Beth Torah – Benny Rok Campus
Kol Nidre Night – 2010 – 5771 – Rabbi Ed Farber
Mee Po Ahnee lo Zaz – from this place I am not moving
You all know the classic Jewish joke which defines a Jewish telegram as having the message: “Start worrying – details to follow.” It’s classic because it so well describes our people. We are always worrying – every generation of Jews worries – will this be the last generation? Every generation of Jews agonizes over how to keep the next generation connected – connected to our people; our religious and cultural heritage. But this generation faces something that no other generation faced for 2000 years – how to keep the next generation connected to the Jewish State of Israel. All previous generations wondered how to keep the idea of a Jewish homeland alive – how to keep a connection with a land that most Jews had not or ever would visit in their lifetimes and which had a tiny Jewish community. But we have the state – we have the reality – and the community inIsrael will soon be the largest Jewish community in the world. It would seem that in this world of instant communication, easy travel and shrinking distances – keeping that connection alive and vibrant would be so much easier. My grandmother never visited Israel. She went from Poland to America and the opportunity to travel to Israel just never presented itself. But her identification with and love for Israel was boundless. I didn’t make my first trip to Israel until my third year of undergraduate school but I went there already connected to and in love with the land and the state – instilled in me by my family, my synagogue and my Rabbis. Given Israel’s incredible accomplishments and the attractiveness of the state on both a secular and religious level – connecting the next generation should be easy. Well – not exactly.
A few months ago a group of 35 MIT and Harvard students, 20 non-Jews and 15 Jews were gathered together to talk about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict with public opinion guru Frank Luntz. Luntz describes how within 10 minutes, the non-Jews started with ‘the war crimes of Israel,’ with ‘the Jewish lobby,’ with ‘the Jews have a lot more power and influence’ – stuff that’s borderline anti-Jewish. They had nothing to say about Palestinian terror attacks that had killed over a 1000 Israeli citizens – men, women and children having pizza in a Sbarro restaurant – or a seder in a hotel – or just riding in a bus. All these students could talk about was Israeli aggression, Israeli oppression – Israeli imperialism. And remember these are MIT and Harvard students. What did the Jewish collegiates do while this attack on Israel’s ethical values, on her right to defend herself raged on? Did the Jewish kids at the best schools in America stand up for themselves? Did they challenge the assertions? Not a word – they sat their silently. Frank Luntz was so stunned that he couldn’t control himself. The Jewish students – these Harvard and MIT Jewish students – the best and the brightest didn’t say a dam thing in response – they sat there silently as Israel and American Jews were being maligned. Luntz points out that amongst the Jewish students in the group was the leader of the Israeli caucus at Harvard. 49 minutes of ‘it’s all Israel’s fault – American Jews have too much influence – the media is controlled by the Jews and the American gov’t by the Israeli Lobby’ - 49 minutes – he timed it – before any Jewish student actually responded to the attacks – 49 minutes before one of them opened their mouth and challenged those baseless anti-Israel – anti-Jewish attacks.
After three hours – the discussion ended and Luntz dismissed the non-Jews and confronted the Jews. With them alone in the room he turned to these Jewish MIT and Harvard college students and screamed: You didn’t say ‘crap’ – for 49 minutes you sat there silently – while your community and your Jewish state were being maligned -and when you finally opened your mouths you were timid and almost apologetic. Then writes Luntz:
“And it all dawned on them: If they won’t say it to their classmates, whom they know, who will they stand up for Israel to? Two of the women in the group started to cry. … The guys are like, “Oh my God, I didn’t speak up, I can’t believe I let this happen.” And they’re all looking at each other with horrible embarrassment and guilt like you wouldn’t believe.”
Luntz challenged the Jewish students. What’s wrong with you? Israel with all its flaws – is still a far better example of American values such as freedom, democracy, tolerance, and human rights, than any of its enemies. Why didn’t they talk about the oppression of women and homosexuals in the Arab world? Why didn’t they remind Israel’s attackers in the debate that there is no religious freedom for Christians or Jews in any of those Arab countries they are defending so articulately? Why didn’t they remind them that a woman can’t drive a car in Saudi Arabia, a Jew or a Christian can’t be a citizen and no churches or synagogues are allowed in that country? Why didn’t they remind them that Israeli Arabs have more rights and freedoms than they would have in any of Israel’s neighboring countries? And why did these Harvard and MIT geniuses have nothing to say about suicide bombings, the killing of Israeli citizens, the purposeful murder of Israeli children, pregnant Jewish women shot to death at point blank range, and the 1000’s of missiles indiscriminately launched into Israelis towns and cities?
We learn two very painful lessons from this episode: 1) so many of our children are afraid to speak up for Israel; 2) many don’t even know how to speak up for Israel. And from recent studies we learn something even more disturbing – far too many of our children now entering adulthood don’t even care about Israel in any significant way. It has no special pull on their heart strings. They are either alienated from Israel or indifferent. Some studies put the percentage as high as 40% of the next generation of Jews who have no special feeling for – or connection to – the land, the people or the Jewish state. In fact many find it just a source of irritation – always bad news – always bad PR for Jews.
The greatest existential threat to Israel’s survival is an Iran with nuclear weapons – not Hezbollah – not Hamas. But I want to tell you a secret that you may not know. I do not have the power to stop Iran from going nuclear. So I’ll say only one thing about that threat. We must support Israel’s right to use even military force – if necessary – to stop Iranfrom going nuclear and we must encourage our representatives – our government – to stand behind Israel or even cooperate with Israel if military intervention becomes the only means to stopping Iran from going Nuclear.
After Iran - the next greatest threat to Israel’s survival is the world-wide attempt to deny her the legitimate right of self defense and to make her a pariah in the world community – the way that S. Africa was isolated and ostracized for her apartheid policies. But S. Africa’s policies were in fact racist and appalling. No Public relations campaign could have helped her and the apartheid government fell. But Israel is not S. Africa and not racist. Yet Israel’s PR failings are innumerable – I quite frankly don’t understand it. The case for Israel is not hard to make even to people on the left but Israel has not done it well. But if the next generation of American Jews as represented by those MIT and Harvard Jewish students don’t get it then the failure is ours – the American Jewish community – and not the Israeli government. We have failed to successfully communicate to a large segment of the next generation both the justice of Israel’s cause and the critical and vital importance of Israel to all of world Jewry and all democracies. And when I say we – I mean all of us – parents, Rabbis, Jewish educators. And this is the third greatest threat to Israel’s survival – the possibility of a serious shrinkage in support from the American Jewish community. The Orthodox community has succeeded in imparting this love and support in their next generation but they are a tiny percentage of American Jewry. How did they do it?
1) Israel is talked about with enthusiasm and passion in their homes, in their synagogues and in their schools. Is that true in our homes, in our synagogues?
2) They make sure to get their teens to Israel either during High School or college. Because once you’ve been to Israel the justice of her cause and the fact that her goodness far outweighs the problems in her society becomes self-apparent.
3) And in our synagogues – in the Conservative and Reform movements – and I say this with embarrassment and shock – so many Rabbis focus on Israel’s mistakes, her problems even blaming Israel for a lack of a peace treaty. I saw on line that many American Rabbis have given sermons this year about the conversion controversy in Israel. We’ve got Hezbollah with 1000’s of missiles on Israel’s northern border, Hamas with thousands more on Israel’s southern border and an Iranian regime trying to go nuclear while at the same time proclaiming that Israel should be wiped off the map. We’ve got people who represent the Palestinians pronouncing that the Holocaust never happened, that there was never a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. We’ve got much of the world saying that of course Israel has the right to defend herself and then every time she does she is condemned at the UN for doing just that. We had Time magazine with a cover that said – Why Israel doesn’t want peace! All this and Rabbis want to talk about the conversion crisis in Israel! All these visceral threats to Israel’s very survival and in some synagogues our college kids will hear at High Holy Days this year how Israel has to give up this, retreat from there, apologize for that. It has been the Palestinians who have blocked the path to peace by refusing to recognize a Jewish state and by continuing their terror assault on Israel. What we need to worry about is why those Jewish kids from MIT and Harvard were so hesitant to defend Israel. What we have to worry about is why so many of our kids are ready to travel to every ferkockta place in the world on vacation except Israel. What we have to worry about is the anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic trends on University campuses throughout our land. We are sending our kids totally unprepared into the seat of anti-Zionistic thought and agitation in our country – the AmericanUniversity campus.
Let me tell you a true story – a story we should know because it’s the story of our people in the past 70 years.
An American by the name of Judy makes aliyah – meets an Israeli – gets married and has a baby boy. She is visiting in America when the war in the north with Hezbollah breaks out – she’s stuck here – her husband goes into army reserves in Israel. Let’s go back a generation to Judy’s mother-in-law – Zahava – who was pregnant with Judy’s husband – Boaz – when the Yom Kippur war broke out in 1973 and her husband – Boaz’s father – was off to war. He survived – the baby boy was given the name Boaz which is the Hebrew name for a redeemer – one who brings hope – as Boaz was the great grandfather of David from whom the Messiah will come. Now let’s go back another generation to Boaz’s grandmother – who was pregnant with his mother – Judy’s mother-in-law – when she was living in an internment camp in Cyprus having just survived the holocaust and her husband – Boaz’s grandfather – was preparing to fight in the War of Independence in 1948! Now – it’s 2008 – Judy is sitting there in LA – thousands of miles away from her husband and family in Israel – watching this war in Lebanon and for the fourth generation in a row – the fourth generation in a row – in that family – a Jewish woman is pregnant while her husband is off fighting to save the Jewish people. That’s the story our children need to hear – not the story of someone being given a hard time by the narrow-minded antiquated, corrupt and medieval Israeli Chief Rabbinate. What our children need to know is that after 9/11 the community which had the loudest cheering in the world, the people who danced in the streets with joy – that fired machine guns in the air celebrating the slaughter of 3000 innocent American, that burned American flags in the streets – were the Palestinian communities in the West Bank and in Gaza.
The simple truths are:
1) Israel cannot be defeated if the Israeli people, American and World Jewry and the United States government stand together and firm on Israel’s security and her right to defend herself with the full force of the Israeli Armed forces if necessary. Iran would back down from her nuclear intentions if she believed that Israel and America would act militarily if necessary to put an end to her nuclear ambitions. Do not be so foolish or naïve as to think that a second Holocaust is not possible. Should we dismiss Iran’s threats to destroy Israel as the threats of a loud mouth bombastic and crazy President – Achmaninajab? Here I rely on the words of Elie Wiesel – the eloquent writer, teacher and Holocaust Suvivor – trust in the threats of your enemies more than in the promises of your friends.
Chaim Weizman, the modern founder of Zionism and the first President of Israel was once asked, “Why don’t you just accept the offer to establish a Jewish State in Uganda?” He answered, “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 to your home.”
We drive the 50 miles because she is our mother. And we stand up for Israel because it is our homeland, the cradle of Jewish civilization and home to almost 6 million Jews – more than 1/3 of our people – a very haunting and at the same time hopeful number. That is what we – all of us collectively – have failed to communicate to far too many American Jews and that may be the greatest threat of all to Israel’s future.
Laurie and I were in Israel when the missiles began landing on Haifa in the first days of the Hezbollah war four summers ago, one scene stood out forever in my mind. A newscaster was interviewing the dazed and shell shocked Israelis who were standing amidst the rubble of a shattered apartment building in Haifa. One of them asked a man why he didn’t leave and move away?
The man turned to the camera, he pointed to the broken building and screaming in defiance like a broken refrain – over and over and over again: “This is our home. This is our home – mee po ahnee lo zaz – me po ani lo zaz.” Mi po ani lo zaz – from here I am not moving – from here I am not moving – from here I am not moving.
Why – why not just leave for a few weeks until the war was over and then go back home. The reason that particular Israeli and so many others refused to move – refused to evacuate was simply this: They understood that the war was not about creating a Palestinian State – it’s about whether there will be a Jewish state at all. Let me repeat that – the war with Hezbollah, the recent war in Gaza, the conflict with Iran – they are not about establishing a Palestinian state – they are about whether there will be a Jewish state at all. Once the Palestinians truly give up on replacing the Jewish state with a Palestinian one – and are ready to create a Palestinian state side by side with a Jewish state – peace negotiations will proceed quickly and successfully.
I have quoted Elie Wiesel and Chaim Weizmann but maybe they are the wrong ones to quote to our college kids and our young Jewish adults because they are Jews and Jews are expected to speak up for Israel. Let me instead quote a non-Jew – a Spanish journalist who lives and works in a country which often takes very strong stands against Israel – a country with a very large Moslem population and strong economic ties with Moslem states. This Spanish journalist is a woman by the name of Ms. Rahola. This is what she wrote: ”I am not Jewish. Ideologically, I am left and by profession a journalist. Why am I not as anti-Israel as my colleague? Because I believe that to fight against anti-Semitism is not the duty of the Jews, it is the duty of the non-Jews. As a journalist, it is my duty to search for the truth beyond prejudice, lies and manipulations. The truth about Israel is not told. As a person from the left who loves progress, I am obligated to defend liberty, culture, civic education for children, coexistence and the laws that the Tablets of the Covenant made into universal principles -principles that Islamic fundamentalism systematically destroys. That is to say that as a non-Jew, journalist and lefty, I have a triple moral duty with Israel, because if Israel is destroyed, liberty, modernity and culture will be destroyed too. The struggle of Israel, even if the world doesn’t want to accept it, is the struggle of the world.” That is the message that we need to convey to each other – to our children – to our government – to our fellow American citizens. That is the message – that Israeli Jew – standing in a blown out apartment building in Haifa was trying to say when he screamed – mee po anhee lo zaz – from this place I am not moving. I have to believe that he had in mind one of the most beautiful poems ever composed about Jerusalem – about Israel.
May al pisgat Har Hatzofim shalom lach yerushalayim –
From the heights of Mount Scopus I greet you
Alfay Golim miktzot kol tayval nosim aylayich aynayim
Thousands of exiles from all parts of the world, lift their eyes to you
B’alfay b’ruchot hayee b’roocha – Mikdash Melech ir melucha
With Thousands of blessings you will be blessed – this city of holiness and royalty
Yerushalayim – yerushalayim ahnee lo azuz mee-po
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, I won’t move from here
Yerushalayim – yerushalayim – yavo hamashiach yavo.
Jerusalem will usher in the Messianic era
Yerushalayim – yerushalayim ahnee lo azuz mee-po
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, From this place - from this country – from this Jewish homeland – we will not be moved!