To be a Jew is to be a dreamer – to believe in the words of David Ben Gurion – “the difficult we can do – the impossible takes a little longer”…
The Dreams of My Grandfather
Shabbat Shalom, before I begin I’d like to recount a little history – and thank Rabbi Siegel for opening the doors of Anshe Emet to Ana and I over 25 years ago. I hadn’t stepped into a synagogue for a long time and when I stepped back in, initially it was to get married / I wasn’t planning to stay / but for some reason / we stayed and I began a journey back to my roots. I had no idea where my new interest came, but it did and recently I was given an insight.
Growing up I had a very close relationship with one of my uncles, and when he passed away 8 years ago he left a box of pictures. I took some family photos, my cousin took some photos, and that was that – or so I thought. About 6 months ago I received a letter and some pictures with a note on one specific picture that my cousin in San Francisco thought I would find interesting. My family on my father’s side had come from Germany in the late 1800’s and had settled on Chicago’s West side. The picture showed the interior of my grandfather’s store at 1245 West Taylor Street taken in 1912. The store sold watches, jewelry and eye glasses and was laid out in a u-shape. Behind the glass cases stood my grandmother and the employees in one area and my grandfather Nathan Ben Isaac Goodman Ha’Cohen on the other side and on the wall behind my grandfather was a calendar with a large picture of a man proudly displayed for every customer to see. Now remember this was 1912 and that man on the calendar was Theodor Herzel. My Dad was a tough Jew who enlisted in the Marines in 1942 – something few Jews did - and growing up I had been told my grandfather was also one tough Jew… but if I hadn’t stepped into Anshe Emet 25 years ago – that picture on the wall would have been just that – just a picture. So, to Rabbi Siegel – in absentia - it has been an interesting 25 years – and I look forward to the next 25 and again want to thank you in some small way / for helping me to reconnect to my roots and to my grandfather.
The British author John Fowles once wrote – “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of our exploring shall be / to arrive at the place we started / and know that place for the first time”. Being a Jew has been not just a journey but an adventure.
As has been the custom – so as not to drive away new members or old / the views that I am about to express are not necessarily the views of the rabbis of Anshe Emet or the synagogue board but how I see today’s challenges in our Jewish world thru my understanding of the words of our Torah. Differences of opinion have been the Jewish way long before the days of Hillel and Shamai… and I’ve always been a fan of Shamai!
Texas Real Estate
Not long ago two Texans and a Jew sat together at a real estate convention.
As they talked about their holdings the first Texan said I own 30,000 acres and it takes me half a day to ride from one side of my ranch to the other. It’s beautiful and I love to just sit out and watch the clouds go by. I call my spread the Silver Cloud Ranch.
The second Texan begins to smirk and says, well I own 50,000 acres and it takes me all day to drive across it. I have mountains and valleys and a lake where I can fish, fields where I can hunt and I can ride my horses all day long. I call my spread the Mountain View Ranch.
And then they turned to the Jew and asked him about his real estate holdings. A bit uncomfortable, he tells them that he owns about 300 acres, and with that the Texans break out into hoots and laughter and with a slap on the back one of them asks – and what do you call your cute little spread, boy? And the Jew answers – Downtown Dallas… and the laughter stopped. Our story has not often been about size but always has been about location, location, location.
The Torah Is About Going To The Land
In the Torah, it is clear, there is one overriding theme. For Abraham it was “leave your father’s house and go to the land”, the journey of a man and his family / and in the next four books it is Moses leaving the slavery of the Diaspora of Egypt and leading what would become the Jewish nation to the Promised Land.
Throughout the Book of Devarim and in parasha Re’eh this theme of land and location is again emphasized with the words, “For you are crossing the Jordan to come and possess the Land that Hashem your G-d gives you. You shall possess it and you shall settle it… (Deut. 11:31) For you are a holy people to Hashem your G-d and Hashem has chosen you for Himself to be a treasured people from among all the peoples on the face of the earth…”(Deut. 14:102) end quote.
It was the previous Pope – Pope John Paul the 2nd – who, while in Jerusalem, reminded the world that the land of Israel may be holy to the three monotheistic religions, but the land of Israel, was only given by G-d to the Jews. He understood who the Promised Land was promised to. Perhaps there will come a time when others in high places might also read their scriptures to understand the words of this wise Pope.
League of Nations, United Nations
As a Jew I believe as it is written in our Torah, that the Land of Israel was given to us by our G-d… and I don’t need any other confirmation.
But I know some Jews are uncomfortable with that and for them the fact is that there are international agreements that were ratified after World War I after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire / that not only legalize the presence of Jews within the 1948 borders, but also legalize Israel’s presence in what is today called Judea and Samaria or the West Bank. Those legally binding agreements – never abrogated - are the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine of 1920. These agreements created the legal basis for not just what was to become the historic and national homeland of the Jewish people, but also for the creation of many Muslim Arab states including Saudi Arabia / a gift to the Saud family to create a country that never existed prior to the declarations of the League of Nations. If it’s good enough to legitimize Saudi Arabia, it should be good enough for Israel.
Dividing the lands of the Ottoman Empire, 99% went to Muslim Arab tribes, 1% was left for the reconstitution of a Jewish homeland in Palestine – a regional name – included land on both sides of the Jordan River. In 1922, in blatant disregard of its obligations under the Palestine Mandate, Britain split off 75% of the Mandate and gave the land east of the Jordan River to Muslim Arabs for the creation of a country that never existed called Trans-Jordan. By Britain’s own declaration – after the split, Palestine, all the land west of the Jordan River was to be given to the Jews for its national homeland. 1/400th of the Ottoman land was given to the Jews. That was the first two-state solution.
When the United Nations became the successor to the League of Nations, it was bound to recognize all previous agreements. Yet it ignored the previous League of Nations’1920 obligation and on November 17, 1947, voted for a second partition of land which was to be the Jewish state while attempting to create a new Arab state on land west of the Jordan River – the second two state solution.
From 1948 to 1967, there was no outcry to create a homeland for the Palestinian Arab people… because they didn’t exist – the Arabs who lived in the West Bank were called Jordanians. In 1967, after winning the Six Day War, Israel moved the border back to the international agreed border of 1922. The two agreements of the League of Nations and the United Nations have never to this day been abrogated and, therefore, as we are now reading in Devarim – Joshua is about to cross the Jordan River to enter our promised land - from the river to the sea - so it has been since 1967… and so it shall remain.
One might say that a third two state solution was created when Israel left Gaza… to create the Muslim Arab terrorist state of Hamastan – that worked toward peace and reconciliation. And yet we have heard most recently of the need for a fourth two state solution! It was the late President of Egypt Anwar Sadat who stated, in a 1978 interview with columnist Sidney Zion z’l, “I’m certainly no Zionist but… if one looks at history… Jordan is Palestine… How come only the Jews don’t know that?”
As written in this week’s parasha Re’eh , and as was the case in 1948 and in 1967 “…when Hashem your G-d cuts down the nations… you shall settle the Land… for everything that is an abomination to Hashem… have they done for their gods… for even their sons and their daughters they have burned in the fire for their gods.” (Deut. 12:29-31) end quote… a foretelling of their blessed suicide bombers for Allah Akbar.
Myth of the Refugees
And yet it was a far left historian Benny Morris who debunked the myth of the “Palestinian refugees” when he found that in 1948 the Arabs / today’s so called Palestinians / left the areas that were designated for the Jewish homeland and only traveled as far as the Arab areas in what today is called the West Bank since none of the surrounding Arab countries allowed these people entry. They simply moved from the designated Jewish area of the partition to the Arab area later controlled after 1948 by Jordan. They never crossed a border. There was no need to since the Arab leaders had assured them that they would make short work of the Jews and return to the Jewish area. To confirm Morris’ revelation I went to the population figures of Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. If all these refugees crossed into these bordering countries / as has been alleged, / the populations of these adjacent countries would have increased significantly – but they didn’t. The largest number of Arabs / written of at the time / not as after the fact revisionist history / was according to our own Chicago Tribune reporter E. R. Norderer reporting from Palestine in May, 1948, was “about 150,000 Arabs left the Jewish areas...” end quote.
The creation of Israel was a big international story and there were many international reporters especially from Britain. There was no love lost between Britain and the Jews. If Jews were forcing Arabs out it would have made headlines in every British paper. But as reported in the book “Battleground” by Shmuel Katz, strangely no British paper reported anything about it. It was only our Chicago Tribune – run by a well known anti-Semite Colonel John McCormack / written by his hand picked prized international reporter / that printed anything about Arabs leaving and it says nothing about the Jews forcing the Arabs out. I have copies of the article for you to read if you’d like. If anyone is illegally occupying land, the truth is that today the Arabs of late called Palestinians are occupying land that was given to the Jews by the League of Nations, by its successor the United Nations and most importantly by our G-d! Take your choice but those are the facts.
Today there are 22 Muslim countries and in each of these countries Islam is the official religion. The Muslim countries long ago got rid of any vestiges of politically correct multiculturalism. One burqua fits all. In 1948, it was documented by the Jewish Agency that over 750,000 Jews were expelled from the lands of Islam and came home to Israel –and there was not a whisper of indignation or human rights abuses from the hypocrites at the UN. Was it racist for the Arab countries to have done that – not from the standpoint of race since both Jews and Muslims were all of Arab descent but as defined as aggressively separating peoples due to a differing culture and religion – of course it was racist! But lets be honest – is it racist to want a homogenous state… with a national identity.
There are few countries in the world today that have not themselves made similar arrangements. Japan for the Japanese, England for the English, Germany for the Germans, France for the Vichy French, Austria for latent neo-Nazis – it’s the natural way for societies to create a national identity in an otherwise chaotic world. Yet it is only tiny Israel for the Jews that is called racist. The fact is you cannot find a more racist, immoral or apartheid culture than you find in the theocratic stink holes of Islamic states - honor killings, beheadings, slave trading, honor rapes, suicide bombers looking for virgins – Sunnis slaughtering Shiites, Shiites slaughtering Sunnis… coupled with the Wahabbi hatred of all things non-Muslim. The President says we need to better understand Islam and on this I agree with him – we need to understand its depravity and have the courage to confront the reality.
For 2000 years, the Jews in Poland and the Jews in Yemen, the Jews in Ethiopia and the Jews in Russia dreamed a dream the dream of Shevat Zion – our return to Zion… I am truly astonished by the fact that a great great grandparent of mine actually stood at Sinai some 3300 years ago! We certainly are larger in perception than in numbers, and yet I love the fact that the world cannot get over its Jewish fixation. With all the killing fields in the world today, there is the United Nations, a beacon of the pathological, dedicated to the proposition that all intolerant, misogynistic, deranged, illiterate states are equally obsessed by Israel’s successes, in light of their own abysmal, decadent failures. The sad reality is / that today the Arabs and many Europeans fixated on their Jew hatred / no longer believe in their children’s future for they are still trapped in their grandfathers’ past hatreds…
A Light Unto the Nations
But what I believe the world truly wants from us Jews / “G-d’s treasured people” as it is written in this week’s parasha / and as we’ve heard so often pontificated by Rabbis across the spectrum… is for Israel and our people to be “a light unto the nations”. To be courageous and resolute and to be a beacon of truth in a world that has prostituted itself to ignorance and deranged hatred. Imagine for an Arab mother to have given birth, lovingly raised a son and then to encourage that son to blow himself up – can anything be so incredibly depraved. As Jews we are commanded to choose life. And it’s not by being a whiny schmattee dish rag, appeasing Jew-haters, or building monuments to our victimization – enough… If you haven’t noticed, our Holocaust museums, trophies to our victimization, haven’t done much to get the message across. In fact if you look at what is going on today – these museums seem to have only encouraged imitators.
Do we have to give up our land to the Arabs because Israel has so much land and the Arabs have so little? Do we have to beg the newest Pharaoh not to throw Jewish children into the Nile, that “natural growth” is something our people have a special right to because we seemed to have had 6 million of our brothers and sisters taken from us while the world stood silently by… and today again stands by as we see the threats from Iran .Do you believe Iran is serious?! No more beautiful eulogies over dead Jews – let them spew their vile, psychotic hatred over live Jews! It’s their problem!
And you know I keep hearing this nonsense about “painful prices Israel must pay”. As a people over the last 2000 years we’ve paid enough “painful prices” to be part of the not so civilized world. Last year Jews in Israel answered the Anti-Semites of the world and again chose life in a “natural growth” way / and for the third year in a row / set a new single year record – in a religious Zionist way - 156,000 Jewish babies were born. As we say - kol ha kavod and mazel tov! – And keep it up (no pun intended).
The words of Never Again did in fact emerge from the graveyards of Europe but Israel is an act of affirmation not despair, so when I recently heard the words of “Jerusalem must be re-divided…” from some enlightened representatives of the United States I thought back to the inauguration speech of Menachem Begin in 1977 / after being condemned for reconfirming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, “…Chutzpah, insolence – by what right does the United Nations dare tell us where the capital of Israel should be? Who arrogated (gave) them the right to tell us where the office of the Prime Minister of Israel should be! Did the founders of the proud American nation ask anyone’s permission before they declared Washington their capital? If Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel, what is – Petah Tikva? … What exactly is our crime? That the Knesset has the temerity to constitutionally declare Jerusalem as our capital unilaterally…We Jews did not choose Jerusalem… History chose Jerusalem. King David chose Jerusalem 3000 years ago, which is why Jerusalem reunited… is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and so it shall remain…” end quote.
And with regard to Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Begin replied 32 years ago, – “… I don’t need Arab recognition for… our right to exist. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Would it enter the mind of any Briton or Frenchman, Belgian or Dutchman, Russian or American to request for its people recognition of its right to exist…? We, the Jewish people, were granted our right to exist by the G-d of our fathers…4,000 years ago… The Jewish people have an historic eternal and inalienable right to exist in this land Eretz Yisrael, the land of our forefathers. Our Jewish state needs no American affirmation of our right to exist. Our Hebrew Bible established that right millennia ago, and never… did we ever abandon or forfeit that right…!” end quote.
Yet today the current American administration has asked Israel to “… engage in some serious self reflection” and seems to be espousing a discriminatory policy deciding where Jews in Israel can and cannot live – a segregation policy our country did away with long ago and this coming from a Black man. If Arabs are living in Israel, then why shouldn’t Jews have the same freedoms? There is nothing our people have to apologize for. Although not perfect, though I have heard of a Jew who walked on water, there are many Muslim leaders and clerics that need to “engage in some serious self reflection” and there are many Christians that have a lot of apologizing to do for not acting particularly Christian.
For 2,000 years our people tried to live peaceably all over the world, but there always came a time when a Pharaoh arose who knew not Joseph. With the recent outbreaks of Anti-Semitism throughout England, France, parts of the United States and in other enlightened cities of Europe, what American Jews should remember is: “Do not think that you will escape in the palace any more than the rest of the Jews. For if you persist in keeping silent, deliverance will come from another place while you and your father’s house shall perish / (isn’t this what happened in Europe?) and who knows whether it was just for such a time that you attained your royal position!” (Esther 4:12) When the confrontation comes, as it seems to be evolving, between this American President and the State of Israel, it will be time for American Jews to step forward unified with one voice / to make tshuva / and support unconditionally our State of Israel – American Jews didn’t step up during the Shoah – and building Holocaust Museums doesn’t assuage the guilt.
In Devarim, Moses has transferred his leadership to Joshua and Joshua is about to lead our ancestors across the Jordan and the towns we read about in our Tanach – aren’t Tel Aviv, Haifa, Herzliya or Peta Tikva – but the towns of Jericho, Shilo, Tekoa, Bet El, Hebron and Jerusalem. Abraham never walked the streets of Tel Aviv or Haifa, but we know that he certainly walked the length and breadth of the West Bank and lived and is buried in a place called Machpelah in the Jewish town of Hebron.
Our Love Story
Historically our Land of Israel has been conquered over 17 times by at least six empires and never once did any Christian or Muslim conqueror make Israel or Jerusalem the center of its theology.
No other people have been tied to the Land with such devotion that three times each day our people turn toward Jerusalem and pray to return. As a nation we have survived for nearly two thousand years while seemingly on the brink of total extinction, yet the announcement of our death has often been greatly exaggerated. Our people have been the victims of crusades, inquisitions, pogroms and holocausts yet we have survived against all the laws of history – “What is the secret of their immortality?” asked Mark Twain.
And it was just over 61 years ago, that the best friends of the Jews believed that this time there was no longer a chance for our people to survive / but our people not only survived Hitler and his all-too-willing collaborators… but our Jewish people had the chutzpah / just three short years after the Holocaust / to return to our homeland and begin a miraculous rebuilding for all the world to see. How goodly are thy tents of Microsoft, Intel and Motorola / O’Jacob / thy d welling places of Weizman Institutes, Technions and Hadassah Hospitals, O’Israel… Bill Gates and Warren Buffet were right when they said with their wallets that the futures of their businesses were tied to Israel. Not long after Google, Yahoo and AOL followed. The reestablishment of the State of Israel confronts all peoples of the world with the reality of our unique, eternal covenant with G-d, and with His land. The very existence of Israel and our people bears witness to a higher force at work… otherwise it makes no sense!
Every Jewish prayer for the last two thousand years was filled with our covenantal connection to the Land of Israel… G-d, may You rebuild Jerusalem in Your mercifulness. Or, Take pity, our G-d of Israel, on Jerusalem, Your city on Mount Zion…Or, May it be Your will, Oh G-d, to make us return to our land. The more distant the land was, the more fervently it came alive in our peoples’ hopes and prayers. The State of Israel was in fact reestablished not in 1948 but in the year 70C.E, the day after the Romans exiled us.
From our Birkat HaMazon, our grace after meals, we say, When the Lord brought us back to Zion it was like in a dream... then our mouths filled with laughter… and our tongues with ringing song! And the peoples of the world said look what their G-d did for them.
By the rivers of not just Babylon but Warsaw, Bialystok, Kiev, Paris, Vienna, Salonica, Cairo and Berlin – you name them – our people wept. How could we “sing the L-rd’s song” in a strange land – WE COULDN’T! Ki mi Tzion tetze Torah u’dvar Adonai mi Yerushalayim. From Zion came the Torah and the word of G-d from Jerusalem. No other people can make that claim.
Today the current administration of the United States has joined the United Nations in declaring that Jerusalem needs to be divided. Yet is there anything to discuss? To whom does Jerusalem belong? For the Christians, their pilgrimage is to Rome / For the Arabs, their pilgrimage is to Mecca / for the Jews, our pilgrimage has always been to Jerusalem. / From time immemorial, even in the writings of Christian missionaries, is it not true that Jerusalem was always referred to as the city of a Jew. Was it ever called the city of Titus, or the city of Saladin? And today, do the descendants of Titus or Saladin mourn and fast / as we just did / on the ninth of Av the destruction of the Temples? In this country the capital is Washington, D. C. and in Israel too the capital is called Jerusalem D.C. – David’s City!
When a Jewish boy is only eight days old, he is circumcised and the Jewish community wishes him all the good things in the world, but above all, they pray that he may ascent to the Land of Israel and visit the Temple on the three festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Succot. At eight days old he becomes connected to our tradition and becomes a Zionist.
When the child has grown up and is standing under the chuppah, in the very middle of the ceremony everything stops. The rabbi then places a glass on the floor and asks the bridegroom to break it as a sign of mourning. The young man vows never to forget Jerusalem. At the very moment of declaring his devotion and love for his bride, a moment of incredible joy and sanctity… it is still impossible to forget our longing for Jerusalem. This has been our custom for nearly two thousand years.
On Passover, the most celebrated Jewish holiday, we re-tell the story of the Exodus. But the Seder doesn’t end with the words next year in Chicago or New York but… Next Year in Jerusalem. On our holiest day Yom Kippur, as the book has been sealed and the sun has set… the shofar is sounded – the very first words we start the New Year with are the words, Le Shana Ha ba ah Yerushalayim.
And perhaps the most profound connection of the Jew to the Land is the tradition of burying the dead in Israel. Now some might argue that there are Jewish cemeteries all over the world, far away from the Land of Israel. Yet the tradition is to sprinkle into the grave some earth from the Land of Israel just before the burial is completed. While the tombstone may be outside Israel, the body is buried in the Land of Israel. And when a Jew mourns, the words of comfort are not “May you be comforted among the mourners of Chicago, New York or Los Angeles” but the words our people recite are – “May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” Do any other people attach their most profound life cycle events to the Land of Israel or our most special city of Jerusalem? (Adapted in part from Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo.)
And so it was that in 1630, a pilgrim by the name of John Winthrop eloquently spoke from the Gospel of Matthew of the shining city on the hill. Politicians in Washington have often used this vision of this shining city on the hill. For those who have been to Washington, D.C. you might ask where is the hill. But when John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan quoted Winthrop in wistful tones, it was not Washington, D.C. that Winthrop referred to, for the “shining city on the hill” that they quoted from Winthrop’s 1630 sermon was our city of Jerusalem.
Yet the words that Winthrop spoke may sound familiar – “For we must consider that we shall be a shining city on a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us so that if we deal falsely with our G-d in this work we have undertaken… we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world. (We shall open the mouths of our enemies who speak evil in the ways of G-d (and) we shall shame the faces of many of G-d’s worthy servants…) yet if we do not act we will be thrown out of the good land wither we are going… therefore let us choose life that we and our seed shall live, by cleaving to Him…” end quote.
Our responsibility to the people of the world is to answer our G-d’s call to be hazak ve’e’matz – be strong and courageous - To be “a light unto the nations” you must be willing to speak truth to power. Our story has defied the laws of history and in so doing given men the dreams of what they could aspire to become… our people have been to the mountain and we’ve seen the Promised Land, and… today our people are back – “free at last, free at last, thank G-d almighty, free at last”.
And so it was that an archeologist was digging in the Negev and came upon the body of a dead man. He called up the local museum curator and tells him that he found the body of a man who died of a heart attack 3,000 years ago. The curator, a bit skeptical, took the body and after weeks of investigation called the archeologist and confirmed that the body was indeed 3,000 years old and the man did in fact die of a heart attack but / he asked / how did you know? And the archeologist answered – when I found the body there was a note in his hand. It read “…10,000 shekels on Goliath”.
Never bet against our G-d for His ways are perfect, and His love for His people is eternal. “Hashem has blessed you in all that you do... He knows your way… and He has been with you on your journey” (Deut. 2:7) back to our homeland.
I have heard angels sing with joy amid the bustle on the sidewalks of Jerusalem as Shabbas approaches…To be a Jew is to be a dreamer – to believe in the words of David Ben Gurion – “the difficult we can do – the impossible takes a little longer”… Walking the streets of our Jerusalem, I often laugh, kvelling that on every doorpost to a restaurant, museum, disco, jewelry store, hair salon, Burger King or McDonalds – there is a mezuzah. Israel is a place where the streets are named for kings and rabbis, Biblical sites and great sages and hamburgers are called “meat burgers” – just to be on the safe side – a place where people argue and make love in an ancient language many scholars with expensive diplomas from elite Ivy League colleges believed was a dead language. Latin is truly a dead language, but the joy and beauty of Hebrew, like our people in our homeland – from the river to the sea – is very much alive. We are so very privileged to be Jews at a time in G-d’s mercy… He brought us back with an outstretched arm and cradles His people with love…
May we and our children, and our brothers and sisters in Israel be strengthened with much “natural growth” / more blessings than curses / truly united as one people with one destiny / Am Chosi B’Artzeinu / to be a free people in our own Land / with Jerusalem as our eternal undivided capital. Our G-d has always been there for us giving us His blessings of miraculous moments in 1948 and1967, of Entebbes and Osiraks – to make great technological discoveries, to cure medical mysteries and to put rockets into space. That is how you become a light unto the nations – that is how you tikum olam – repair the world – remembering in our heart Ki Mizion Te’tze Torah – u’dvar Adonai mi Yerushalayim.
To be a Jew is to remember and honor the courage of a lonely man named Abraham and the wisdom and love of a woman named Sarah who began our journey. To be a Jew is to stand tall and proud, with no need to apologize, to remember G-d’s special love for His treasured people… and to remember His promise “… and I will make of you a great nation… and I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you…” and so He has! Thank you, Zayde - Grandfather Nathan ben Isaac Ha’Cohen - for your gift of being a proud, tough, believing Jew.
Am Ysroal Chai!