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If I forget thee

The UN vote is about more than Jerusalem and about more than an embassy

It’s depressing to have to state the obvious.  But it’s too maddening to remain silent.  So please forgive me if I revisit what many have said but few have heard.

Last week’s United Nations vote – which censured the United States for planning to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem – is a pitch-perfect example of human society’s collective descent into tribalism.  And the heart of the matter has nothing to do with Jerusalem, the Mideast, or American foreign policy.

One could reasonably make the case that moving the embassy is ill-advised.  I have had my own doubts whether or not the benefits of the largely symbolic gesture outweigh the potential for violent Palestinian reaction.

But that was not the stated reason behind the U.N. resolution.

Instead, leaders and pundits the world around claimed that the move will derail the peace process.  And to that, the logical retort is:  what peace process?

In the 53 years since the establishment of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (which preceded the Six Day War and Israel’s so-called “occupation” of the West Bank), the only concession offered up by the Palestinian Authority has been to remove from its charter the call for Israel’s destruction.

Thanks, guys.

The concession to stop publicly advocating the extermination of 6 million Israeli Jews was a good first step, not a final offer.  Negotiation requires compromise, as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak demonstrated back in 2000 when he offered to return 94% of the West Bank – an offer the P.A. refused.  Since then, the only progress has been Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, to which the P.A. responded by launching missiles against Israeli civilians.

So exactly what “process” does the international community think has been derailed?


Even more absurd is denouncing the U.S. embassy move as “illegal.”  The whole world has recognized Israel’s ownership of West Jerusalem since 1947.  So why should any country not be allowed to name its own capital in its own land?  And why should any other country be censured for establishing its embassy in a legal foreign capital?  Finally, why should longtime allies join the chorus of condemnation with absolutely no legal or moral justification?

The first two questions are merely rhetorical.  It is the third question that really needs answering. Are you listening, Europe and Canada?

There are two explanations.  First is the irrational Utopianism that characterizes much of the political left.  Like the delusional naturalists who believe that grizzly bears and mountain lions are really peaceful creatures who will respond to human gestures of affection in kind, radical progressives fantasize that terrorists and the sponsors of terror will eagerly embrace peace once the rest of us confess our sins and beg for absolution.

It hasn’t worked yet.  But the Utopians have faith, even as they remain blind and deaf to the irrefutable evidence that they themselves have become the enablers of terrorism.  For all their good intentions, they have prolonged suffering on all sides by allowing corrupt Palestinian leaders to squander hundreds of millions in international aid on terror tunnels rather than easing the plight of their own people.

The second reason is that western governments are terrified that any sign of support for Israel will spark violent uprisings among their restless Arab minorities.  It’s a disappointing fact of life that the politics of cowardice almost always trump commitment to justice.


The more fundamental problem, however, is the unapologetic disregard for truth.


Think whatever you want and believe whatever you want – but defend your positions with facts and logic, not disinformation and distortion.  Once reasoned debate and civil discourse become impossible – whether because of ideology or fear – civilization is sure to crumble beneath our feet.

Truth be told, it’s possible that by showing the Palestinian Authority that intransigence will no longer serve their interests, the U.S. has actually moved the peace process a step forward.  If other countries begin to follow America’s example, the PA will be left scrambling to make a deal before they have no more chips left to bargain.

King Solomon says, One who trusts his own heart is a fool, but one who walks in wisdom shall be kept safe.

If we truly hope to bring about peace, we have cast off our rose-colored glasses and confront our fear.  Only then might we achieve the intellectual and moral integrity that will allow us to follow in the ways of wise counsel.

Published by Jewish World Review

A day like no other, a place like no other

June 7, 1967, is a date planted forever in my memory.  It was on that day my family moved into the house I grew up in.

Decades later, I discovered that it was also the day when the Jewish people reclaimed sovereignty over their eternal capital after 2000 years of foreign rule.

I didn’t just grow up in the house that became my home.  I saw it built, literally from the ground up.  My father was the contractor, so I watched as trenches were dug for water and sewage pipes, as concrete was poured for the foundation, as wooden framing gave it shape and stucco exterior transformed it into a dwelling.

I was six years old the day we moved in.  For the next eleven years, that house was the place that sheltered me from the uncertainties of life and gave me refuge from all the scrapes and traumas of childhood and adolescence.

But then something unexpected happened.  I went away to college.  I made new friends.  I experienced the thrill of new ideas and the passion of intellectual exchange.  And when summer arrived and I returned to visit my parents, the place they lived was just a house, just a way-station for waiting out the days until I went back to where I belonged.

The following year my parents sold the house.  I never missed it.

But college didn’t remain home, either.  Even before graduation, I felt something pulling at me, calling me to search somewhere else for home.


I remember the day before I first arrived in Israel.  The ship that carried me cut across a Mediterranean Sea as still and clear as a sheet of glass, utterly surreal as it reflected the color of the sky.  Night descended, and the lights of Haifa glittered on the water.  Israel was not my first port of call, but an inexplicable feeling of anticipation stirred inside me, a feeling that could only be described with one word:


The next afternoon I was in Jerusalem; by an unlikely turn of events, I found myself being led through the stone labyrinth that is the Old City.  As dusk fell on that Friday evening, I turned a corner and found myself face-to-face with the ancient stones drenched by generations of tears.

In that instant, everything stopped.

I knew nothing about my own heritage, nothing about Jewish tradition or Jewish history.  I’d heard of the Western Wall, heard it called the Wailing Wall, but that was all I knew.  I’d heard of the Sabbath, but the word meant nothing to me except as a holy anachronism.  I wasn’t even sure if I believed in God.

But right then, as the last rays of the sun caught the top of those living stones and the mingled voices of hundreds of faithful wafted up from the courtyard, I felt an irrefutable connection to the three thousand years of tradition, devotion, and moral freedom that has kept my people alive while the countless empires that tried to destroy us have all vanished from the earth.

I had no memory of the iconic picture of the Israeli soldiers looking up in awe and wonder at the moment they liberated the Wall.  But in a single moment, 14 years later, I felt what they must have felt:  the vastness of infinity and the echo of destiny.  I couldn’t imagine how I had lived my life without knowing what this was or what it meant.  And my life has never been the same.


50 years ago today, according to the Hebrew calendar, on the 28th day of the month of Iyar, a small company of Israeli soldiers charged through Lion’s Gate and into the Old City of Jerusalem.  Winding their way through the narrow passageways, they emerged at the epicenter of world history, at the last surviving remnant of the physical Temple from which the light of divine wisdom illuminated the world so many lifetimes ago.

The battle was over.  But the war would go on.

The war goes on still:  the war against self-serving leaders who oppress their own people, turning victimhood into a weapon against the tiny Jewish nation that wants only to live in peace; the war against irresponsible journalists who fabricate monoliths of falsehood from splinters of fractured truth; the war against well-meaning fools who enable the purveyors of hatred and bloodshed by legitimizing their cause; and the war against ignorance of history, which permits the loudest voices to rewrite the past.

But these are battles we will win.  Because ultimately, Jerusalem is our capital and Israel is our true home, our only home.  We built her from the ground up; we gave our lives for her and placed our souls under her protection.  We will never abandon her; and she will never abandon us.

As long as we remember all Jerusalem stands for, we will carry her in our hearts and in our minds wherever we go, wherever we are.  We will never stop fighting against ignorance and injustice, and we will never doubt the inevitable and undeniable truth of the words we cry out again and again, Next year in Jerusalem!

Published in Jewish World Review.

Passover and the First Holocaust

After yesterday’s terrorist bus bombing in Jerusalem, the first in years, Jews around the world felt the painful reminder of our precarious place among nations dedicated to our destruction.  With the Passover festival approaching, these thoughts from 2005 remind us that Holocaust is not a phenomenon of the last century, or even the last millennium.

The extermination of six million Jews in the Nazi death camps represents but the most recent in a long history of Jewish holocausts. It was preceded by the Chmielnicki massacres in 17th century Poland, the Almohad massacres in 12th century Spain, the Inquisition and the Crusades and the relentless spilling of blood by the Roman legions — all these and similar chapters in the long, brutal history of attempted genocide against the Jewish people.

When did it all begin?

According to Jewish tradition, it began 3328 years ago, when nearly two and a half million Jews died in a single night.

It was the beginning of the plague of darkness, the penultimate blow in the systematic destruction of the Egyptians and their empire. Pharaoh had already released his Jewish slaves from their oppressive labor midway through the cycle of plagues, driven by the desperate hope that he could appease the G-d of the Jews. But he refused to grant them permission to leave.

For some Jews, the relaxation from their burdens offered an opportunity to reflect upon the responsibilities of freedom and the opportunity that had been promised them to build their own nation. For others, however, it gave time to grow comfortable in the paradise that was Egypt, to adopt an attitude of entitlement for their new-found prosperity, to forget that freedom is never free.

During their 210 years as slaves in Egypt, the Jews had gradually absorbed the corrupt values of that culture, its idolatry and its immorality, retaining only their names, their language, and their style of dress to set themselves apart from their Egyptian hosts. With no merit to deserve divine redemption, the Jewish people received their exodus on credit, credit to be repaid by accepting the Ten Commandments at Sinai and committing themselves to the higher moral and ethical standards of G-d’s chosen people.

600,000 Jews — 20% of their total number — accepted these terms, preparing themselves psychologically and physically to exchange the comfort and familiarity of Egypt for the uncertainty of the empty desert. Four times as many rejected the condition, refusing to make good, as it were, on the credit extended them from heaven, convincing themselves that, with the Egyptians humbled and the yoke of slavery removed from their necks, they could void their contract with the Almighty and remain unencumbered in the land of their former servitude.


The human condition, however, is never static. One who stops growing immediately begins to die; one who stops moving forward instantly begins to slip backward. There is no standing still, no place to rest in this restless world, and the 2,400,000 Jews who thought to deny their destiny, who imagined they could stop the sands of time and were buried by them instead.

The fate of the 80% was not divine vengeance; it was spiritual inevitability. To survive for thirty three centuries, the Jewish nation would have to appreciate that it had no alternative other than survival. Assimilation, conversion, or abdication of Jewish identity may at times have seemed an attractive option to the burden of living as Jews, but the consequences of spiritual extinction are every bit as grave — indeed, much more so — than those of physical extinction.

Ask the Spanish Jews who converted to Christianity, only to be called marranos — pigs — by their Christian brothers and to be burned at the stake in the auto-de-fe of the Inquisition, if their abandonment of Jewish identity was worth the price. Ask the assimilated German Jews stripped of their property, forced to wear yellow stars, and incinerated in Nazi crematoria if they met a better end than those who refused to disavow their Judaism.

Indeed, the narrative of the exodus testifies that, as the Jews prepared to leave the ruins of Egypt after the plague upon the firstborn, “the Almighty gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians.” As slaves forfeiting their identity within Egyptian society, the Egyptians regarded the Jews only with disdain. Once the Jews began to act with Jewish dignity, their former oppressors could not help but respect them.

And so it has been ever since. When we live as Jews, the rest of the world respects us for our values and our conviction. When we shirk our responsibility as upholders of morality to accommodated the ever-changing moral whims of the world around us, we bring upon ourselves nothing but suffering.

The freedom we celebrate at Passover is the freedom to remain true to who we are, who we always have been: The nation that introduced the world to the very concept of freedom, and the nation which has shown the world through the ages that the price of freedom is far less dear than the price of forsaking it.

Originally published by Jewish World Review.