As a veteran tour guide and writer living in Jerusalem for the last twenty-five years, I would like to share some of my observations of late.
Shalom PollackAs a veteran tour guide, I have the oppportunity to observe many sides of our beloved country. As a Jew who has come home, I am passionate about sharing my observations and thoughts. www.shalompollacktours.co.il
Jerusalem is a changed city. That is not surprising, of course. After years of escalating attacks on her Jewish population, it is no wonder that an entire new industry has sprung up and can be seen in front of every major and not-so-major place of congregation. Guards at the bus stops, in front of all eateries and office buildings, schools, markets... where not?
Want to visit another world just minutes away? Check out Arab East Jerusalem. No guards or frisking before entering schools and restaurants. Oh, but it might be a safe precaution to wear a cap over your kippa. Jews are targets there.
I was told this by an embarrassed Christian volunteer at the "Garden Tomb" in East Jerusalem where I guided tourists the other day. I had to play the visiting Christian tourist and hide my Jewish identity for my own safety. I never thought I would have to be warned by a well-meaning gentile not to be identified as a Jew in Jerusalem for safety reasons. Those kinds of considerations were a fact of life when I lived in Brooklyn. My kippa was, in certain places, a possible red flag. That is why I "came home" to Israel.
Ah, but I came to be where the Jewish action is. Can't say there has been any lack of that, especially in these post-Oslo years. It is not necessary to list the many ways that Israel really is where Jewish history, present and future, lies. There are more Jewish babies being born now in Israel then in the rest of the Jewish world. The same holds true for the number of Torah schools and Torah learning. It is where the exiles are streaming home, where the deserts are blooming just as the prophets promised. Israel is one of five countries with satellites watching over us and possesses the most powerful weapons in the world. Little Israel - the size of New Jersey!
All this and much more is true. In 2000 years, Israel has never been as strong, wealthy or populous.
So, what happened? Israel has never been so strong militarily and economically, yet it seems that prophesies of doom are being fulfilled today.
"When it is day you will await the night, when it is night you will await the day," Deuteronomy warns.
Indeed, Israelis go to bed and wake up with the latest news. Has there been an attack in the last few hours? Oh, just property damage or just wounded or just one dead... Could be a lot worse. Let's hope the next few hours will be quieter. Only a theft? Thank God!
I saw a program on television a few weeks ago that made a deep impression on me. It was about the continuing epidemic of theft by Arabs from neighboring Jewish farming communities across the "Green Line." Arabs have stolen tons of cattle, tractors, whatever can be carried, led or driven away - at times at gun- or knife-point. The last words of the program were those of an Israeli farmer.
She said," I wouldn't mind if they came and take what ever they want, just no violence please!"
The Talmud says(Tractate Eruvin, 45) that if one comes to steal even some hay from a Jew living on Israel's furthest border, Jews must even violate the strict Sabbath rules to confront the thieves. The Talmud understood the nature of the beast and what must be done to assure Jewish survival, indeed that of civilization - to prevent Sodom and Gommora.
How often in history have we witnessed a settled, comfortable society paying "protection money" to those on the "other side" in the hopes of satisfying and appeasing the beast? It has never worked, but it still remains a continuing temptation for many.
Israel's brief history and current events are nothing short of breathtaking. Literally miraculous. This is not just hype. I can not say which one of Israel's wars for survival is the greater miracle.
Was it the first one, in 1948, when the Arab population rose against their Jewish neighbors and were joined by five regular armies spilling over all her borders? The British armed, trained and led the Arabs into battle.(They even flew their Spitfires against Israeli pilots in their Messerschmidts over the Sinai desert. Eight Spits downed. Zero Israeli losses.) The USA clamped an arms embargo. Israel beat the Arab armies back and declared independence.
Was it the 1967 Six Day War? Who does not recall the thundering silence of the entire world as the Arab armies prepared to finish the job of 1948? Could this be happening? Is the world going to allow the Arabs to finish Hitler's work? It certainly looked like it. Then, after weeks of futile begging the "world community" to make good its promises and shoulder their responsibility, Israel's air force struck at dawn on June 5, 1967. The combined air forces of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq were laid waste on the ground. In the next six days, their armies were routed. And on the seventh, Israel rested. Israel returned to the holiest ancient national and religious sites and won lands three times its size.
Perhaps it was the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Israel was surprised by massive, Soviet-backed Arab attacks on two fronts on the holiest day of the year, when most troops were home on leave. The thin Israeli lines were overrun after desperate and heroic resistance. We know only now how close Israel was to a crushing defeat and the wholesale slaughter of its population by the Arab armies and Arab mobs following in their wake. At the last moment, Israel's reserves managed to stop the steamroller and to push all the Arab armies beyond the starting points in what was the most successful and breathtaking counter-attack in modern history.
Or was it the first Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein threatened to incinerate Israel and sent scores of his Soviet SCUD missiles into Israel's population centers to that end? Hundreds of homes were destroyed. And not one casualty!
Or perhaps it is the current Oslo War? In the small Jewish enclave in Gaza alone, over 4,000 shells landed from the Arafat-controlled areas. Not one Jewish fatality in the entire 3-1/2 year period!
I don't know, but something very unusual is happening here. When some of Israel's leaders wanted to forfeit the Golan Heights to the Syrians, the offer was refused because it did not include the shores of Lake Kinneret as well. If I were leader of Syria, I would have taken the offer, sat back and enjoyed as Israel expelled 20,000 Jews from their homes and seen the country torn apart politically. After a respectable period, I would then demand further concessions, perhaps my "last" one. Surely, Israel would be in no shape to put up a fight if it meant "a little more" for peace? The "world community" would surely be eager to lend their good offices to make sure Israel behaves responsibly. But Assad said no. Pharaoh kept saying no, too. Didn't make sense then; doesn't make sense today.
When Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat 97 percent of the "territories under dispute", including half of Israel's capital and 3 percent additional land in Israel's Negev to compensate for the remaining 3 percent of his territorial demands, Arafat said, "No deal!" Again, I would have grabbed it. Seeing Israel be torn asunder, perhaps by civil war, have tens of thousands of Jews dragged from their homes by Israeli soldiers - what a scene! And then, with the understanding of the "world community", I would press for more at a later date. But no. Arafat's heart was hardened; just like Pharaoh of old.
As much as some of Israel's leaders try, as much as the United States, Europe, the entire "world community" tries, Arafat's state in the Land of Israel is not happening. If only Israel had just a fraction of this world support when she was born in 1948.
So, what is happening? Clearly, Israel's political "leaders" and traditional elites no longer possess the necessary belief and sense of direction that their predecessors had even a few decades ago. We are witnessing the rapid disappearance of what has been called "secular Zionism" - that is, a Jewish state minus traditional Judaism.
Without the enthusiastic and unapologetic links to a Jewish past that no other people can boast, there is no future for a Jewish state. And that seems to suit many of Israel's secular "post-Zionist" elite just fine. Post-Zionist, indeed. Without the banner of Judaism, it is becoming clear that the Star of David on the flag may as well be any line and colors on a hundred and fifty flags of the "world community" - which really is the political and cultural wish of these former Zionists. The Land of Israel is just a piece of real estate, as one of Israel's leaders declared. But he forgot to ask permission from our grandparents and grandchildren before disowning it in our collective name. He did not succeed in giving it away, either; no matter how hard he tried.
A few years ago, when a terrorist leader was beginning to lose all hope as he languished in an Israeli prison, his spirits were suddenly boosted. He observed his Israeli guard eating bread on Passover. When he asked the guard why he wasn't eating matzah, the guard laughed and said that he wasn't bound by silly old traditions. He is "modern." The terrorist was able then to assure his inmates, "We will win after all. We respect and love our past, so we have a future, and we will win!"
The conflict is not over land. "Land for peace" has been given, and more was offered. It brought only more terror and more contempt. Or rather, first contempt and then ever-increasing terror. No, it is about who really believes he is right. It is about who really believes.
Believing Jews know that our history shows us that God has not forsaken His people and His promise. We know that in the period before Redemption, events will move at an alarming pace and it will not be an easy ride. It will be a time when "the nations and Judah (some Jews) will come up against Jerusalem." (Zacharia,12) When it is all over, though, "nations will not lift their swords against one another and the word of God will go forth from Jerusalem."(Isaiah 2)
There is an old Yiddish expression: "Man plans and God laughs." But our leaders are a "stiff-necked people," and it would seem some are still very busy with their plans.