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In These Troubling Times, What Is Israel to Do?

In These Troubling Times, What Is Israel to Do?

sunset over the Mediterranean with Jaffa in the background

Watching the fiery sun sink quickly into the Mediterranean makes the 10,000-mile journey worthwhile. I have seen few sights as beautiful. I am not here often, but each time is a homecoming.

Indeed, our people have laid claim to this land for 4,000 years. After one-third of the world’s Jews – and two-thirds of the Jews of Europe – perished in the Shoah, let no one say we have no right to be here. Had Israel existed in 1935, millions of those Jews would have lived.

After World War I, more than 20 Arab-Islamic states – many of which prohibit Jews – sprung up. We Jews, who also lived under Ottoman rule at the time, have a right to one tiny Jewish state as well.

When we discuss, as we should, Palestinian refugees displaced by the creation of the State of Israel, let us also discuss the roughly equal number of Jewish refugees expelled from Arab lands, where once we felt welcome and at home.

Today, I often find myself critical of the policies of Israel’s current government, wishful that those in charge would do more to bring about peace with our Arab neighbors. Sadly, however, so many of Israel’s unyielding critics ignore the reality under which this tiny country labors.

Our enemies, from the time their children are old enough to think, teach them to hate Israel, to hate Jews, and to consider martyrdom – by killing Jews in Israel – a glorious death.

What is Israel to do?

Although there is much to criticize in Israel – and in the United States – for 4,000 uninterrupted years, our people have lived on or longed to live on this land, praying all the while for peace with its neighbors.

As the sun dips westward, over the ancient city of Jaffa, a smaller, exquisite crescent moon rises to stand sentry over the night, just as the poet of Genesis’ creation story wrote. East of the sea, in sharp contrast to the tableau of Jaffa beside it, the modern city of Tel Aviv bustles about its business.

Contemporary Israel is by no means an idyllic, biblical land, but it is my home and the home of my people. Let no one say we have no right to be here.

Rather, by forging our tradition’s ancient values with the country’s modern technology, may Israel find peace with its enemies. Indeed, Israel’s history is filled with countless acts of military heroism, but as our Sages taught (Avot de Rabbi Natan, 23:1): “Who is the hero of heroes? One who turns an enemy into a friend!”

For the sake of our children, our grandchildren, and generations to come, may Israel and its neighbors soon produce such heroes.

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs is a former president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, CT. A prolific author, he has written several books, including What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves is Biblical Narratives, which also is available in German, Russian, and as an audio book. ToraHighlights and Why the Kof? are his other books.

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs
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