...Israel is not just a “Jewish refuge,” that’s too defensive. Israel is a Jewish opportunity, a Zionist laboratory, a great human adventure. We are writing a glorious new chapter in Jewish history here, in today’s greatest collective Jewish people project...We respond to Palestinian nihilism with Zionist idealism. We answer Palestinian-imposed death with Jewish –and Israeli -- life.
26 November '14..
e Palestinian movement’s self-destructive streak continues. A week after the barbaric butchering of Jews praying in Har Nof, we can already declare: their terrorism failed. These nihilists mistake our tears as signs of weakness. But these tears energize us. The Palestinians and their collaborators worldwide should have learned by now: We are home. We are staying. We are not going away.
Note, during the massacre, many people, including the 30-year-old Druze policeman, Zidan Saif, ran toward danger to save others, not away from it to save themselves. Such selflessness reflects a vibrant community terrorists cannot terrorize.
The ugly slaughter united Israel in love. One of the 25 orphaned by the attack, Michal Levine, the daughter of Rabbi Kalman Levine, told Arutz Sheva that while flying home from Miami, strangers comforted her: “a Chabad rabbi and a leftist couple from Israel. They cried together with me.” Palestinian terrorists foster this sweet, primal communal unity, even if Israelis sometimes forget it amid passionate political debates.
Zionist resilience repudiating anti-Zionist evil is an old story. When terrorists killed his teenage cousin in 2001, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass moved to Israel – establishing Nefesh b’Nefesh which has helped over 40,000 people move since. That’s Zionist math – we overcompensate for each tragedy exponentially. Every act of terror unifies Israelis and reinforces Zionism’s mission. Each death, each injury, makes a Palestinian state less likely and the Jewish state stronger.
We are home. Israel is the Jewish people’s homeland. The link is deep and enduring, meaningful and nourishing, multi-dimensional and mutually reinforcing.
The Jews are a people, not just a religion, with a homeland and collective rights to it, like other nations. From the beginning – Bereisheit, Genesis – the Jewish people bonded with Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. In the Bible, the Jewish people’s founding moment is a land-based moment. Abram becomes Abraham when, leaving his birthplace, he goes home to his new homeland, Israel. God promises: I will make of you a great people.
The Jewish people were reborn when we regained our freedom by leaving Egypt and wandering home to Israel – despite a 40-year desert detour. The Torah offers a blueprint for life everywhere. It also functions as a constitution for life in Israel with 26 specific, land-based commandments.
The land of Israel then becomes the stage where the Jewish people play out our early narratives and values, rituals and ideas. Archaeological evidence confirms the rich Jewish civilization established: ruins of a once-splendid Jerusalem; villages which did not leave pig bones in their food piles, unlike neighboring settlements; and coins, vessels, scrolls, gems, even an amulet with the priestly prayer traditional Jews use to bless their children every Friday night. Israel is the land of Abraham the believer and Sarah the nurturer, of King David the charmer and King Solomon the thinker, of Deborah the inspirational and Isaiah the ethical.
Israel is the living repository of our first great strides on the world stage. Here, our ancestors developed the subversive idea of one unseen deity, not multiple action figures. Here, they invented the healing notion of a weekly day of rest. Here, they pioneered the religious-ethical ideal of linking serving the Lord with being good to one another. Here, Samuel the prophet taught the powerful King David that no person is above the law, as the countercultural notion of every individual being equal in rights emerged. In short, here the seeds of democracy were first planted, cultivated, and harvested – mocking those who see only contradictions between “Jewish” and “democratic,” overlooking their overlaps.
So we are home. We are staying. True, we were exiled. And many of us spent millennia as wandering Jews, away from our home. But ideas like “exile,” “wandering,” the tradition of turning toward Jerusalem to pray, the anomaly of celebrating agriculture-based holidays in foreign cities, when we prayed for rain in Israel while being drenched or frozen in Russia, all proved our living connection to the land. Jews also always remained in the four Holy Cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed, and Tiberias.
We are home. We are staying. We are not going away. The Jewish people were reborn when we reestablished our nation-state, just as so many other countries have in the last 200 years. Israelis are among earth’s happiest, most family-oriented, most community-minded people. Israeli men have the West’s lowest mortality rates, another repudiation of the Palestinian death cult.
Even if we didn’t like it here, where we would go? Some Jews have individual ties to other countries, personal escape routes. But collectively? Europe rejected us with genocide. America is not seeking 8 million immigrants. When Amos Oz’s father lived in Vilna, “every wall in Europe said, ‘Jews go home to Palestine.’” Today we’re told “Jews get out of Palestine.” Oz concludes: “A Jewish refuge is just and necessary.”
Israel is not just a “Jewish refuge,” that’s too defensive. Israel is a Jewish opportunity, a Zionist laboratory, a great human adventure. We are writing a glorious new chapter in Jewish history here, in today’s greatest collective Jewish people project. That project’s appeal trumps my disappointment that so many Europeans and academics blindly dismiss any questions about Palestinian nationalism as bigotry, while repudiating Jews’ older ties to Israel and longer national consciousness. The inspiration of the Israel experiment pre-empts any sourness I might develop, if all I did was contemplate the many lives Palestinian terrorists have destroyed. And the nobility of the Zionist vision pushes me to perfect this old-new state on our ancient homeland, to make sure it fulfills the highest Jewish and democratic ideals – in life not with laws -- acknowledging the creative tension between those ideas, like many appealing ideas.
We respond to Palestinian nihilism with Zionist idealism. We answer Palestinian-imposed death with Jewish –and Israeli -- life.
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Visiting Professor at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. Last week, his latest book Moynihan's Moment: America's Fight Against Zionism as Racism won the 2014 J.I. Segal English Non-Fiction Award on a Jewish Theme.