This is something I’ve been holding in for a long time. I share it despite the fear of anger from some in the hope that the deeper message may shine through.
I’m not saying that Israel advocacy isn’t important. What would we do without band-aids? Paper cuts would ruin our day. Young children’s knees would be suspect to the dangers of the air’s breeze after scraping the pavement. Shirts would be stained after blood donations and vaccines. Band-aids are here to stay!
I deeply respect all of my friends and colleagues who dedicate their time and are personally passionate about Israel advocacy. It is at the very least a measured and rational contribution to an obvious problem. Anti-semitism is real. Anti-Jewish and Anti-Israel sentiment is and always has been rampant. It shows up in policies, contributes to societies of individuals looking to do harm to Jews, and is evidently making an impact on worldwide playing fields like the UN. Hundreds of millions of dollars a year pour into organizations to advocate for Israel and to teach young Jews how to do the same.
But if someone’s artery is bleeding and all you had was band-aids, of course, you’d use millions trying to solve the problem. But it won’t be enough.
Aryeh ben Yakov is a native Clevelander who moved to Israel when he was 18 years old in the 1940s. When his parents challenged his bold decision he was confused why they would want to stop him from “going home.” He fought in every war in Israel against every enemy. He now lives in a neighborhood up on a hill called Misgav Am; one of the northernmost in all of Israel. Surrounded by unfriendly neighbors, the citizens of Misgav Am are armed at all times and prepare to defend themselves from attack. Aryeh, himself, admits that he has had to wield his weapon to defend his neighborhood on more than one occasion.
After a lengthy talk to a group of my students on a trip to Israel one summer about the strategic significance of that hill and the reality of the anti-Jewish hatred we all face, one of the students asked him a simple open-ended question. “What do you think is the biggest danger to the Jewish people today?”
I’m sure that every educated person in that room was prepared for continued rhetoric about the nations that surround Israel and the necessity of having a strong defense force, etc. But Aryeh’s response widened every eye in the room. Without a moment’s hesitation, Aryeh responded, “Disunity.” He continued, “We can’t get along. We’re all family and we can’t see it. It’s killing us. That’s our biggest danger.”
His clarity was as sharp as his tongue. The reason why he was able to live in a community putting him in constant danger of his life was the same reason why I would sacrifice everything I have for my own family. To Aryeh ben Yakov, we were all family. That’s what it takes to be unified.
Aryeh’s reality sits with me until this day. Would I live in Misgav Am, dedicating my life to be the constant front line of fending off danger for the rest of Israel? Would I be willing to take a bullet so that everyone else could be in the land that belongs to us? Or would I be content just to live in that land and appreciate those who sacrificed for me? Did I really believe that every Jew is my brother or sister?
When God instructs Moshe to go up the mountain to see his last days on earth, Moshe pleads with Him to choose an appropriate leader for the Jewish people. “Do not let the nation of God be like sheep without a shepherd (Bamidbar 27:17).” Are people without a leader not enough of a plea? What is the intended message of the Jewish people being like sheep? When sheep do not have a shepherd looking over them two things can happen. The sheep can spread apart from each other, become detached from the single unit, and get lost. And the sheep can be attacked by wolves.
For some reason, we continue to see these two outcomes as disconnected.
In the tale of the 3 Little Pigs, the big-bad-wolf is able to infiltrate each of the first two pig’s houses until he gets to the third house. The first two were made of straw and sticks; those he could handle. But the third one is made of brick, which is too strong for him to breakthrough.
My brothers and sisters, the takeaway of this tale is a lie. Could the wolf not enter the third house because of the bricks? Or could he not enter the house because it was the first time all 3 pigs were together as one family?
The reason Israel Advocacy is a band-aid is that we see the world attacking us and we see the Jewish people divided and we continue to see them as disparate concepts. The best solution to a severed artery is the massive surgery needed to sew it up. It is only going to be when we care about each other like true sisters and brothers that the wolves will stop their attack. The bricks we amass through Israel advocacy absolutely must be built. The house itself is imperative. In the meantime, the more the world associates with Judaism and Israel in a positive way, the better off we all are. Even more so, the potential of Israel Advocacy to bring Jews closer to God and His land is too valuable to pass up. But in the end, if we’re not all living together in that brick house, it will soon be blown over like the rest. The anti-Semitism will continue. The anti-Israel and anti-Jew rhetoric won’t go away. The wolves won’t stop. Not until the Shepherd comes back to oversee us.
But it is first upon us to come together.