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To Live As Jews

May 9, 2009 | by Shalom Schwartz

The horrific attack in Itamar is a wake up call to the entire Jewish people.

The tranquility of Shabbat was shattered on March 11, 2011, when a Palestinian terrorist broke into the home of the Fogel family in Itamar, and stabbed to death both parents and three children. We grieve this horrific and tragic loss.

Though the world media - focused on Libya and Japan - is barely noting the tragedy, every thinking person must introspect on what this all means in the big picture. The following article, written in 2002 at the height of Intifada violence, gives voice to our cries.

What will be the end of the murderous situation in the Middle East? Political experts are skeptical of any diplomatic solution on the horizon. Military sources offer only stop-gap measures to curb terror and can find no practical way to win this war. Israel is even losing most of the political and media battles, as many sympathize with the Arabs.

In 2002, when a sniper began gunning down innocent citizens in Washington DC, millions of people felt terrified for their lives. The security they needed to live a normal life was undermined. In terror attacks in Israel, thousands of Israeli civilians have been murdered and thousands more seriously injured. Buses, stores, restaurants and hotels are under frequent attack. Clearly, the Jewish state faces a threat to its very existence. How will its people carry on their daily lives?

This is the very goal of Israel's enemies, to cripple the will of the nation through fear and suffering. With the feeling of paralysis that accompanies each terror attack, we ask: How much more can we bear? How much longer can we risk the lives of our children?

Looking Back

At this time we must look back. Surely we Jews have been here before. Our ancestors have faced massive threats of extinction, yet they survived. We, who are alive today, are descended from those survivors.

How did they view such circumstances?

  1. They saw the events of their time as the unfolding of their God-given destiny.
  2. They considered their spiritual response as equally important to whatever political, military or media strategies they employed against their oppressors.
  3. They believed that radical personal and communal change was the catalyst to avert any impending threat.

Since the outbreak of the Intifada in 2000, it has become painfully obvious that this conflict is not primarily about land. It is about Jews.

Polls taken report that 70 percent of Israelis and 80 percent of Palestinians view this as a battle over the existence of the Jewish State.

Many of us were born into a world where the State of Israel always existed. But what if Israel's enemies unite? What if the Arab armies join the 40,000-strong Palestinian "police force" and try to "liberate" Jerusalem from the "Jewish infidels"?

The Jewish people's response to "Death to the Jews!" has always been to "Live as Jews!" If evil targets us because we envision a world built on moral values, then our answer must be to live even more passionately according to those values.

Today there is an increase of anti-Semitism, but it has donned the cloak of anti-Zionism. This attack on the continued existence of the Jewish state must prompt us to do some serious personal and national soul-searching.

In 1948, the world looked on as the Jews returned to Zion ? the Jewish people emerging from the ashes of the Holocaust, back in their own land. What would they create?

Facing repeated attacks, the citizens of the young state spent most of their waking hours worrying about survival. And when there was time to come up for air, they had to build a country: roads, schools, infrastructure and institutions. Who had time to think about a higher national purpose? It was enough to know that Israel would be a place of refuge for Jews around the world if another holocaust threatened.

Modern Zionism saw Israel as a safe haven from anti-Semitism. Today that safe haven no longer exists. Who could imagine that the next threat of the destruction of millions of Jews would actually occur within the borders of Israel?


But Israel was meant to be something much more than an escape hatch. It was meant to be the springboard from which the Jewish people would carry out its destiny.

Jews around the globe must ask ourselves: Have we so lost track of Israel's purpose that Israel will be taken away from us? Have we so squandered our opportunity to build a Jewish homeland that we will end up losing that land? Elie Wiesel compared modern Jewry to a messenger that was hit on the head and knocked out. When he woke up, he couldn't remember the message, who had sent him, to whom he had been sent, nor the very fact of his being a messenger.

Perhaps we have lost sight of the very ness of our destiny. Judaism is much more than a religion, much more than a national identity. It is to be a light unto the nations, to repair the world, and to be a source of blessing to humanity. And this is to come about by the Jews living according to their tradition in their ancestral land, the Land of Israel.

How can the tiny Jewish nation be a catalyst for world repair? Christian scholar and historian Paul Johnson wrote in his bestseller, "History of the Jews":

One way of summing up 4,000 years of Jewish history is to ask ourselves, what would have happened to the human race if Abraham had not been a man of great sagacity; or if he had stayed in Ur and kept his higher notions to himself, and no specific Jewish people had come into being. Certainly the world without the Jews would have been a radically different place.

All the great conceptual discoveries of the intellect seem obvious and inescapable once they have been revealed, but it requires a special genius to formulate them for the first time. The Jews had this gift. To them we owe the ideas of equality before the law, both divine and human; of the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person; of the individual conscience, and so of personal redemption; of the collective conscience, and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract ideal, and love as the foundation of justice; and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind.

Imagine a country whose moral fabric was so woven with those values that you could palpably feel them when first setting foot on its land. Imagine an economy, a social and health system that derived from and breathed those commitments. Imagine an educational and legal system built on this moral foundation. Imagine a nation that took upon itself the fulfillment of a 4,000-year-old covenant to be a light unto the nations.

We have always been a people with boundless faith and hope in the future. We believed in our purpose even when exiled from one country to another. We suffered cruelty and abandonment even as we continued to teach the world about a loving God. We strove to bring goodness to the world, thereby becoming the target of the world's greatest evil. What will be the end of the murderous situation in the Middle East? It will surely not end until we heed its message, a message that is calling out to each and every concerned Jew. Whether in Israel or in the Diaspora, whether Jewishly knowledgeable or Jewishly unschooled, whether religious or not ? this is a wake up call to reexamine our ties to our people. To reaffirm our Jewish identity and divine mission.

Just as our enemies have never differentiated between Jews, so too must we make no exceptions. Wake up! We're all in this together.

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