Before You Destroy My House

Gershon Perlman,

לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
Gershon Perlman
Raised in a secular environment in the USA until as a university student Gershon Perlman left everything behind in the 1970s to become an observant Jew living in Israel. He is a 23 year veteran of Gush Katif has raised a family and works as an ESL teacher. He has unique and deep insights in matters of Israel and the Jewish People.

“Before you destroy my house, I want one more blessing to be said in my home and I want that blessing to come from you. Is that OK?” I asked the officer with the rehearsed empathetic look on his face. “OK” the captain responded. I sent my son to pour him a cold cup of Coke, the refrigerator like the rest of the household appliances were still present and functioning three days after the dead-line for leaving Gush Katif voluntarily.

            Matanya my son returned to the living-room and handed the officer his Coke with the other three soldiers dolefully looking on and after a pause of expectation, the captain finally asked “what is the blessing.” Taking the cue, Matanya responded in Hebrew:

Baruch atah [HaShem], Elo-heinu Melech Ha’Olam shehakol nihiyah bed'varo.

“Blessed are You, [The Name] our G‑d, King of the universe, by Whose word all things came to be.”

Not allowed to use G-d’s name in vain, my son said “The Name” in its stead. The complying but wholly adrift officer repeated verbatim after him, this went on twice more, until I told Matanya, “pour yourself a cup and say the actual blessing (including G-d’s name).”

The captain at last got it right, but it was only when I asked him his name, that I at last understood the tragedy that played itself out during that year and a half struggle for Gush Katif. Baruch - Blessed was the name of the Israeli officer who did not know the simplest, the most basic blessing a Jew can utter over the most mundane of foods.

Eight thousand Jews were exiled from their homes that week, their communities destroyed, but the tragedy that enabled it was Baruch. No non-religious parent would have called his son Baruch unless it was after a grandfather or other relative who was forced to give up his soul during the Holocaust. Two generations later Baruch was sent to notify Jews that because they are Jews they must leave their homes; homes built on barren sand dunes that had lay vacant for centuries, but finally reclaimed and redeemed by Jewish pioneers, who turned the area into an oasis of prosperity.  

The popular maxim during that year and a half campaign to save Gush Katif was: “a Jew doesn’t exile a Jew.” Was Baruch a Jew? Absolutely, but he was raised an Israeli and an Israeli obviously responds differently, he entertains alternate concepts; he adheres to a surrogate conscience. An Israeli exiled a Jew.

Today over fourteen years later, we are in the aftermath of elections; elections ostensibly over the soul of the State of Israel. The non-religious extremists have gone to war against the overly religious nature of the country. Their battle-cry is “no to a country of religious law.” Feeling threatened by anything that smacks of Judaism, they created a straw-man, a punching-bag to blame all that might fill the vacuum of their hollow fantasies of denied imagined freedoms.

It is not a particularly Israeli thing; the entire Western World seems to be going through the throws of escaping supposed shackles, like many adolescents who just want to reject everything, because they blame everything for their own personal perplexities. Ousting ballast that keeps you from flying high and reaching new heights sounds enticing, but quickly enough people, societies and countries as well learn that life doesn’t exist in a stratospheric vacuum. Devoid of tradition, they will grab onto someone or something to land their hot-air-balloon. The fix is usually hate; hating people, hating threatening ideas, hating others’ way of life even hating good if it is the wrong kind of good. As Jews, we stand before a choice; become part of the blind who follow the blind or become what we are intended to become.  

Israel can be either a state of Jews, or a Jewish state. As the former, it can be a country like all countries, a Hebrew speaking Portugal. It can claim legitimacy from the Holocaust and legacy from the victory of the Six-Day-War. It can call for an “Israeli Shabbat,” as a substitute for a halachically (lawfully) Jewish one, like the head of the now largest political party did in a pre-election interview, supporting the convoluted idea that whatever a Jew does is Judaism.

Israel can also be a Jewish State; a state based on its roots, and not its branches or worse, leaves that have dried up and withered like any other seasonal idea. A Jewish state’s legitimacy comes from Torah and legacy from the keeping of that Torah. Israel can certainly allow new branches of ideas to grow, but not without recognizing that its dependence is on its deepest roots.

The Jewish dream of Israel is a nation of believers who want to earn the right to be governed by Jewish law, a nation whose goal is to set the standard as Jews and be a light unto the nations, not a pale reflection of those who expect from us - so much.