An Article Special To Me
JEWS, G-D, AND ISRAEL
My Zionist Passage
By Bernard J. Shapiro
In blood and fire was Israel born, and on a hot anvil was she forged. Her youth understood that life in the new Jewish homeland would require sacrifice. With stories of the stench of burning flesh from the ovens of Auschwitz embedded deep in their psyches, the young Israeli soldiers fight with the firm conviction that there is no alternative "ein brera." .......(from the author's private diary).
It was somewhat of a fluke that I became a Zionist. Having been raised in a congregation not known for its pro-Israel views, I could have lived my life without ever understanding the crucial link between Israel and the Jewish people. As it happened, I was in San Diego in 1959 and enrolled in a Jewish history course taught by a wonderful Reform rabbi. He required that we read two books: The Course of Modern Jewish History by Howard M. Sachar and Exodus by Leon Uris. While Sachar gave me the historical framework to understand the birth of Israel, it was Uris who made me feel involved. The San Diego Public Library provided me with many books on Israel and Jewish history and I eagerly read them all.
While I considered myself a Zionist by 1960 and made my first trip to Israel in that year, it would be seven years before fully understanding the connection between Israel and the Jewish people. Israel's victory in the Six Day War in 1967 was the background for the most meaningful experience of my life. I arrived in Israel a few days after the war ended and like many Jews, rushed to Jerusalem to see the Western Wall.
The Wall, the last remaining remnant of Solomon's Temple and sacred to Jews for over 2000 years, had been in Jordanian controlled Jerusalem since 1949. The Jordanians, acting with malice aforethought, had denied Jews access to their sacred holy place. I walked with hundreds of Jews, praying and singing through the Old City. The feeling of anticipation and exhilaration was contagious as we approached the Wall. As I stood a few feet away, I saw pious Jews pressing little scraps of paper into the cracks between the sacred stones. The pieces contained prayers, which legends hold go straight to G-d when placed in the holy Wall.
The people in front of me finished their prayers and suddenly I was pressed up close to the object of all our joy and hope. I had expected the stones to be rough and weathered after all this time, but they were smooth from 2000 years of touching and kissing. The gentle caresses of Jews over the ages had worn soft finger grooves in the hard rock. As I placed my hands on this magnificent relic of our forefathers, I felt a surge of light and energy the likes of which I had never known. In what had to have been but the flash of a second, I felt at one with Jews from all periods of history. At the Passover Seder we are told to thank G-d for delivering us from Egypt as though we ourselves had been brought out of bondage. At that moment in Jerusalem, this Seder message was very real for me.
In an instant I saw the continuity of Jewish history and its unbreakable connection with Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel). I understood how modern Israel is the beginning of the Third Temple Period and the spiritual heir to Joshua, Saul, David, Solomon, the Maccabees and Bar Kokhba. I frequently write about the security reasons for incorporating Judea, Samaria, and Gaza into the body of Israel. There is another side to this issue and that is the spiritual-religious side. The truth, which many find inconvenient, is that the Land of Israel was promised by G-d to Abraham and his seed in perpetuity. The Land of Israel is not speculative real estate to be bartered away for some high sounding false promises of peace. The hills and valleys of Judea and Samaria contain the collective memory of the Jewish people. It was here that the Israelites first entered the Holy Land. And it was here they fought the battles, built the towns, elected their kings and were preached to by their prophets and judges. And it was on this soil that they wrote the Holy Scriptures we call our Bible.
In my blinding flash of insight at the Wall, I also understood that Israel on its own soil was more powerful than the sum of its weapons and men. Jews who had wandered the earth powerless for two millenniums attained great power when re-united with the soil of Israel. Anyone who has followed the Arab-Israeli conflict must be aware of the rising cost paid for Jewish blood. Before Israel was established, nations of the world took Jewish lives with impunity. Today, Arabs have discovered that the iron fist of Zahal (Israel Defense Forces) exacts a high price for even one Jewish life.
One thing is clear to me: the L-rd has blessed Israel by re-uniting Jerusalem and bringing Judea, Samaria, and Gaza back under its control. It would be a horrendous sin against G-d and common sense for Israel to renounce this inheritance to which it is entitled. Israel holds these lands as a sacred trust for the Jewish people in perpetuity.
It would not only be sinful, but also criminal, to abuse that trust by denying future generations of Jews their Holy Land -- Land of their Fathers; the one tiny spot on planet earth given to them by G-d.
[This article was first published in the Jewish Herald-Voice on July 11, 1992]