Showing posts with label Daniel Gordis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Daniel Gordis. Show all posts

Monday, September 16, 2013

For the sin we have committed...

Like most  of my colleagues, the past month has been way to busy with getting ready for the new school year and High Holy Days to indulge in things like blogging. Then Michael Felberbaum, one of my former students (who also was a wonderful madrikh and later a teacher in our school for several years) came up to me on Yom Kippur afternoon to tell me he enjoys my blog but there has not been much to read lately. It gave me a lift in the midst of a long day of prayer, teaching and fasting. Still busy, but not too busy to Share Daniel Gordis' latest blog post from the Jerusalem post. A link to the original and his comments page are at the end. As usual, he nails it! 

See you in the sukkah!


For the sin we have committed by imagining that Jewish life as we know it could survive without a Jewish state, and for the sin we have committed by being certain that it could not.

For the sin we have committed in believing that every problem has a solution, and for the sin we have committed in failing to try harder to find solutions no matter how elusive.

For the sin we have committed in not loving the Jewish state with sufficient passion, and for the sin we have committed in not being sufficiently ashamed of its shortcomings.

For the sin we have committed in electing consecutive leaders who fail to communicate even a semblance of a vision of how Israel should be both Jewish and democratic, and for the sin we have committed in silencing or ignoring the few brave souls who have sought to share with us their own visions of what a Jewish state can and should be.

For the sin we have committed in believing that only an Israel at peace is worthy of our pride, and for the sin we have committed in failing to engender any semblance of a national conversation about what sort of peace has any genuine chance of taking root.

For the sin we have committed by failing to acknowledge the horrid costs that keeping ourselves safe often exacts from those living under us, and for the sin we have committed by failing to see the costs it exacts from our own children, no less.

For the sin we have committed in failing to recognize our own obligation to speak out in Israel's defense, and for the sin we have committed in allowing that defense to become mean-spirited and hurtful.

For the sin we have committed by forgetting that it is mostly thanks to secular Jews that we built and still have a state, and for the sin we have committed by ignoring the fact that, too often, those same Jews are struggling to pass on to their children a passionate commitment to Israel's future.

For the sin we committed in taking pride in Israel's social and economic equality protests without actually joining them on the streets, and for the sin we have committed by failing to honestly admit there was little Jewish content to those protests and that many of its leaders now live abroad.

For the sin we have committed by failing to work harder to stop Jewish violence against non-Jews in our midst, and for the sin we have committed by failing to remember that among the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria are some of the most decent human beings and passionate Zionists anywhere.

For the sin we have committed by pretending that there's anything innately Jewish about semiconductors, and for the sin we have all committed, wherever we live, by creating one of the most Jewishly illiterate generations of young people that our people has ever known.

For the sin we have committed by teaching our young people that a life lived in conversation with only Jewish sources is sufficient, and for the sin we have committed by teaching others that they could fashion meaningful Jewish lives without that conversation.

For the sin we have committed in electing as Israel's religious leaders men who are not Zionists, who have virtually no secular education and whose vision of Judaism speaks to almost no one in the Jewish state, and for the sin we have committed in picking precisely the wrong places to try to break that monopoly.

For the sin we have committed in creating a state out of the ashes of the Holocaust while allowing its survivors to languish in abject poverty, and for the sin we have committed in letting our state, a haven for those with nowhere else to go, become a haven for those who traffic in powerless women.

For the sin we have committed by the folly of far too porous borders, and for the sin we have committed in our treatment of those to whom we've allowed entry.

For the sin we have committed in refusing to hear the most powerful Jewish critiques of what Israel has become, and for the sin we have committed in denying that it is our enemies' self-destructive and hate-driven choices that consign them to the lives they live.

For the sin we have committed in belittling the Jewish or moral seriousness of those who have crafted Jewish lives different from our own, and for the sin we have committed in pretending that Jewish life without profound Jewish knowledge and a deep-seated sense of obligation pulsing through its core can prevail.

For the sin we have committed by not bewailing the moral corruption too prevalent in our society, and for the sin we have committed by not taking sufficient pride in Israel's deep-seated and abiding decency.

For the sin we have committed in not seeing the redemption of the Jewish people that is unfolding in the Jewish state, and for the sin we have committed by forgetting that we've only just begun.

For these, and for many more, may we find forgiveness, and may we grant forgiveness.

Grant us the capacity for unbounded pride coupled with the embrace of self-critique, satisfaction in what we've wrought coupled with a drive to do even better. And this year, in this time of uncertainty, in this region newly ablaze, enable us to keep what was always the primary promise that Zionism made to the Jewish people: Help us keep ourselves, and especially our children, safe.

Gmar chatima tovah.

The original Jerusalem post column can be read here.

Comments and reactions can be posted here


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Daniel Gordis:
Time to Change the Israel Conversation

Nearly every time I open the e-mail with the latest post from Daniel Gordis, I find myself thinking. A lot. I don't always agree with him. But he always makes me think, and I am better for the exercise. Same thing today. I will cut to the chase, but only if you promise to read to the end. For a variety of reasons, which Gordis enumerates below, he and I believe it is time to have an old conversation all over again: Why do the Jews need our own state and what should its values be? This conversation often is set aside to focus on existential threats. But it is actually the thing we all need to be worried about. 

I (and I hope many of you) care deeply about Israel and see it as central to my Jewish identity. When I speak to Jewish adults my age and younger (I am 51) I do not find that to be the norm. I imagine there are many reasons for ambivalence toward Israel by Jews. I suspect one of them is battle fatigue. Too many fights. Between Arab nations and Israelis. Between Israeli Arabs and Jews. Between Palestinians and Israelis. Between Jews and Jews. For some, I suspect it has to do with actions or inactions of Israeli governments, settlers or protesters. (Trying to allow for all political approaches, but probably failing.) And some have just stopped paying attention because they are focused on things closer to home.

In any case, I agree with Gordis. Let's dream about what the Jewish state can be. As Jews living Chutz l'aretz (outside of the land of Israel), let's re-engage and become part of the process. And let's figure out what that means, both to us and to Israelis. After all, if you will it, it is no dream.

Click here to read the original posting and comment on Daniel Gordis' page.


Time to Change the Israel Conversation
Posted by Daniel Gordis on June 21, 2013 | 10 responses
Naftali Bennett, not long ago the election season’s “candidate to watch” and today the economy and trade minister, declared the two-state solution at a “dead end” this week, and said, memorably, that “never in Jewish history have so many people talked so much and expended so much energy on something so futile.” Bennett’s controversial comments were, in part, pandering to the the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, before whom he was speaking. But he’s held these views for a long time; his famous election campaign video, still widely available on YouTube, said precisely the same thing.

Reasonable minds can differ as to whether saying publicly that the two-state solution is dead is healthy for Israel’s standing in the international community, especially at this delicate moment when US Secretary of State John Kerry is amassing frequent flyer miles as he seeks, as have many before him, to get the process unstuck. But reasonable minds should agree – though they will not – that Bennett is right. Even were there no Israeli resistance to the idea of the two-state solution, longstanding Palestinian incalcitrance would doom the project anyway. 

The world will take much more note of Bennett’s two-minute remarks than it will of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s longstanding refusal to negotiate. When US President Barack Obama pressured Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu into a building freeze that lasted for 10 months in 2010, Abbas refused to come to the table.
Now, with Kerry determined not to fail, Abbas is still complaining aloud about the relentless pressure being placed on him to do so. But if Abbas wanted a deal, why would any pressure be necessary? And even if Abbas were to change his tune, there’s still Hamas. Let’s not conveniently forget the comment by Mousa Abu Marzook, considered Hamas’s second-highest-ranking official, who said Hamas would see any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians – even one ratified by Palestinian referendum – not as a peace treaty, but as nothing more than a hudna, or cease-fire.

Bennett may be right, and he may be wrong. More likely than not, the conflict will muddle along towards some slightly altered reality over the course of many years without the fanfare of a “deal” signed on the White House lawn. Yet though all this will undoubtedly leave much of the Jewish world – in Israel, America and beyond – in a fit of desperate hand-wringing, it should actually come as a relief, and as the harbinger of a significant new Jewish opportunity.

Before us now lies an opportunity to have, at long last, a renewed conversation about why the Jews need a state and the values on which is ought to be based. For far too long, 90 percent of Jewish conversations about Israel have been about Israel’s enemies. Eavesdrop at almost any Shabbat table in New York or Los Angeles, Sydney or Melbourne, London or Paris, and the conversation about Israel is almost invariably a conversation about the Palestinians, or Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, or Iran’s nuclear ambitions. We discuss, ad nauseum, how to preserve the Jewish state, without ever asking ourselves why it matters in the first place. 

But this is a self-defeating conversation. To a generation of Jews who witnessed or survived the Holocaust, or to those can still feel in their bones the dread of May 1967 around the Six Day War or the terror of the first days of the Yom Kippur War, the need for a Jewish state seems patently obvious. To those born later, however, this is decreasingly true. More and more, a younger generation of Jews, tired of a conversation about a conflict that they intuit is not going to end, bored to the point of resentment by a discussion that never elicits anything new or inspiring about the Jewish state, feels that it has had enough. 

If every comment about Israel is really about Gaza or Syria or nuclear weapons, what’s the point? THAT IS why Bennett’s remarks actually present an opportunity, even to those who wish matters were different. If there is no “deal” to be had, then there is really little point talking about it. What we can – and should – be speaking about is why the Jewish state matters in the first place.

Ironically, we now have the opportunity to initiate a conversation that instead of dividing us to the point of not being able to speak to each other, can actually unite us in a shared enterprise. What religious and secular, Left and Right, young and old can almost certainly agree on is that if we are to have a Jewish state, its society and values ought to be a reflection of the ideas and values that the Jewish people has long held dear.

But what are those values? What does the Jewish tradition have to say about balancing our need to welcome refugees who are fleeing genocide with our obligation to protect the safety of our own citizens on the streets of Tel Aviv? How do we raise a generation of young Israelis who will remain willing to risk everything to defend the Jewish state, yet who do not hate Arabs, despite the fact that we are intermittently at war with the Arab world? 

How do we balance the need to let 1,000 Jewish flowers bloom, and let Jews pray where and how they wish to pray, and teach their children what they believe they need to know, and still maintain – or create – a sufficiently cohesive public square that makes Israel not an accident of different people sharing the cities, but a meaningful collective enterprise? Conversations such as these would get us to open both and Western books. They would invite the input of secular along with religious, of progressives along with conservatives, for Jewish ideas are not the sole province of any one segment of the Jewish world.

Conversations of this sort would remind us all that the business the Jews have been in for the past several millennia is the business of ideas – imagining a world in which human life flourishes, and trying to then make that world real.
In 1762, more than a century before Theodor Herzl launched political Zionism, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, writing in Emile, said, “I shall never believe I have heard the arguments of the Jews until they have a free state, schools and universities, where they can speak and dispute without risk. Only then will we know what they have to say.” Today, we have a free state. We have schools and universities. But we’re not having the conversation that Rousseau imagined we would. The casual observer of our conversations about Israel would imagine that when we converse about Israel, all we really talk about is Arabs.

It’s time for a change. It’s time to prove Rousseau right, and to remind ourselves – and a listening world – that the Jewish conversation is actually much deeper and richer than that. Ironically, being liberated from any hope that peace is around the corner may actually make possible a much more important and enduring conversation.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

U.S. Jews Fighting Wrong Battle

A copy of a book by author Peter Beinart
under the chair of an audience member
as Beinart speaks at an event in Atlanta,
apart from the book fair, on Nov. 14, 2012.
(David Goldman/AP)
Like many, I have spent a fair amount of time monitoring a variety of sources to see what is going on in Israel. And like some I feel torn that I am not there sharing the stresses and helping. The truth is,  given my lack of training and experience, I would probably just be in the way their. But I can help spread the word. There are two postings I have rad over the past several days that I want to make sure as many people as possible read and think about and hopefully act on. Here is one of them. It was posted Friday on Tablet and written by Rabbi Daniel Gordis.

As rockets rain down on Israel, an Atlanta JCC bans Peter Beinart. When did we become so narrow-minded?

This has been a frightening and sad week in Israel. First, Hamas unleashed 160 rockets on Israeli towns. Then the IDF responded, and Israeli civilians were ordered—and many remain—in bomb shelters. And as was almost inevitable, some who did not heed the warnings were killed by rocket fire. At this writing, the end is nowhere in sight.

If there can be said to be a silver lining in this horrendous situation, it’s in the broad range of support for the prime minister’s decision to protect his citizens. “Labor, Kadima, Olmert, Livni back government’s air assault on Hamas,” reported the Times of Israel. But it shouldn’t take war for Jews to acknowledge that we’re utterly dependent on each other, no matter how deeply we may disagree.

Far from the fighting, the conversation among American Jews about Israel has become so toxic that it’s often impossible even for people who are allies to listen to each other. Not long ago, I was invited by a major national Jewish organization to give a lecture in the United States. Soon after, the person who’d invited me called me in Jerusalem to tell me that the major sponsors of the event had pulled their support and their funding because I’d signed a letter asking the Prime Minister Netanyahu to ignore a legal report claiming that Israel’s presence in the West Bank is not technically an occupation.

“You’re not embarrassed?” I asked her. She couldn’t understand why she should possibly be embarrassed. She explained that her organization believed that the report was important for defending Israel’s international legitimacy. “That’s fine,” I said, “and I think that adopting it would do us great damage. But so what? Doesn’t the fact that we disagree make it all the more critical that we talk to each other? Or have we reached the point where your supporters will listen only to those with whom they agree completely? Your sponsors based their decision to invite me on a record of 15 years of writing and speaking. I do one thing that they don’t approve of, and they pull the plug?”

That’s precisely what they did. I ended up giving the lecture, but the sponsors never restored their support.
They represent, I believe, a scary anti-intellectual trend in the Jewish community. These people believe that an increasingly narrow tent will best protect the state of Israel, and so they continue to move the tent’s pegs. But they are doing just the opposite of bolstering the Jewish state: They weaken Israel and make it more vulnerable because they exclude enormous swaths of the community that we need—particularly on a week like this.

The latest example of this narrowing happened this week in Atlanta, where one of the country’s major Jewish book fairs canceled an appearance by the writer Peter Beinart. “As leaders of our agency, we want the center to always serve as a safe place for honest debate, but we want to balance that against the concerns of our patrons,” said Steven Cadranel, president of the Marcus Jewish Community Center. I have no unique knowledge of what actually transpired, but this has become an old story: Many Jewish organizations have been pushed into such corners by donors who refused to contribute to festivals or organizations who will host people whose views they find reprehensible. Jewish community professionals regularly find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

I disagree with Peter Beinart on more issues than I can count. I was appalled by his oped in the Times calling for a boycott on some Israelis, and I found his most recent book far too accommodating of Israel’s enemies and unfairly critical of Israel. I think he’s completely wrong when he asserts the occupation is the core cause of Israel’s marginality. But his views represent those of a not inconsiderable swath of American Jewry, so I agreed to debate him at Columbia University. Our debate was fun—and far more important, it was civil.

I don’t know how many minds were changed that night; Beinart’s wasn’t, and neither was mine. But we did model for the hundreds of people who were there and the many more who watched the debate online that the Jewish community doesn’t have the luxury of refusing to speak to those who disagree with us. Instead, Peter and I did what the Jews have always done: We engaged the ideas, assumptions, and moral positions of the other, and in the spirit of the brave marketplace of ideas that Judaism has always been, tried to make our most compelling case.

Are there no limits to who’s in the Zionist tent? Of course there are. For me, the litmus tests are Israel’s Jewishness, democracy, and security. Anyone publicly committed to those three—even if I believe that their policy ideas are wrong-minded—is in the tent. There are many Israeli politicians whose ideas I believe are na├»ve or dangerous. But should I say that they’re not Zionists? That would absurd. For the same reason, Beinart is in my tent.

Speaking with people who agree with me is no challenge. Engaging with those whose views seem to me dangerous is infinitely harder, but far more important. That sort of conversation is perhaps the most critical lesson that we inherit from centuries of Talmudic Judaism. The Talmud is essentially a 20-volume argument, in which even positions that “lost” the battle and were not codified into law are subjected to reverential examination. When Hillel and Shammai debate, Jewish law, or halakhah, almost always follows Hillel. But we still study Shammai with reverence. Even those views not codified, we believe, have insights to share and moral positions worth considering.

The American Jewish community is the most secure diaspora community the Jews have ever known. Economically, socially, politically, culturally—we have made it, and what we say and model is watched by countless others. Yet New York Times readers this week can only conclude that in the midst of that security and comfort, we’ve utterly abandoned the intellectual curiosity that has long been Judaism’s hallmark.

Are we not ashamed to have created a community so shrill that any semblance of that Talmudic curiosity has been banished? Has the People of the Book really become so uninterested in thinking?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tell Me about the Future of the Jews

File Under Peoplehood
This is a Jerusalem Post column and blog posting by Rabbi Daniel Gordis. He wrote it for Yom Ha'atzmaut and I nearly missed in the flurry of events and postings surrounding the week from Yom Hashoah, through Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut. Rabbi Gordis spoke at the gala for the Jewish High School of Connecticut in our sanctuary a month ago. I remember thinking that I have never read anything by him or heard him speak when I haven't found myslef thinking. A lot. This is no exception. Much of my focus at work has been about Jewish peoplehood in general and connecting to Israel in particular. This fits right in. Enjoy. 

Imagine it's January 1946. Imagine, too, that you are exactly who you are now: thoughtful, educated, worldly, rational. And then, someone says to you, "Tell me about the future of the Jews." .... The Jews have a future because the Jews have a state. There are moments when a People has earned a celebration.  Yom Ha'atzmaut is, without question, one of those moments. 

Imagine it's January 1946. Imagine, too, that you are exactly who you are now: thoughtful, educated, worldly, rational. And then, someone says to you, "Tell me about the future of the Jews."

So you survey the world in January 1946. It's a year after the liberation of Auschwitz, and just months since the war has ended. You cast your eyes toward Eastern Europe, which not much earlier had been the world's center of Jewish life, learning, literature and culture. Eastern European Jewry is gone.

Though we commonly say that Hitler annihilated one third of the world's Jews, that number is technically correct but misses the point. The number that really matters is that after Hitler, 90 percent of Eastern Europe's Jews had been murdered.  
Prior to the war, there had been some 3,200,000 Polish Jews. At the end of the war, merely 300,000 were left. By 1950, estimates are that 100,000 Jews remained in Poland. As far as Polish Jewry was concerned, Hitler had won.

Hitler won in Hungary, too, and throughout Eastern Europe. The great seat of Jewish life was simply no longer. There are a few Jews left there, of course, but many of those who did survive will for a long time be living under Soviet rule, which, if you'd had a crystal ball, you'd know was going to get infinitely worse long before it got any better. A future for the Jews? It did not look pretty.

You could look a bit westward. You might turn your attention to Salonika.  
Some 56,000 Jews had lived there before the war; 98% of them died. Westward still, you might consider France. But the story of Vichy France would bring you no solace.  
Europe, until only some 10 years earlier the center of the Jewish world, was an enormous, blood-soaked Jewish cemetery - only without markers to note the names of the millions who had been butchered.

So you might turn your attention across the Atlantic Ocean, to the United States.

But the American Jews you would have surveyed in 1946 were not the American Jews of today. Today, at AIPAC's annual Policy Conference, for example, thousands of American Jews (and many non- Jews, as well) ascend the steps of Capitol Hill to speak to their elected officials about Israel. They do so with a sense of absolute entitlement (in the best sense of the word), with no hesitation.

But between 1938 and 1945, how many Jews ascended those steps to demand that at least one bomb be dropped on the tracks to Auschwitz, or that American shores be opened to at least some of the thousands of Jews who had literally nowhere to go? During the worst years that the Jews had known in two millennia, virtually no Jews went to Capitol Hill or the White House. There was the famous Rabbis' March of October 1943, in which some 400 mostly Orthodox rabbis went to the White House (though FDR refused to meet with them), but that was about it.

In January 1946, American Jews did not interview for positions on Wall Street wearing a kippa, and did not seek jobs on Madison Avenue informing their prospective employers that they would not work on Shabbat. The self-confidence of American Jews that we now take so for granted was almost nowhere to be found back then. With European Jews going up smokestacks, American Jews mostly went about their business, fearful of rocking the boat of American hospitality. A future for the Jews?
There was, of course, one other place where there was a sizable Jewish population - Palestine. But in Palestine, too, the shores were sealed. Tens of thousands of British troops were stationed in Palestine, not only to "keep the peace," but to make sure that Jews did not immigrate and change the demographic balance of the country. The story of the Exodus is famous, perhaps, precisely because it ended reasonably well. Most Jews today can name not even one of the ships that sank, carrying their homeless Jews with them. In January 1946, the British weren't budging. A future for the Jews? In January 1946, there was little cause to believe in a rich Jewish future. You might have believed that a covenant promised some Jewish future, but it would have been hard to argue it was a bright one.

Now fast-forward 66 years, to 2012.

Where do we find ourselves today? Jewish life in Europe, while facing renewed anti-Semitism in some places, is coming back to life. Berlin is one of the fastest growing Jewish communities in the world. There are Jewish cultural festivals in Poland (though staged largely by non-Jews, since there are few Jews left). In Budapest and Prague, Jewish museums, kosher restaurants and synagogues abound. Soviet Jews are largely out, and those who remain have synagogues, schools, camps and community centers. And across the ocean, the success and vibrancy of American Jewish life is legendary.

There was no way to expect any of this in 1946, no reason to even imagine it.

How did it happen? The simple but often overlooked truth is that what has made this difference for Jews world over is the State of Israel.  
It was Israel's victory in 1967 that injected energy into Soviet Jewry and led them to rattle their cage, demanding their freedom.  Post-1967, the world saw the Jews as people who would shape their own destiny.  Unlike the Tibetans (or Chechnyans or Basques, to name just a few), Jews were no longer tiptoeing around the world, waiting to see what the world had in store for them.

The re-creation of the Jewish state has changed not only how the world sees the Jews, but how the Jews see themselves.  The days of "We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we appeared to them" (Num. 13:33) are gone, and the reason is the State of Israel.

We are a people sometimes over-inclined to indulge in hand-wringing (and at others, unwilling to do the hand-wringing we ought to). And we face our challenges. Iran is worrisome, Egyptian peace is tenuous. Hila Bezaleli's tragic death was a metaphor for the lack of accountability that plagues this country.  The behavior of Lt.-Col. Shalom Eisner, as well as the reactions to what he did, is also deeply unsettling.

But let us remember this, nevertheless: it is far too easy to lose sight of what we have accomplished. Sixty-six years ago, no sane, level-headed person could have imagined that we would have what we have. A language brought back to life, and bookstores filled with hundreds of linear feet of books in a language that just a century ago almost no one spoke. More people studying Torah now than there were in Europe at its height. An economic engine that is the envy of many supposedly more established countries. A democracy fashioned by immigrants, most of whom had never lived in a functioning democracy. Cutting-edge health care. An army that keeps us so safe, we go days on end without even thinking about our enemies.
That's worth remembering in the midst of the attacks on us, from the international community as well as from Jews.  
There's much to repair, and too often, we fail to meet the standards we've set for ourselves. All true, and they demand our continued attention, but at the same time, we dare not lose sight of what we've built. To borrow the phrase from Virginia Slims, "we've come a long way, baby."

The Jews have a future because the Jews have a state.  
There are moments when a People has earned a celebration. Yom Ha'atzmaut is, without question, one of those moments.  

The original Jerusalem Post
column can be found here:

Comments and reactions can be posted here:

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Moments Worth Remembering

This is Daniel Gordis' latest posting.
It's really good.
And that's all I have to say about that!

I still recall the day, some 40 years ago, when my mother told me that she remembered vividly the moment that she'd heard that FDR had died. I was stunned. She'd been so young. How could she possibly remember it at all, much less so clearly?

Gradually, I came to understand that there is a certain kind of moment when something so important transpires that, even years later, we remember not only what happened, but where we were, who spoke, how we felt. Each of us has a different list. Mine includes Anwar Sadat's arrival in Tel Aviv, and Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. The Challenger explosion. Ariel Sharon's stroke. Many more.

Two weeks ago, there was another. I woke up in a San Diego hotel and turned on the TV to see if anything dramatic had changed in Egypt. The news was still the same. Protests were continuing. Tahrir Square was filled to capacity, peacefully defiant. But Hosni Mubarak seemed not to get it and was still hanging on.

With nothing happening, I took advantage of the Southern California weather and went for a run. An hour later, when I was back and dressed, I nonchalantly turned on the TV once again.
Mubarak was gone; an era had ended.

Stunned, I sat on the couch, and watched the celebrating crowd, people cheering and waving Egyptian flags, men holding their young children aloft, in their arms or on their shoulders. And I remember now my surprise when I realized what I was feeling. It wasn't shock, for we all suspected this was coming. It wasn't joy, for the road ahead would be a long one, and this wasn't exactly great for Israel. But it wasn't dread, either. It was envy.

It wasn't what I'd expected to feel, but that was what it was. I was jealous of those thousands of cheering, running, weeping, flag-waving people, envious that they still took freedom seriously. It made no difference that their freedom pales in comparison to what we have. Or that they might end up not being any freer than they'd been under Mubarak.

What struck me at that moment was that we, too, had once celebrated new beginnings.

We'd been the ones huddled around old wooden radios on November 29, 1947. We were once the ones who'd danced in the streets of Tel Aviv. We were the ones, as Amos Oz describes in his extraordinary autobiography, whose fathers got into bed with us that night, and told us of the horrors of growing up weak and insecure in Europe, and promised us that those days would now forever be banished. Yes, there were days when we didn't take our own freedom for granted.

But now, we fret. We worry. We disagree and fight. We wonder if this experiment will survive. Some Jews even wonder if it was a good idea in the first place. A lot has changed since November 1947, since our Tahrir Square, and I was jealous of those celebrating Egyptians for what we'd lost, and what they'd just discovered.

JUST A few days later, one of the founders of our synagogue passed away in Jerusalem. One of the few remaining of the group of survivors who'd created the shul some 60 years earlier, we knew him as Siggy, a quiet, wise and dignified man, whom I met on the way to shul most mornings. Lately, as we'd walk up Rehov Shimshon in the morning, he'd take the slight hill ever more slowly. Occasionally, I'd slow down and walk with him, but he always said the same thing: "Don't wait for me - you'll be late." I don't know how long I'll remember those early morning walks up Rehov Shimshon and our brief exchanges. But I'll always remember what Siggy said to me one morning, in the midst of the intifada, as we were about to recite Yizkor.

It was a time in Jerusalem when life was sad, and often frightening. We hadn't lived here that long, and it didn't take much to wonder, at fleeting moments, what in the world we'd done to our children, taking them from a quiet, tree-lined street in Los Angeles to a city in which buses and restaurants blew up on what seemed to be a daily basis. It was a time when it wasn't that hard to feel sorry for yourself for living here - angry at times, despondent at others.

That holiday morning, as I made my way out of shul for Yizkor (since my immediate family is all still living), Siggy, who sat not far from the door, grabbed my arm just as I was about to step outside.
"You're going out for Yizkor?" he asked me. 

When I nodded, somewhat perplexed, he continued. "When we first got here, after the war, there wasn't a single person who could go out for Yizkor. Not a single one." And then, he said, "Ba'u od milhamot venaflu od banim."

"More wars followed, and more boys fell.  So for more years, no one could go out for Yizkor."

He stopped for a moment, and I saw that his lips were trembling, ever so slightly. He pointed to the courtyard right outside our shul. "Ve'achshav, tistakel - kulam bahutz." 

"And now, look!" he pressed me. "Everyone's outside." "Hamedina hazot nes." "This country is a miracle."

I have no idea why Siggy chose to speak to me that morning, some 10 years ago.  But I do know it was one of those moments worth remembering for a lifetime.  When the downward spiral here seems unstoppable, when hope seems in short supply, I think of the perspective that he had, that I never will.

And I hope I can forever take to heart what he taught me: Why be envious of what's happening across the border? After all, he was right - the genuine miracle in this region is the place we still call home.

The original Jerusalem Post article is here:

Comments and reactions can be left here: