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I met a friend several weeks ago at a hastily called grassroots meeting at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills to discuss Israel’s difficult predicament. My friend arrived late, having mistakenly gone to a different shul in the neighborhood. She jokingly explained that she immediately knew it was the wrong meeting because it was too well attended.
Though this particular meeting attracted more people than usual for such an issue, the pitiable humor of the situation was not lost on me. It followed too closely on the heels of a sparsely attended rally I had been to the week before at the Israeli consulate in Manhattan, organized by Bnai Elim and Buddy Macy to protest policies of the Olmert government.
The morning of that rally brought news of President Bush referring to Israel’s “occupation” of land under its control since 1967. That afternoon I stood at 42nd Street and 2nd Avenue with my mother and maybe thirty others. We had come to protest Bush’s statement and, more important, to denounce the Israeli government’s acquiescence in and promotion of a self-defeating worldview.
Such a miniscule turnout was more than just exasperating. Besides having probably provided the Israeli consulate with fodder for jest, it highlighted an endemic apathy to a very real and existential danger facing Jews all over the world, not only those living in Israel.
The lack of an outcry over the Israeli government’s degradation of its own people through its words and actions can be unequivocally linked to the upsurge of anti-Semitism around the world. When the leader of a sovereign nation enters into negotiations with an enemy who refuses to recognize that nation’s very essence, why should we be surprised and resentful when others react accordingly?
Anti-Semitism in Europe is on the rise, and college campuses across America no longer revere the little country that could. Gone are the days of mass glorification of victories against overwhelming odds on the battlefields of Sinai or the airstrip of Entebbe.
In an era of Israeli prime ministers warmly embracing enemies whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction, Columbia University extends an invitation to Iranian president Ahmadinejad and Ms. magazine refuses to run an ad depicting Israeli female leaders (a decision that would have been unthinkable even ten years ago). Each passing year of self-abasement by Israeli leaders makes it that much easier for the rest of the world to pile on.
Absent any loud and vocal dissent, the situation seems to be worsening. And while it’s unfortunate that grassroots organizations fail to garner enough supporters, the ultimate irony, of course, is that mainstream Jewish organizations never have a problem attracting thousands to the rallies they organize – when it they who provide such crucial public support for the very Israeli policies that help create the crises necessitating such rallies.
In other words, the political and financial support of many mainstream Jewish organizations for Oslo, the Disengagement and Annapolis paved the way for the demonstrations they subsequently arranged to protest the inevitable and tragic results of such policies.
It would behoove leaders of mainstream Jewish organizations to bear in mind that truth ultimately prevails, though it may come too late and at great cost. Sixty years after the Jewish establishment painted Peter Bergson as a pariah and tried to undermine his efforts to save Jews during the Holocaust years, he has become the latest darling of those same organizations, which now rush to glorify his memory.
Few options seem left for those who recognize the unfolding tragedy in Israel. One of those options is faith in the power of the individual to effect change. The meeting I attended in Kew Garden Hills in January was followed by a second meeting last week, and both were organized by one such individual. Disgusted with the attitudes of those in power in Israel and feeling the urgent need to “do something,” Odelya Jacobs formed an ad hoc committee and called a meeting.
The committee included Rabbis Fabian and Yoel Schonfeld, Dr. Joseph Frager, Rabbi David Algaze, Dr. Dovid Hurwitz, and Dr. Paul Brody. A single e-mail titled “urgent” attracted a crowd of like-minded and passionate individuals eager to fight for Eretz Yisrael Hashleimah.
Rabbi Algaze, in encouraging the crowd with his call for greater involvement, emphasized the ability of each individual to make a difference. He admonished the crowd not to be discouraged by its numbers. “One can be a multitude,” he said. The speakers all voiced outrage at the prospect of further Israeli territorial concessions and Jewish expulsions. They stressed the danger Israel finds itself in, the importance of raising the awareness of American Jews, and the need to communicate to elected officials our strong opposition to pressuring Israel.
Tsafrir Ronen, a founder of the Coalition for the Land of Israel, an Israeli grassroots protest organization, and one of the featured speakers, repeatedly urged the audience to shout to the world, “This is our country.” He predicted that if Olmert’s plans to relinquish Judea and Samaria and divide Jerusalem are realized, in twenty years Israel will no longer exist as we know it today. The reapportionment of Jerusalem, he said, should not be viewed as a division but rather as an excision of its very heart.
Though I am always eager to participate in something that has the potential for innovation, I am also plagued by that little nagging skepticism bred of too many meetings and too little change. But the stakes here are too high to be dissuaded into inaction, and I tell myself that it is incumbent upon us all to speak the truth that so many do not want or care to hear.
The fate of the land of Israel rests with the nation of Israel. The corruption of Israel’s political leaders, among other things, may make it easy for pessimism to seep into one’s soul. Pessimism, however, is the early precursor of resignation, and we Jews have but one homeland in this not always hospitable world.
Besides, if one is a multitude, just imagine what two can be.
Sara Lehmann, formerly an editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, is currently a mother and freelance editor residing in Brooklyn.