Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Ishmaelite Exile

All my life, I have been a quintessentially non-political person. I don’t subscribe to newspapers and I don’t watch TV news. Since the Internet has become a part of my life six days a week, I'm admittedly a bit more informed than I used to be. And, truth be told, since I began this obsession with Israel, I’m much more likely to know what’s going on in Israel than in the US Congress.

Nevertheless, I recently read a book that was written as a warning to Americans, but it involves Israel as well. The book is called Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America. It was written by Brigitte Gabriel, the founder of the American Congress for Truth.

Here’s the essence of the book in a nutshell. Brigitte Gabriel grew up as a Christian in Lebanon at a time before Lebanon was a Muslim county. She lived, if you can call it living, through the Muslim takeover of Lebanon. Her message? The Muslims intend to take over the entire world and will kill all the non-Muslim infidels in the process. Sounds like the plot to a B-movie I would never go see.

But she’s not the only voice making this argument. The Terrorism Awareness Project has two brief videos on its site that make the same claim. The goal of global jihad is to make the entire world Muslim.

If you’re paying attention, and Gd help you if you’re not, this message has to penetrate into your soul. There is a connection among the dozens of major terrorist incidents that are springing up all over the world. They are sourced from the same well.

When I was a kid, being educated in American public schools, we were taught that the American Civil War was fought over slavery. Later, I learned that subtler, more sophisticated political questions were also at issue.

Similarly, if you think that the problem Israel has with its Arab neighbors are all because of land disputes and Israel’s treatment of the Arab refugees and their subsequent generations, your vision would benefit from some expansion. The Muslims openly refer to America as The Great Satan and Israel as The Little Satan. The issue of Palestinians is like the issue of slavery in the American Civil War. Related, but not the essence of the conflict.

So, what’s the spiritual spin on all this bad news? The Torah predicted all this long ago. To learn more, read The Ishmaelite Exile by Rabbi Yechiel Weitzman

Saturday, May 12, 2007

What are they thinking?

I really can’t understand world opinion. Here’s an example. A little-known Islamist group abducts Alan Johnston, the BBC's Gaza correspondent while BBC correspondents walk around in freedom in Jerusalem. At the same time, the BBC has a long-standing reputation for anti-Israel bias.

I can understand how someone can focus on the sad stories of Arabs living in disputed territories in Israel and feel sorry for the limitations in their lives. But I can’t understand how anyone can look objectively at the bigger picture of how this sad situation came into being, and what perpetuates it, and conclude that Israel is the oppressive villain in the story. So there must be something else going on.

I liken it to Hashem hardening the heart of Paroh before the Israelite slaves were freed. Gd took us out of slavery in Egypt after we had been slaves for 210 years. We had sunk so low, we were practically indistinguishable from the Egyptians themselves. How much greater was this redemption than if Gd had taken us from palaces and the highest crust of society!

So, the more Israel, and, by extension, the Jewish people, are reviled in the world, the greater the miracle when Gd sends our Ultimate Redemption.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Are You Tough Enough?

It was only when Israel started looking to me like a legitimate option that I began to notice the myriad may ways I have to compromise to live as a Jew in America.

A quick example of the hegemony of Christianity in America. In his role as a synagogue rabbi, my husband went to a Catholic hospital recently to visit congregants. He was directed to the Spiritual Care Department to register. On the registration form, he was asked all the usual questions: name, title, etc. And then the form, which asked him to identify his congregation, asked the question this way: “church?” You may say, “Well, it’s a Catholic hospital.” But this was the Spiritual Care department. If anyone on the hospital grounds knows that not all people in the world are Christians, it ought to be the chaplain’s office.

My nephew sent me to the Internet today to look at the website for Hard As Nails Ministries. Hard As Nails Ministries uses in-your-face street culture to attract kids to a Christian life. In a clip on their website, Justin Fatica, Executive Director of Hard as Nails Ministries asks his prospective participants, “How tough do you think you are? Are you tough enough to live for Christ?”

The Spiritual Care Department’s form and the Hard As Nails Ministries are two in a long list of examples of how blunt American Christians are about their public identification as Christians, of their religious beliefs, not afraid to be outspoken, forthrightly claiming the airtime in American cultural space that they feel, that they know, is legitimately theirs.

Contrast this with American Jews. When was the last time you heard of America Jews rallying for Hashem? At best, when we get together in this country, it’s to wield our political opinions. Jews rally. Jews speak out. But more often than not, it’s about politics, not about Gd.

Ah, but in Israel… where we are the majority culture! Think Lag B'Omer in Meron.

Think Kiddush Levana in Tzfat.

Think of the power of being part of a place where your religion is the religion and you never, ever have to feel embarrassed about being a Jew.

An uncomfortable admission: a have an Israeli flag on my car, an easily understood symbol in my predominantly Jewish neighborhood. But when I, even I, drive through other neighborhoods, places where Jews don’t live, let alone make open statements of religious identification, I worry. Will my Israeli car flag make my car more vulnerable to vandalism?

I hardly think Christians have the same concerns about their “What Would Jesus Do?” bumper stickers.

Don't misunderstand. I have nothing against American Christians claiming this country as their own. Unlike the majority of American Jewry, I am happy to cede America to its Christian majority.

As long as we get a country of our own to live in peace and security.

Lihyot am chofshi b'artzeynu.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Next Best Thing To Being There

I just got off the phone with my brother, who has the great merit of living in Israel. He recently moved to an apartment from the porch of which, he says, he can see my apartment. Since he lives in the same neighborhood as our apartment, I can visualize everything he describes: where he was shopping earlier today, where the Lag B’Omer festivities will happen motzei Shabbat, where the dog I hear yapping over the phone lives. Everything is clear in my mind.

Earlier today, my husband and I listened to a woman from our community report about spending Pesach in Israel. Where she stayed, what tours she took, the feeling that she had while there. And every bit of what she said was so REAL to me. I could picture exactly where the apartment was because I have a nodding familiarity with that section of Jerusalem. We took most of the tours she described, even with the same touring company. Everything felt familiar.

Earlier in the week, a friend sent me an email invitation to a weekly Torah class, along with a note that said, “When you’re living here, we’ll go to these kinds of things together.”

Sunday, we are headed to New York City for the Salute To Israel Parade and Israel Day concert. While there, surrounded by thousands of other people waving blue and white flags, wearing pro-Israel t-shirts and eating felafel, it will be easy to imagine that I am actually in Israel.

I spend so much time in Israel in my head that it sometimes shocks me when I open my eyes, look around, and see America.