broken building and said like a refrain over and over again: “This is our home. This is our home. MI PO ANI LO ZAZ – from here I am not moving. MI PO ANI LO ZAZ!
Israelis understand. This is not about creating a Palestinian state, it’s about whether there will be a state of Israel or not.
Most of you by now know that Rabbi Lewart’s daughter Judy made aliyah to Israel a few years ago, earned her law degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, married an Israeli and two years ago gave birth to a beautiful baby boy which they named Ohr, meaning “light” in Hebrew.
Judy was here over the summer visiting her mom and taking the California Bar, just in case. While she was here all she could do was to watch trauma on television and speak on the phone to her Israeli family and friends each day as thousands of missiles launched from Lebanon by Hezbollah terrorists continued to fall on Haifa, Nazareth, Kiryat Shemoneh, Acco, Nahariya and throughout the north, Killing and maiming innocent men, women and children, destroying hospitals, schools, homes, businesses, obliterating entire forests – over a million trees some of them as old as the State of Israel. Over 7,000 acres of undeveloped land destroyed, 2,500 acres of woodlands, countless animals and wildlife annihilated and the once fertile farm land nothing but scorched earth.
Judy could hardly speak about it. Instead she looked at her little 2 year old son and wondered aloud where he would be and what he would be called upon to do 16 years from now when he turned 18, the age of universal Israeli military service. Will he still be forced to pick up arms to fight for the very existence of Israel ?
And she told me the story of her mother-in-law, Zahava when she was pregnant with Judy’s husband. It was Yom Kippur, 1973 her husband off to war, her own heart breaking with fear and uncertainty. They made a decision to name their baby Boaz – the Hebrew name for a redeemer, a bringer of hope, the line of King David, the messianic dream, a pregnancy of hope.
And then Judy told me that when Boaz’s grandmother was living in an internment camp in Cyprus having just survived the holocaust as her husband prepared to fight in the war of Independence in 1948, she was pregnant with his mother, Zahava. And Judy sat here in LA, thousands of miles away from her husband and family in Israel watching this war in Lebanon , pregnant with her second child.
MAZEL TOV! LEHAIM! Kol sasson ve’kol simha, kol hatan ve’kol Kalah – The voice of joy and celebration, the voice of grooms and brides and babies…” Those are the sounds we are supposed to be hearing. Not the cry of a mother’s grief at the death of her child, not the frightened sobs of a child so traumatize by living week after week in a bomb shelter woken night after night by the wailing of siren and the searing sound a falling missile so that she simply can’t sleep through any night anymore, and won’t even lie down out of the sight of her parents.
So what do we do? We who so very recently were so filled with hope for a peace with the Palestinians that we dreamed was just out of our grasp, just around the very next corner, so close, so close to a reality. If only…if only Yassir Arafat would sign the deal, if only the Palestinians wouldn’t keep fulfilling that famous tragic prophecy of Abba Eban that they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
At least that’s what I thought. But I was wrong. What I realized this summer was the truth in what many have tried to point out to me in the past but I wouldn’t believe. For the enemies of Israel . For the enemies of the Jewish people like Hezbullah, like Hamas, like Iran , like Syria , like millions and millions of Islamic fundamentalists throughout the world, it isn’t about borders. It isn’t about “occupation”. It isn’t about “land for peace.” It’s about our very existence as Jews on earth.
Israel pulled out completely from Lebanon 6 years ago – so there were no borders, there was no occupation, there was only the passionate commitment of Hezbullah to kill Jews – any Jews, innocent Jews. Men, women, children living anywhere within the reach of their Iranian supplied missiles. It was, after 58 years, a continuation of the 1948 War of Independence – a war fought not for land or borders or occupation, but for the very existence of the Jewish state.
Some of my rabbinic colleagues and I met with Israel ’s Consul General in LA, Ehud Danoch recently – he said “When was the last time 3 million Israelis were in the line of fire with one million living in bomb shelters? Even Arafat never said “We will destroy Israel .” But the rhetoric has changed with Iran ’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad telling the world that Israel should be wiped off the map.
Was it a coincidence that first he announced, “The fury of Muslim nations is getting more intense. It is likely to reach an explosion soon.” And the very next day Hezbollah crossed into Israel, killed 8 soldiers kidnapped Ehud Goldwasser and Uri Regev and launched its latest war in the words of Sheik Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah, against “Occupied Palestine.”
And people asked if the Israeli reaction was “disproportionate?” Perhaps they didn’t know or simply turned a blind eye to the five kidnapping raids and the hundreds and hundreds of missiles that have been fired by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israel ’s towns and villages for six long years since Israel pulled out of Lebanon with no Israeli retaliation at all. Perhaps Israel is guilty of doing too little not soon enough, but with a constant bombardment of death against innocent civilians, “disproportionate,” hardly.
What do we do? Watching the rise once again of anti-Semitism around the world. Listening while leaders of countries openly talk of “wiping Israel off the map?” Sharing our collective grief as an angry Muslim puts a gun to a 13-year old girl to gain entry to the Jewish Federation in Seattle just weeks ago and then begins shooting anyone he could find just because they were Jewish.
In the midst of all this sorrow, I received one of the most upsetting phone calls in 30 years as a rabbi. One of our congregants called and asked me why so many people hate the Jews? And then she said, “I wasn’t born or raised a Jew, and there was never any overt prejudice of any kind in my parent’s home. But I chose to become part of the Jewish community and to raise my own daughter as a Jew and expose her to all this hatred – do you think that was being an irresponsible parent?”
Oh my God. “Oh my God,” I thought. How tragic to think that in the beginning of the 21 st century, the power of anti-Semitic hatred is so destructive, that someone considered the possibility that she was being an irresponsible parent merely for bringing her daughter up as a Jew.
It can’t be. We can’t let it happen. We are bigger than that. We are older than that by far. We have simply seen too much for too long to let them win now.
Like Winston Churchill, we too must cry, “Never give up. Never give up. Never, never, never give up.” We can’t let them win. After 4,000 years, after inquisitions and progroms and Holocausts and intifadas, I refuse to be the last generation of Jews on the planet and I know that we won’t.
I know because every single Shabbat at KI, week after week, every Shabbat morning and every Shabbat afternoon, 95 times this year alone, I will take the Torah scroll out of the ark and I will pass it from grandparents to parents to child. And when I do, I look into the eyes of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah week after week as they cling to that Torah and cherish this precious spiritual inheritance, and I know we will survive.
I look out at the thousand of you who are here today and think of the millions of Jews who are sitting just like you, prayer books in hand, in England and France, in Russia and Argentina, in Canada and Costa Rica and Hong Kong, and I know that Judaism will survive.
People keep asking me what can we do? What can we do when we feel so helpless and are so far away? You can stand up for Israel with pride and do something. Go to Israel; support Israel with your finances; stand up with pride as a Jew at all that we as Jews and Israelis have given to the world; take a class at KI in Judaism or Jewish thought or Jewish history and become better educated as a Jew this year; come to Torah study one Shabbat morning a month; come to services one Friday night a month and pray together with your community; write to the newspapers demanding fair coverage of Israel in the news; write to congress and the president urging continued support of the only democracy in the middle east; support AIPAC the number one Jewish political advocacy group in America; help rebuild the roads and forests and infrastructure of Israel by investing in Israeli bonds or donating to the Jewish National Fund; reach out to Israelis who are the poorest and most vulnerable by supporting the Jaffa Institute, or support Israel’s economy by buying Israeli products on-line. Whatever you choose – do something this year. Stand up and be counted.
A tourist was visiting Israel for the first time and his tour eventually brought him to Mount Herzl , Israel ’s official national cemetery in Jerusalem . He asked the tour guide if he could see Israel ’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, so he was taken to a small, simple grave. On the stone was written the words, “Here lies Yosi Masad – killed in battle fighting for the Jewish people.” The man looked at the tour guide and said, “But this grave has a name on it?” and the guide responded, “That’s because there are no unknown soldiers in Israel . Every one is someone’s brother, everyone is someone’s son, everyone is someone’s wife, everyone is someone’s father. Every one.”
And ultimately that is the answer to every newscaster who questions our resolve, and every tyrant who would rise up to destroy us in every generation – MI PO ANI LO ZAZ – THIS IS OUR HOME, FROM HERE WE WILL NOT BE MOVED.