A MESSAGE OF HOPE
IN THESE TROUBLED TIMES
By Bernard J. Shapiro
As I survey the fragile planet we call home, my mind makes note of the chaos, blood, and tears. The cries of a million lost souls shatter the night in a million corners of the earth. The sensitive, compassionate among us try to feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked. One by one our energies dissipate. We try to hold back the tide with a teaspoon and then see the impossibility of the task. The Jewish people are but a cosmic speck in this universe. To many Jews who feel deeply about their own people, that speck becomes the whole world. Other Jews are irrevocably tied to non-Jewish pursuits.
May we as a people open our eyes and begin to see the world as it really is. Without becoming depressed and morose, we must realize that there are powerful forces in the world that wish us ill. May we mobilize our strength to fight our enemies until they are defeated. Pretend you have been dropped into the ocean and become fatigued with the swim to shore. Do you have the option to stop swimming? May we not succumb to false prophets of peace. We all want peace. We pray for peace in our Sabbath services every Friday night. After thousands of years, being victims of persecution, expulsion, extermination, and discrimination, it is natural that we yearn for peace with every ounce of our bodies and souls. It is because our hunger for peace is so strong that we must be doubly cautious not to fall for a pseudo-peace. Today none of us believe Chamberlain really negotiated "peace in our time" with Hitler. Why do some Jews believe that Peres and Rabin really negotiated "peace" with Arafat, one of today's Hitlers? Or that Assad really wants peace with Israel and not just the Golan. The Jewish people must learn the value of unity in the face of so many enemies who wish them ill.
I pray that Israelis who have fought in countless wars will understand that there is no magic cure, though they crave to be free of constant conflict. As Jews we are all involved in this historic struggle to survive. It is not our fate or that of the Israelis that we should retire from this struggle.
There is another battlefield here in America where the Jewish people is being tested and I pray that they win. That is the battle with assimilation, the struggle for continuity of Jewish life. History very clearly tells us that Jews can survive any persecution, but show a great tendency to assimilate and disappear where conditions are favorable. This seductive kiss of death is very hard to fight and I don't have all the answers. One thing is clear: where there is a strong intensity of religious upbringing, complete with Jewish day schools, the process of assimilation can be slowed. My prayer for the Jewish people would be a rapid growth in attendance in Jewish day schools. Also the Jewish population will have to shift to a more traditional form of Judaism. In two or three generations more than 80% of Reform Jews will have disappeared. The main survivors will be Orthodox Jewry and the Lubavitch Movement.
In 1967, during a visit to Israel immediately following the Six Day War, I prayed at the Wall for the first time. 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.
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 seductive 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.
One thing is clear to me: the Lord has blessed Israel by re-uniting Jerusalem and 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 -- the Land of their Fathers -- the one tiny spot on planet earth given to them by G-d.
I see Am Yisrael in great pain. I say to the suffering people of Israel. We are an ancient people with a glorious history. Though we suffer from weak leadership, we are greater than our rulers. Our souls are greater than the terrorists and their allies in the Palestinian Authority. We will never be defeated by their bullets and bombs. We have never submitted. We have never renounced our claim to Eretz Yisrael. We are a Holy People, despite our pain. We have vision where our leaders are blind. Our courage is greater than the mean and cruel world which has oppressed us.
BEWARE THE RISEN PEOPLE
I have a vision and a dream that I must reveal as we approach these End of Days: In the name of G-d, the Unforgetting and the Almighty, I say to my people's enemies: Beware of the thing that is coming that will take what you would not give. That will free the people of Israel from your atrocities. I say to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak: Beware of the Risen People who will sweep the Arab scourge into the dustbin of history. Know that the Jewish soul will be set free. The spectacular victories of the Israeli army and the return to Zion demonstrated that power. But it wasn't a miracle. It was just the soul of the Jew coming to its own. It was just the Jewish soul freed at last to be itself.
And I see it coming, the Jewish soul released to be itself. I see a new proud Jewish government coming to power in Israel. A government that reclaims the Jewish Holy Places and restores Jewish sovereignty in all of Eretz Yisrael. I see Moslem control and Islamic sites removed from the Temple Mount to make it ready for Moshiach. I see the enemies of Israel, who raise up their hands to murder or injure Jews, driven from our Holy Land. I see the secular Jews of Israel and the world becoming more observant and returning to the Torah. I see religious Jews becoming more tolerant of diversity in Jewish practice.
I see a new Israeli foreign policy that grovels before no nation, no matter how powerful. I see Israel's Foreign Minister informing every nation that their embassies must be in Jerusalem. If they don't respect Israel's capital, then maybe they can have a consulate in Tel Aviv. I see the government demanding that the Vatican return all the property it has stolen from the Jewish people during the last 2000 years. Maybe they will refuse and we could always hold their property in Israel as a down payment. The Vatican has been used to dealing with obsequious groveling Jews, but now they would see proud fearless Jews. I see an Israeli government that would change its relationship with America from one of subservience to one of equal alliance.
Yes, I have a dream that Jews will no longer debate the obvious: like whether to hold onto what is theirs or trade it away; whether to struggle for survival or to give up from fatigue. I have a dream that the Jews of the kibbutz and the Jews of YESHA will be reborn as brothers and patriots. From the Galilee to Eilat, all the people of Israel will share the same dream of a powerful independent Zionist nation. I have a dream that this strong, proud independent Israel will win the respect of all the nations of the world, including the Arabs. Instead of the contempt it has earned in recent years, Israel will again be a light unto the nations. And finally, I have a dream that this new Israel will find the peace it so dearly deserves. A peace with strength and self-respect. As I look back at 4000 years of Jewish history, I have but one urgent hope and prayer: We must make this dream a reality. There is no alternative.
May the Lord, bless the leaders of Israel with the courage to pursue peace, and the wisdom to know when it is not attainable. May the Lord bless the Jews of the former Soviet Union and give them jobs and new friends to ease their transition into Israeli life. May the Lord bless the war-weary Israeli people with the stamina to bear up under the strain, if peace not just around the corner. May they understand that their fate may be that of endless struggle to survive in a hostile world and may they have the strength to understand that there is still no alternative (ein brera). May the people of Israel prosper and go from success to success never forgetting that their destiny lies in their might, their righteousness and their faith in HaShem.
[ Revised from the original written for Rosh Hashana 5758.....Bernard J. Shapiro, Editor]