Photo Credit: Gershon-Elinson/Flash90
A view of Efrat's Dagan (foreground) and Tamar (background) neighborhoods, near Bethlehem in Judea and Samaria, Nov. 10, 2020.

Don’t Just Sigh for Your Endangered Brothers in Israel; Act Now



It hit me like a ton of bricks.

Sitting in synagogue, Jews listen to the rabbi’s sermon, and like a gentle wave at the beach, it washes over us without leaving a trace. As a prematurely retired pulpit rabbi, I can attest that the rabbi himself often experiences the same thing. I would give a sermon, share a beautiful idea about a Bible verse, and then move on. How often did I fail to absorb the very lesson I was sharing with my congregants? Far more often than I am comfortable admitting.

But then there are moments – rare moments – when something we hear or read pierces the heavy armor that so effectively protects us from true feeling, moments when our hearts of stone are replaced, just for a moment, with hearts of flesh.

This week, while rereading a 1956 essay by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s The Voice of My Beloved Knocks, I experienced one of these rare moments – and I understood for the first time that Rabbi Soloveitchik was speaking to me. Two years after leaving my synagogue and making aliyah to Israel, it hit me that despite all the meaningful moments I experienced as a community rabbi, despite all the accomplishments I could point to – growing our community, helping people in need, supporting people during their most painful moments – in the most significant way, I failed.

The Talmud debates when, exactly, the long-suffering Job lived. Did he live during the time of Moses, or in the generation of Isaac? Did he walk the earth during the time of Ezra, or is Job merely a parable, like the rich man who stole the poor Jew’s sheep in the parable Nathan told David after he sinned with Bat Sheba? With this background, Rabbi Soloveitchik explains why Job, a G-d-fearing man who gave charity to the poor, was nevertheless forced to suffer.

“You ‎were a contemporary of Jacob, who wrestled with Laban, Esau, and the angel at the stream ‎of ‎Yabok. Did you help Jacob with advice?… You ‎were rich and a man of influence. Had you related to Jacob with appropriate ‎sympathy ‎and with ‎steadfast loving kindness, he would not have had to pass through such a ‎multitude ‎of ‎tribulations.‎ You lived in the time of Moses, and you were numbered among the advisers of ‎Pharaoh. Did ‎you ‎lift a finger when Pharaoh issued his evil decree that, “Every son that is born you shall ‎cast into ‎the ‎river” (Exodus 1:22), or when the oppressors enslaved your brethren with back-breaking ‎work? ‎You were silent then and did not protest… To toss them a coin? Yes; but to publicly demonstrate for ‎them? No! You ‎were ‎afraid that you would be accused of dual loyalty.‎

“You were active in the generation of ‎‏ ‏Ezra and Nehemiah, the returnees to Zion. You, Job, ‎with ‎your wealth and influence, could have hastened the process of settling the Land of Israel ‎and ‎rebuilding the Temple. However, your ear was deafened and did not heed the historical cries ‎of ‎the nation.‎ You did not storm out in protest against the Sanballites, the Samaritans, and the rest of ‎Israel’s ‎enemies who wanted to destroy the Yishuv [the Jewish pioneers who returned to Zion] and extinguish the spark of the last hope of ‎G-d’s ‎people. What did you do in the hour when the returnees from the Diaspora cried out from ‎the ‎depths of suffering and despair… You sat ‎with ‎folded arms! You did not participate in the travail of those who fought for Judaism, for Israel, ‎and ‎the redemption. Never did you bring even one sacrifice on their behalf. All these years ‎you ‎worried only about your own welfare….”

I’ve read these words before, many times. But only now do I realize that Rabbi Soloveitchik was talking to me. That I am Job!

Like Job, when I was a rabbi in America, it pained me to hear that yet another Jew was murdered in Judea and Samaria. Like Job, I spoke from the heart to my congregants before the prayer for the State of Israel. And yes, like Job, I “tossed them a coin” and contributed to One Israel Fund and The Koby Mandell Foundation. But then I went about my day, preparing classes, planning bar mitzvahs, and working with our synagogue committees to attract young families to our suburban New Jersey community. And yes, I am ashamed to admit, I slept soundly at night as Jews were murdered on the streets of Hebron and at bus stops in Gush Etzion.

As the people of Samaria “cried out from the depths of suffering and despair,” I organized Israel Independence Day parties with falafel and blue and white cookies for our local New Jersey community. As the corrupt American media slandered the people of Judea as “obstacles to peace,” I “sat with folded arms” and worried about the synagogue budget.

I could have screamed from the rooftops that they are murdering my brothers and sisters – but I didn’t. I could have written articles and letters to the editor, to awaken my people – but I was too busy. I could have knocked down the doors of our senators and congressmen, demanding that they stand up for truth and against our enemies – but I couldn’t find the time. I could have laid down in the streets of Washington DC and stopped traffic, as thousands of young people did for Soviet Jewry in the 1970s – but I would have been the only one.

Only now, after moving with my family to Judea, do I realize how little I did for my people when we were living in America. Only now, living around the corner from the Dee family and a few blocks away from the parents of Batsheva Nagari, may her blood be avenged, when I no longer have a pulpit and a captive audience, do I realize the truth: “All these years ‎you ‎worried only about your own welfare.

While traveling through the U.S. this summer, from community to community, I met many good Jews and was hosted by warm and welcoming Jewish communities. But nowhere did I sense any urgency or even awareness that there are hundreds of thousands of Jews in Judea and Samaria living constantly under the threat of terror. I met dozens of wonderful Jews studying the Bible every day. But I searched in vain for people who are willing to dedicate their time and effort to be activists for Judea and Samaria. Only now, as Rabbi Soloveitchik’s words sink in, do I realize that I was looking in the mirror and seeing the Jew I used to be.

One hundred forty years ago, following the horrific Russian pogroms of 1881-1882, the American Jewish poet Emma Lazarus wrote: “I do not hesitate to say that our national defect is that we are not ‘tribal’ enough; we have not sufficient solidarity to perceive that when the life and property of a Jew in the uttermost provinces of the Caucuses are attacked, the dignity of a Jew in free America is humiliated… Until we are all free, we are none of us free” (An Epistle to the Hebrews).

Please – don’t make the same mistake I did. Don’t allow your busy schedules to blind you to the intifada ravaging our people as we speak. When you hear the news of yet another young mother or father murdered, don’t sigh and then move on with your life. When you visit Israel, don’t come here only to be inspired. Visit Jews who are suffering, who have lost loved ones. Gather your friends together, and raise awareness. Share articles, write letters to the editor, and raise money for victims of terror. Call your congressmen – and then call them again and again. Become an activist for Israel.

At the very end of Dr. Seuss’s classic, The Lorax, the Once-ler says to the little boy: “The Lorax said nothing. Just gave me a glance… just gave me a very sad, sad backward glance… And all that the Lorax left here in this mess was a small pile of rocks, with one word… UNLESS. Whatever that meant, well, I just couldn’t guess. That was long, long ago. But each day since that day I’ve sat here and worried and worried away… But now, says the Once-ler, Now that you’re here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Our enemies will keep murdering us with impunity. Unless…


Previous articleRefined Rebukes: The High Holiday Sermons Of Rabbi Norman Lamm
Next articleDoes The Passageway Become A Right Of Way?
Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Content Manager at Israel365.