The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
Following last summer’s disengagement from Gush Katif – the culmination of the retreatist and pacifist moves by the Israeli government since Oslo – I suffered a long bout of depression. I do not think I am alone in stating that the very core of my belief in the verity of the State of Israel was challenged. If this is how a government representing the Jewish people could behave – if the lives of its citizens could be jeopardized to suit the personal gains of its politicians, as many have suggested – then maybe I’d been duped.
Maybe those individuals with whom I’ve had intense debates over the validity and role of the State of Israel were right after all. Maybe we should wait until Moshiach comes to welcome a sovereign Jewish presence in the Holy Land.
For a long time I was unable to shake this inner turmoil. I played out both sides of the debate in my mind, trying to find a resolution within myself. I felt bitterness and estrangement from a country I had held up as an ideal for so many years. A new wave of depression would come over me whenever Hatikvah was sung at public gatherings – Hatikvah, the national anthem of Israel, which once filled me with such tremendous pride and longing.
How regretful I am that my children are now used to hearing me rant on the subject of Israel – me, who’d grown up only singing Israel’s praises.
I finally found solace in something that, while it may not seem novel or brilliant to anyone else, served as a satisfying explanation for me and a conclusive refutation of my nagging doubts. Quite simply, I hit upon the commonly used clich
? “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.”
Yes, Israel’s government is more often than not corrupt and dissolute. Yes, a majority of its citizens are profoundly misdirected and indifferent. Yes, the country that once symbolized strength and perseverance in the face of immeasurable odds is now dominated by pacifism and strife.
But is the actual country of Israel to blame? Is the concept of a Jewish state any less valid just because many of its people are not meritorious? Are the accomplishments of its increasingly isolated settlers, or the Torah learning of its sincerely devout, any less meaningful because they come not from the secular mainstream but from the ideologically driven?
Just as the Torah is not in any way diminished in its ultimate value because the Jewish people do not live up to its teachings, so too, I feel, should the concept of a Jewish national renaissance in the land of Israel not be disparaged. The holiness of the land is not devalued because of the lack of holiness among its inhabitants.
I am still a believer in the ideals of Zion. I love the land of Israel as much now as ever before. I think the inner struggle I went through strengthened my appreciation for the land and ingrained in me an even more fierce desire to try, in any way an individual can, to speak out against the self-destructive policies of Israel’s current leaders.
The miracles that Hashem performed for the Jewish people in Israel in the wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973; in the Entebbe rescue of 1976; in the Iraqi reactor strike in 1981 – all should be testament to Hashem’s validation of the existence of the State of Israel and His wish for the Jewish people to safeguard the Holy Land.
A single individual may question the course of history, criticize leaders whose actions or inaction has affected that history, and quake at the prospect of history repeating itself. But in the end, I have learned that we should not discard the ideals we have held dear simply because the implementers of those ideals have failed us.
If we can let go of our dreams so quickly after a struggle, than we have failed ourselves. Hopefully things will change for the better, and next year I will be proud to attend the parade.
Sara Lehmann, formerly an editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, is currently a mother and freelance editor residing in Brooklyn.
About the Author: Sara Lehmann, a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, was formerly an editor at a major New York publishing house.
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