Monday, November 23, 2015

The Jew Stands Alone

           All we can think about these days is the terror.The terror we thought had abated, but in reality, took a nap and then hit us in a truly intense and personal way. A beautiful boy, Ezra Schwartz,  just 18 and spending his "year in Israel" as me and all my friends had done, was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist with an Uzi, while on his way back from giving food to lone soldiers. You really couldn't have scripted a more tragic end to such a special life. Even in a country and a time where these attacks have become somewhat expected and eerily commonplace, this loss hit me hard. I couldn't sleep or eat, and I found myself voraciously looking for information and photos and video of this kid I never knew, but felt like I personally lost. And I think we all did here in Israel, most especially the American-olim community. I thought of how I myself was "an American tourist in Israel" maybe 50 times on various Birthright and vacation trips. I spent the year here in seminary. When I was that age, I had no doubt whatsoever that once my year was up, I'd move back to New York and live a safe and happy Jewish life in America. Things change and I thank G-d I was bitten by the aliyah bug eventually, but my life mirrored Ezra's really closely at that point in my life. I was exactly what he was- an "American Jewish tourist in Israel." I thought of his friends and the other kids in his gap year, who must all be understandably afraid. About his parents and family, who did the most normal thing Orthodox American parents can do- send their kid to Israel for the year. I thought about his community, who could never fathom that tragedy would hit them from so far away.
           In the flood of articles to come out in the aftermath, one stood out to me as a new immigrant. It's common knowledge that this murder has been widely publicized in Israeli and Jewish media, but almost not at all in European and American media. As with many Jewish murders by terrorism in Israel, the world yawns. But the author of this article was truly disheartened by the fact that this American Jew, without the stain of Israeli citizenship, much less a (cringe) "settler" was being ignored by most of the American media and the president of the United States. She didn't understand how American citizens killed in recent terror attacks in France and Mali received so much more media attention. She lamented the idea that, G-d forbid, if it was her or her family member who suffered the same fate, she would be equally abandoned by the country she loved and lived in for so many years. She rightly understood that as an American Jew who left to live in Israel, any tragedy that befell her here in Israel would be even less worthy of mention in the country where she is still a citizen.
             To say nothing of my disdain for the current American president (and trust me, after over 7 years, I have what to say), it struck me how my personal viewpoint differed so greatly from the writer of this article. First, the lack of media attention didn't surprise me, nor did the near-radio silence and lack of condemnation from the State Department. I have come to expect exactly this from the world we live in, and much more tragically, from the country where I grew up and still appreciate tremendously. I chose to focus on the local papers in Boston who wrote beautiful tributes, and the senators and representatives on both sides of the aisle who remembered Ezra publicly. I had gratitude to the select (and to be fair, mostly conservative) national media who did mention Ezra's loss and the Jewish community's outpouring of support. But call me jaded, I'm just not surprised anymore, nor am I particularly upset.
            When articles about murdered Jews come with rationalizations and equivocations, it's a real blow. When the State Department or president mentions a Jewish death in Israel and follows it with calls for "restraint on all sides," it negates all that came before it. When anti-Semites on social media use your tragedy as fodder for their own agenda, you can't help but wish they didn't know about it at all. And when you have to doubt the country that you pledged allegiance to for twelve years, doubt their allegiance to you, it's really an awful feeling.
            I don't know when it happened, and it definitely hasn't always been this way, but I have come to the realization that at the end of the day, the Israeli and world Jewish communities are the only ones who will love, honor and respect me no matter what. As we have seen with Ezra, all victims of Palestinian terror, and Jewish victims of terror around the world, we are our own champions. We are the ones who will remember us, the ones who will memorialize us. We are the ones who will pray for us and the ones who will let the world know what we lost. We are the only ones who will fight for our rights and our homeland. And while I am forever grateful to our allies in the world- the Christians and the Muslims and the atheists and the Buddhists who care about us and our safety- we, the Jewish nation, are our one steadfast support system. Throughout our history, we have had countless enemies, with no one to turn to, no one to defend us. We have had ourselves and only ourselves through the millenia, and now is no different. I know a lot of you will read this and think "What a stupid girl. I am a proud American/Parisian/Brit/Aussie Jew. I have plenty of friends who would stand for me, defend me." And I have no doubt that they would. I, too, have friends who love me, love the Jewish people, even love Israel. But you know what? The only support I need in this world is that of my fellow Jews. I know that if I have that then the fickle affections of Europe or the United States won't affect me. That if, G-d forbid, anything happens to me, or someone I love, I won't have to live with the anguish of feeling deserted by the country where I was born. I know that this country, my country, my government and my people will embrace me, support me and love me like I love them. Because we are one family and that is what family does.
               I know I say this a lot, but I always mean it- The Nation of Israel Lives- with each other and for each other. Am Yisrael Chai.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Calling a Spade a Spade

       I haven't written in a while, mostly because I haven't had that much to say and I don't like to post just for posting's sake. Then, furiously and all at once, things happen and I have to choose what to write about, and how to organize my disparate and racing thoughts into one coherent, and hopefully interesting, blog post.
      Three things I want to weave together to hopefully make some sense of this crazy, scary, beautiful, infuriating world in which we live. The first is the EU boycott and labeling of products made in "disputed areas" of Israel. Needless to say, it sickens me to my very core, it is clearly and without question (very) thinly veiled anti Semitism, it is eerily reminiscent of the darkest era of human history, and it sets a hideous precedent of blaming the victim. Second, the attacks in Paris are truly heartbreaking. I know that people are valid in their anger towards this world that chooses to demonize Israel, while Israelis and Jews would never brutally murder over 150 Frenchmen in the name of Judaism or Israel. I know there is justifiable disgust in a world that excuses violence against innocent Jewish Israelis, but denounces it against innocent French. I get all that. But that's not my bag. I can only think that as tolerant as the liberal French are (too tolerant maybe for a crazy right-winger like myself), it is much more out of trying to see the good in humanity, and less due to willfully ignoring the bad. In trying to see the good, one often has to ignore the obvious bad, but I don't think anyone "deserved" this or "got what was coming to them." No one deserves to be murdered at a rock show by a merciless jihadist on a religious crusade. The third, and most personal thread is something that happened to me this past shabbat.
          I was having a nice lunch with new friends, when talk turned to a mutual acquaintance who I like very much but have clashed with ideologically on political issues in the past. I therefore try as hard as possible to keep the peace when I see her and stay on neutral topics (weather, movies, Israeli bureaucracy, etc) She often steers the conversation back to controversial topics, and, let's be honest, I don't back down. Still, I would tell anyone who asked that I like her and we get along just fine. My friend then tells me that she mentioned to a group of people that she has unfollowed me on Facebook. For those of you who don't know, that means she and I are still friends on Facebook, but she isn't alerted to anything I post or comment. While this fact irritated me, as she is someone who always crows about "hearing both sides" and "loving thoughtful debate", I had to be fair- I had unfollowed her myself many months ago. But what came next really shocked me: "Yeah, she said she can't follow you because of all the racist things you post." I was absolutely floored. Shocked. Disgusted.
             For those of you who aren't my Facebook friends, I post pretty regularly. Usually it's photos of me and my friends and family, scenic shots of the gorgeous landscape of Israel, and sometimes funny or heartwarming videos. On the rare occasion when I post something political, I try and keep it neutral/skewing pro-Israel. I have many liberal/Left friends on Facebook who I a) don't want to fight with b) don't want to aggravate (although why my different views bother the open-minded community so much is, again, curious) and c) don't want to alienate. So instead of posting something anti-anyone, I try and post things that are pro-Jewish/Israel. That way, I bring light onto my Facebook world instead of darkness. Or at least that's what I believed. But here I am, being called a "racist", a term I don't take lightly or shrug off, because I choose to defend Jews and Israel above anyone else. And you know what? I don't even feel a little bit bad about it. But I am horrified that my open-minded, peace-loving and coexistence-spouting friends see my Jewish pride as an excuse to label me a racist. I personally don't think it's brave or noble to throw your own people under the bus to make an ill-informed political statement, but if you want to do that, it's your right.  I take offense to being called a racist for rightly calling Islamists, who kill in the name of Islam, terrorists. I am not calling all Muslims terrorists. But I am also not under the delusion that a terrorist's faith plays no role in the actions they take. I take offense to being shamed for defending Jews who live in Judea and Samaria and not bowing to the insane belief that they are the cause of Palestinian aggression. And I will not be silenced and denounced as a "racist" for telling the anti-Zionists of the world, whether in real life or on social media, that their hatred of Israel is modern-day- anti-Semitism and I will not tolerate it.
              So let's tie these three seemingly disparate pieces together to try and make sense of a world gone mad- literally. When the world turns a blind eye to terrorism in their midst and then trains that blind eye on punishing the one free democracy in the Middle East with a boycott focused on destroying their economy- there is a problem. When defense of your own people at the expense of a different culture bent on destroying them is seen as "racist"- there is a problem. When you can not label the terror organizations that stare at you in the face, daring you to call them by name, screaming their desired goals as they go- when you have to instead blame poverty, and lack of education, and climate change, and settlements, and Islamophobia and everything except what the terrorists are actually telling you is the reason- there is a problem. And if you purport to be the one who believes that "everyone's opinion matters" and "everyone is entitled to their views" and you then silence the views that conflict with your own- there is a problem.
               Everything is interconnected, and I'm not saying my views are the only valid ones (although they are unapologetically valid to me), but we need to connect the dots. We can't live in a vacuum or with our heads in the sand (2 cliches in one sentence- oy!) We need to be real, and we need to be kind. Even me, in my crazy- Zionist- right-wing-extremist mindset knows that these 2 characteristics are in no way in conflict. Be kind, look for the good, help others and don't judge. But be real, too. When people say things, believe them. And when they do things, don't spend your whole day justifying and equivocating. Be aware, and be safe. My heart is with the victims of terror in Paris, and everywhere in this world terror spreads. And of course, first and always, with Israel. Am Yisrael Chai.