This week, I attended a program sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that featured an incredible lecture by Rabbi Daniel Gordis, the Senior Vice-President of the Shalem Center in Israel and a former professor of mine. It has been a while since I attended a lecture that affected me as powerfully as this one did. Rabbi Gordis’ words continue to resonate with me. Below, I have attempted to capture what Rabbi Gordis shared with the 600 of us who were in attendance on Tuesday evening. The power of his words are not captured in my synopsis. To experience this power, I encourage each of you to get his book, Saving Israel. I plan on doing a few classes on this book during the summer months and hope you will join me.
Summary of Rabbi Daniel Gordis’ Lecture before AIPAC, 27 March 2010
Israel is often referred to as the Jewish homeland. But, it is so much more than this. Israel is a promise, a promise to every single Jewish man, woman and child that gone are the days of living in fear and having to run from your home, your town or your country because it is being attacked by people who hate you simply because you are Jewish. Every single day, the State of Israel is a beacon, shining brightly, proclaiming to every Jew on the face of the earth that the nightmare of being attacked, abused and murdered because of our Judaism is finally over. It will never happen again. The rebirth of Israel put an end to the days when others could choose whether or not the Jews would live or die. With Israel, Jews now take care of ourselves. With Israel, Jews have power. Jews have security. Jews have a future that is secure.
Most of us here in the United States, we know nothing about fearing for our lives because of our Judaism. We take for granted that we live safely within our neighborhoods. Being Jewish isn’t dangerous – especially in South Florida. And, so, Israel just becomes the “Jewish homeland” that we talk about now and then. It being a “promise”, a promise that the nightmare is over, this is lost on us. The nightmare is part of the past. We read about it. Maybe we have a parent of grandparent who can tell us about it. But, it is long gone and no longer a concern of ours.
But, will we feel so secure if we wake up one morning to learn that Israel is gone and with her all the Jews who lived within her borders? “Oh Rabbi,” you say, “that’s not going to happen!” Sadly, we know of countless Jews who did not rush to leave Europe in the 1930’s because they were convinced that the worst would never happen. We know that the worst did happen.
The fact is – the way things are rapidly unfolding in the Middle East, the stage is being set for the “worst” to happen once again. Most experts report that Iran is very close to having a nuclear bomb. Her President has made it clear to the world that he wishes to destroy Israel. As soon as the bomb is in his hands, there is nothing to stop this maniacal dictator from making his wish a reality. It can happen. And, the way things are going, it can happen in the near future. What would it feel like to wake up to the news that Israel is no more?
Right now, Iran doesn’t have the bomb. And as Israeli parents tuck their young children into bed tonight they can say to them, “I’ll see you in the morning.” They can say this because their older children are out there in the military, protecting their country from the countless enemies committed to destroying the Jewish homeland. For 62 years, young men and women have stood guard to insure that Israel will be there when Israeli parents go to wake up their children in the morning.
The day Iran has the bomb, Israeli parents will no longer be able to say “I’ll see you in the morning” when they tuck their children into bed. The best they’ll be able to say will be “maybe I’ll see you in the morning” – because overnight, the lunatic might launch the bomb. And all will end. Israeli parents know that their older children who are out their protecting their nation will not be able to do anything to stop a nuclear weapon once it is launched. Once Iran has the bomb, Israel is completely vulnerable. Once Iran has the bomb, Jews return to the nightmare. They are no longer safe. Once Iran has the bomb, Ahmadinejad has the ability to decide when Jews live and when they die. Once Iran has the bomb, the promise that is “Israel” dies and Jews across the globe, even right here in South Florida where we feel so safe, we lose our security as a Jewish people.
Lately it seems that the world is obsessed with Israeli apartment buildings being built in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. These apartment buildings, the world says, are jeopardizing the lives of the Palestinian people. “Israel must stop! Israel must respect the Palestinians,” cries the world. But who cries out for the Israelis who will be annihilated when the bomb is launched? Where is the global outrage? Where are those standing up to protect the lives of Israelis?
This week, the United Nations elected Iran to serve on the Commission on the Status of Women that is charged with monitoring the humanitarian rights of women worldwide. Given that Iran, as has been widely reported, severely violates the human rights of Iranian women, this election is absurd – yet says so much about the UN. Next week, Ahmadinejad is planning to attend a UN conference on nuclear weapons here in the U.S. and our country is busy preparing a visa which will allow him to enter the country without any problems. U.S. government officials announced yesterday that Ahmadinejad would not be permitted to “disrupt” the conference in any way. Does the world forget that his last appearance before the UN resulted in the Prime Minister of Israel feeling the need to bring blueprints of a concentration camp to podium when he spoke as proof that the Holocaust did take place!? Was the world not outraged that Israel’s leader was put in this position!? Is the world not troubled by the fact that Ahmadinejad can enter the U.S. with no problems, yet Tzipi Livni, the opposition leader in Israel, has had an arrest warrant issued against her for war crimes by the British government? It does not bother the world that Iran’s nuclear ambitions have not been stopped? Apparently none of this bothers the world. But the building of Israeli apartment buildings in Jewish neighborhoods, this is what the global community is disturbed by.
In 1947, when the UN gave the Jewish people her blessing to create a Jewish State, the world seemed to feel sympathy for the Jews. Given everything that the Jews had been through, how could they not? But, more than six decades later, the tide has changed. A despot who is openly committed to annihilating Israel is welcome within the halls of the UN while Israeli leaders who insure that their country is protected from the bombs and missiles of terrorists are labeled “war criminals” and threatened with arrest if they enter one of the most powerful nations in the world. The world is no longer sympathetic towards Israel. It seems that the world believes that the 1948 rebirth of Israel was a mistake.
The fact that Israeli parents can kiss their children goodnight and still say “I will see you in the morning,” this is not a mistake. The fact that the global community includes a Jewish nation run by Jews, this is not a mistake. The fact that after centuries of violence and persecution in foreign lands, Jews today can put down roots in their own land without fear of having to run, this is not a mistake. The fact that Jews have their own country, their own government, their own military – the ability to protect and defend themselves – this is not a mistake. The land that the young Israeli soldiers are protecting right now, as you read this, this land is not a mistake. The work that these soldiers are doing, it is not a mistake. Israel is not a mistake.
We owe it to the young soldiers over there right now to do everything in our power to insure that they do not become obsolete. We owe it to them and to their parents to insure that Iran does not get the bomb that will make them useless. We owe it to them and to their younger siblings to raise our voices and speak out in defense of Israel so that every night, Israeli children can hear their parents say “I’ll see you in the morning.” We owe it to our children and grandchildren to do everything in our power to insure that Israel will be there for them.
How will you feel if Israel is gone tomorrow? If the answer is, “I won’t care,” I remind you that “first they came for the Communists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.” First they came for the Jews of Israel and I didn’t speak up because Israel wasn’t that important to me…..If the answer is “I would be devastated” I say to you, what are you going to do to make certain that you will never feel this way? It is time to figure out the answer to this question and live it.