Israel can be proud as a nation that dwells apart from what is wrong, acting for the good

In the face of Hamas’s pogrom, we have stood up for the values of basic humanity and morality


(Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

May 13, 2024 17:01

The Jewish People are currently battling for their lives. Israel’s vital war against Hamas continues. As the IDF painstakingly dismantles the terror infrastructure of a terrifying terror state, each day is stained with tragedy and heroic sacrifices. How are we able to celebrate Israel Independence Day in some way, with banners and barbeques, flags and songs as this continues and as over 130 people remain languishing in captivity? How can we thank God for restoring us to our ancient homeland under these circumstances?

October 7 marked an onslaught so horrific that words fail to describe it. It was a ghastly return to the pogroms that plagued Tsarist Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a reincarnation of the violence of Kiev and Kishinev and of the massacres that erupted in the Arab world from Iraq to Libya in the 1940s and later. That bygone past of pogroms is now our living present.

How can that dark day of October 7 and our ongoing situation co-exist with celebrating Israel’s Independence Day? A chasm divides October 7th and Yom Ha’Atzmaut, separated it seems not by 219 days, but by 219 years. The massacre on October 7 recalls the days without a Jewish State, without a Jewish army, and without a Jewish intelligence agency. In 1904, a young journalist and writer, Chayim Nachman Bialik, who would become the State of Israel’s national poet, captured millions of Jews throughout Europe with a lengthy poem he wrote after witnessing the aftermath of the Kishinev pogrom a year earlier. His lines, depicting in stark literary form the brutality of mob violence against the innocent Jewish men, women and children of this city in the Russian Empire, were permeated with a firm charge against diaspora Jewry. Bialik’s stanzas called out against passivity and victimhood. In his eyes, the Jews, confined to exile and an exile-like mentality, were tragically weak and submissive. The Standford historian, Steven J Zipperstein, has countered Bialik’s verses, showing evidence of resistance during the pogrom in Kishinev. Yet Zipperstein does chart how the three-day bloodbath transformed Eastern European Jewry and led, both as a sheer symbolic force and due to increased immigration, to the founding of the State of Israel. Pogroms, it was thought, would end with founding a country of our own.

How then with the reemergence of the slaughters of the past and the continued isolation and hatred that Israel and Jews all over the world face can we truly celebrate the existence of the state? It is a blunt but honest question.

Yet, of course, we have cause to celebrate, albeit with empathy, sensitivity, and an awareness of our current national situation.

It is true that for hours and hours, some of the longest hours in our history, on October 7, we came back to Kishinev, being a people without a means to defend ourselves in an full-scale organised fashion and with the state machinery in its proper capacity. However, unlike in 1903, after a few hours of collapse, confusion and catastrophe, the People of Israel have come together to repeal the advancing terrorists. And since then, Israel has been fighting in Gaza and in the North, applying its formidable force.

Furthermore, unlike Kishinev in 1903, the Jewish people now have a political, military, and social apparatus of their own, in their own ancient homeland. We are blessed with independence and self-determination.

The Bible offers an alluring, prophetic description of the Jewish People: “A nation that dwells alone”. This designation persists even settled upon our land and blessed with our own State. We continue to dwell alone, often to be reckoned outside the framework of the international community. From the Hague to Qatar, we may be isolated and attacked, alienated and condemned. Such perhaps may be our lot as a People, distanced from other nations in different times in history. Yet “dwelling alone” contains a dual meaning. It is not only a passive stance, but an active one. In the face of terror and injustice, we choose to dwell alone, to firmly detach ourselves from wrong and to fight for what is right. We choose to remove ourselves from international political blocs intent on supporting terror groups, harming democracy or disregarding human life. Such aloneness, to fight for the safety and security of innocents and to ignore the bias and hatred, is a purposeful position, and should fill us with pride.

Any mention of that date in October still causes us to shudder. It is now seared in our collective memory, conjoining up those shocking scenes of brutality. It is hard to straddle that with Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Yet in the face of such pogroms, we have indeed fought, standing up for the values of basic humanity and morality. This Yom Ha’Atzmaut, we can be proud that we are a nation that dwells apart from what is wrong, acting for the good.

Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt is President of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER)

May 13, 2024 17:01

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