You shall not stand idle by the blood of your neighbor”
An open letter to my friends and students in Chutz La’aretz
As the Jewish year 5761 is coming to a close, it is most appropriate to remind ourselves that it has been nearly twelve months since Israel found itself in a guerrilla war with deadly terrorists whose main goal is to kill as many Jews as possible. The Palestinian Authority and the Arab world have indoctrinated the world with their lies and manipulations and created a global atmosphere of anti-Semitism which has turned governments and media against the State of Israel and its citizens.
Hundreds of innocent Jews were killed in bomb explosions, many were injured, never to return to a normal life again, while soldiers and policemen lost their lives trying the defend their fellow Jews. By now lots of Jewish children, in some parts of the country more than 20% of the students in the classroom, have lost one or both parents. Intensive suffering has become the ongoing experience of thousands, if not of tens of thousands of Israeli families who have lost family members and friends.
In the meantime an ongoing threat of war hangs over the entire population of Israel and tens of thousands of Israeli parents have nightmares about their children who serve in the army, live in settlements and drive dangerous roads.
The economy, badly effected by all this, stands on the verge of collapse and medical care has reached a low point so that many are no longer sure that they will receive the minimum amount of medical help.
Psychologists emphasize the fact that Israelis are this time not coping well with the situation. After so many wars since 1948 they have become tired and worn out. Seeing no end to this struggle and hearing high ranking officers in the IDF speaking about the possibility of this guerrilla war continuing with increased violence for the next five years, hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews feel utterly hopeless.
As if this is not enough, Israelis are now also confronted with a new phenomenon which they had never dreamt about and which they previously thought would be impossible. For the first time Israeli Jews feel utterly left alone because it has become clear as the light of the sun that the vast majority of fellow Jews in chutz la-aretz show a deadly indifference to the situation. Utterances such as “we are with you in this war”, “we stand behind you”, “we cannot tell you how painful it is for us to be so far away” have become meaningless in the eyes of most Israelis. Whatever the good intentions of those who speak these words, to the average Israeli they appear empty. The reason for this is obvious. Very few Jews actually came last year to show solidarity with their Israeli brothers and sisters. Already for months Israeli hotels stand empty, some of them have closed down causing the dismissal of quite a few workers. The tourist industry has been dealt a death blow to the point that Israelis working in this field have been forced, against their will, to move their families to other countries in order to support them.
While waiting for an unprecedented influx of hundreds of thousands of American Jews to this country (in which hotels would not been able to accommodate all the guests for lack of space), Israelis had to wake up from this dream which they believed to be one of unprecedented solidarity. A shattering silence has made them realize that in the moment of truth they are alone. Instead of listening to their brothers in Israel and coming in unparalleled numbers, American Jews preferred to listen to the State Department’s warning not to travel to the Middle East.
(Lately more and more Israelis complain about the fact that American Jews have seemingly become used to the Arab violence so that they no longer bother to phone their friends or family after a terrorist attack to ask how they are doing.)
Also I have been utterly disappointed. Throughout my travels in America last year I have asked and begged my dear students to come for only a few days. Not only, I explained, is it important for Israelis to see American Jews coming to their country, but it is of the greatest importance that American Jews prove to themselves that they really care for their fellow brothers. At the time I received numerous promises. People were going to organize flights, contact hotels, and get to Israel as soon as possible. Synagogues boards and outreach programs admitted that they really had to become active and make their members understand that this was their minimum obligation.
With few exceptions, it has however become clear that nobody up till now has come. When asking about this I was told that people “could not take off from work”, that “the Israeli hotels were too expensive” or that they “would be bored in Israel” since it would not be possible to go out and have fun. Most disturbing was the fact that some of the same people went on vacation somewhere else, to hotels which were more expensive, suddenly finding the time off from work which they so adamantly had considered impossible. Instead of being pleased to help Israeli hotels to stay open, the tourist industry to flourish, and sending a clear massage to the Arabs that American Jews could not be frightened, they actually submitted themselves to Arab pressure and showed the world what Jewish solidarity was all about.
Even more disturbing is the unsolicited advice Israelis receive from their American Jewish friends: “If we were you, we would bomb the Palestinians, evacuate them by force even risking a war, since this is no doubt the only solution”. All this is said by people sitting in comfortable chairs while simultaneously Israeli soldiers risk their lives to save the lives of their fellow Jews and try to pave the road for a more peaceful existence for the children and grandchildren of those who stay put in the United States.
One is reminded of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s observation when he asked his American audience whether they consider Israel “Disney land” or their Motherland? If it is indeed nothing more than a land to have a good vacation in, then there is indeed no moral obligation to come in solidarity to the land. But if, as most American Jews clearly believe, Israel is their Motherland, the question is obvious: “If your mother is not well, would you not come to visit her?”
American Jews, including the religious community, will have to ask themselves some penetrating questions this Rosh Hashana. Above all they should be fully aware that one day their children will turn to them and ask: “Dad/Mam, what did you do for Israel when it found itself some years ago in this terrible situation? Did you at least go and visit your fellow Jews and ask them how they were doing? Did you give them regular phone calls?” Woe to him who will not be able to give the right answer.