Hiding in plain sight

The continuity of the Jewish people is my proof of G-d's existence.

Douglas Altabef

Judaism Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Hakiron at Naale
Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Hakiron at Naale

From the time I was a fairly young boy, I had an intuitive sense that there was something special about being Jewish. We were this small people, singled out (mostly in a negative way), with distinctive traditions.

As I matured, my thinking evolved into a conviction that it was the continuing existence of the Jewish People that demonstrated the involvement of a Higher Power in the affairs of man. As I developed a life-long fascination with Judaism and Jewish history, philosophy, values and tradition, it became more apparent to me that Jewish continuity was solely the result of Divine Providence.

For me, God has manifested His Presence in the world through His adherence to His covenant with the Jewish People.

Now, before we get a swell head about this, let’s look at it for what I think it really means. For His reasons, God decided to create a binding, non-breakable, eternal covenant with Abraham, and through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jacob’s sons.

We were chosen because of their righteousness, and God’s love for them. Our own righteousness is often highly in question, which is made clear to us on ample occasions by Moses and other great prophets.

Furthermore, we have a mission to accomplish, and that is to bear witness to God’s sovereignty over the universe, His involvement with our lives, and to reflect, through our performance of mitzvot, His laws, commandments and teachings.

The Covenant is a two-way street. We have remained faithful to God, and He, has remained faithful to us, the Jewish People. Like many a successfully enduring marriage, it has often been a rocky ride, one which has often left us questioning whether we are in a unilateral relationship, or no relationship at all.

I think it is important to differentiate between the idea of the Jewish People and that of individual Jews. I believe that God’s covenantal loyalty is to the Jewish People, to the collective of people, beliefs and traditions who by their example and practice, whether deliberately or intuitively, have continued to validate and adhere to the Covenant with Him.

I know no better than anyone why God has hidden His Face at critical times, why He has permitted the good to be punished, and why He countenances so much evil in the world. We are told that we are to be held accountable for our sins, precisely because of our relationship with God (which has led to the famous line, that next time, God should choose someone else).

I do know that when I read Moses’s blood curdling admonitions, as to what will befall the Israelites if they stray from God’s commandments and pursue false gods, I am reading a graphic summary of Jewish history. I do note that in these passages, there is no distinction among individuals, righteous or sinful; it is the story of the collective, of the Jewish People.

The prophetic utterances that we will be punished, and punished severely, but never “utterly destroyed,” has always struck me as a bit gratuitous, like “gee, thanks,” but there it is.

We can focus on the tempestuousness, the willingness to hold us accountable, or we can focus on the reality of a relationship that would entail such strong feelings and intense emotions. I choose to focus on the latter, largely because I believe that we are living in a time when He, for His reasons, has chosen to extend His mercies and His Providence to us.

One cannot look at the story of the return of the Jewish People to our homeland, and not see this Providence at work.

Whether it was in the “against all odds” success of the Zionist movement leading up to the founding of the State, the decision of world leaders to sanction the State’s creation, the “against all conventional wisdom” military success of our Army, the a-historical ingathering of exiles, and the emergence of an economy that has not only provided unexpected domestic prosperity, but also life-saving benefit to millions around the world, one would have to be willingly obtuse not to see God’s Providence at work.

These are difficult times for the Jewish People. We are faced with a crisis of identification, confidence, faith, and awareness among our brethren in much of the Western world, particularly in the US.

“Losing” any Jew is painful, but the Jewish People persists. I see in my garden, how fruit trees lose branches, often significant ones, yet the tree continues to thrive. So it is with us.

I believe that the key for the continued engagement of individual Jews is through the prism of the Jewish People, the mindsight that we, and they, are part of this extraordinary saga, in which we, as Jews, as partners to God, can each play a role in bringing His light to the world.

As 5779 begins I am filled with pride at being part of a People whose very existence is the living proof of God’s very existence. May I and we be worthy of that partnership in the coming year, and may it be a year in which we make Him proud.

Douglas Altabef is the Chairman of the Board of Im Tirtzu, and a Director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at dougaltabef@gmail.com.