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Lessons For Living: I Stand With Israel

I Stand with Israel. A piece to mark Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel's 76th Anniversary

I will stand with and by you, O Israel, even as I know we have both changed.

Even as I fear for the kind of Israel my grandchildren will inherit, I will not sever the deep bond that connects me so intricately to this country…

I was part of the lucky generation, the baby boomers born in the decades after the war, which was meant to end all wars, those who were born into an era of hope for the future and an end to the hatred of Jews. These were halcyon days of the newly minted State of Israel, admired by the world and bewitched by its success in the Six Day War.

A few weeks ago, I came across a July 10, 1967, copy of Life magazine. On its cover is a photo of an Israeli soldier cooling off in the Suez Canal, with the headline:  The astounding war and its aftermath. The soldier is rising from the water like a Greek God, a dazzling young David, his rifle held high, his face beaming with pride.

This was the Israel of my childhood. My heart leaps as I remember carrying the blue and white flag as a kid on Simchat Torah. I grew up with Israel assured by the security it gave my Shoah-wounded father, emboldened by the pride it gave me in its assertion of Jewish dignity and independence after centuries of fear and oppression.

Even as I have aged and engaged with the moral complexities of Jewish statehood and the terrible price Israel pays for its occupation of places beloved by my Torah but claimed by others, I have still held on to my dreams of this dazzling land - its incredible achievements, its astonishing energy and its undaunted spirit.

Even as I have engaged with the moral complexities of Jewish statehood, I have held on to my dreams.

I have worried about the deep divisions in the country, the rise of right-wing religious extremism, the ugly politicisation of Haredi parties, the stridency of secular voices, the strains on the democratic process, the inadequacies in the integration of Arab Israeli citizens.

I won’t say that October 7 has radically changed my relationship to Israel: it hasn't weakened my wonder to be living in a time of Jewish sovereignty, my appreciation of this being a home for all Jews, a secure place to explore the deepest contours of my Jewish soul.

It has, however, set off something deep and primeval in my consciousness, an existential ache, a kind of bewildering fear and anxiety. It is still inchoate and not clearly articulated. The shift I have experienced is more experiential than intellectual.

I am in pain and sadness for what has been lost and can never be restored. It is like the disappointment in an old friend who I have always relied on and probably over-idealised. In a way I feel like the simple, naïve son of the Haggadah, the tam.

I also know that my “luxuriant moralism”, sitting in Melbourne while the war rages, may account for my bewilderment at some of the decisions of Israel, like apparently and initially withholding the food aid which ostensibly it could have allowed to flow a lot more freely. Or not diminishing the suffering of the innocent Gazans who do not support Hamas.

I never imagined Israel would be unprepared for an attack of the like of Hamas. I had faith in its vigilance and believed it would not stumble into the kind of ideological blindness which appears to have led to this disaster.

It has been called the conceptsia, a mistaken belief that Hamas had been “bought” and wanted economic security more than war. I am fearful for the future of Israel, I am sorrowful that its leaders and intelligence community failed to remember the words of Moshe Dayan in his memorable eulogy in 1956 for a security officer, Roi Rotberg, who was murdered, his body mutilated and then dragged into Gaza:

I am energised to defend Israel more than ever, outraged by the demonisation and foolishness of the liberal left.

Not from the Arabs of Gaza must we demand the blood of Roi, but from ourselves. How our eyes are closed to the reality of our fate, unwilling to see the destiny of our generation in its full cruelty.... in Gaza hundreds of thousands of eyes and arms huddle together and pray for the onset of our weakness so that they may tear us to pieces- has this been forgotten? For we know that if the hope of our destruction is to perish, we must be morning and evening, armed and ready…

Even as I fear for the kind of Israel my grandchildren will inherit, I will not sever the deep bond that connects me so intricately to this country. In fact, I am energised to defend Israel more than ever, especially outraged by the barrage of lies and propaganda aimed at it, the demonisation of our medina by much of the world, the infuriating foolishness of the liberal left, the ignorant intellectuals of our campuses, the ill-informed students jumping into fashionable protest marches.

I will stand with and by you, O Israel, even as I know we have both changed. To adapt the words of WB Yeats: “How many loved your moments of glad grace. And loved your beauty with love false or true. But I will strive to be like those who love the pilgrim soul in you and love the sorrows of your changing face.”

Rabbi Ralph