By Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs
The beauty of the huge sun sinking quickly into the Mediterranean makes the 10,000 miles I flew to get here worthwhile. I have seen few sights as beautiful.
I am not here often, but each time I am, I am at home. My people have laid claim to this land for 4,000 years, so let no one tell us we have no right to be here. After one third of all the Jews in the world – and two-thirds of the Jews of Europe – perished in the Shoah, let no one say we have no right to be here. Had there been an Israel in 1935, millions of Jews who died would have lived.
After World War I, more than 20 Arab Islamic states – in many of which a Jew cannot legally set foot – sprung up. So, let no one say that we Jews, who also lived under Ottoman rule, have no right to one – tinier than almost all of them – Jewish state as well. And when we discuss, as we should, Palestinian refugees displaced by the creation of Israel, let us also discuss the roughly equal number of Jewish refugees expelled from Arab lands where once Jews felt welcome and at home.
I often find myself critical of policies of Israel’s current government, wishing and hoping that the government would do more to bring about peace with our Arab neighbors, but so many of Israel’s critics ignore the reality under which this tiny country labors. When, from the time they are old enough to think, the enemy teaches its children to hate Israel, to hate Jews, and to consider martyrdom in killing Jews in Israel a glorious death, what is Israel to do?
There is much to criticize in Israel, just as there is much to criticize in the United States. Yet for 4,000 uninterrupted years our people has lived on or longed to live on this land and prayed for peace with its neighbors.
The fiery sun sets quickly to the west over the ancient city of Jaffa and sinks into the eternal Mediterranean. Just as the poet of Genesis’ creation story wrote, a much smaller but exquisitely beautiful crescent moon takes its place to stand sentry over the night. Just east of the sea the modern city of Tel Aviv bustles. The contrast between the ancient and modern tableaus that exist side by side is stark indeed.
Contemporary Israel is by no means an idyllic Bible land. But it is the home of my people. Let no one say we have no right to be here. By forging ancient values with modern technology, let Israel find a way to live in peace with the enemies who continually reiterate their vow to destroy us.
Israel’s history is filled with many acts of military heroism, but our sages taught (Avot de Rabbi Natan, 23:1): “Who is the hero of heroes? One who turns an enemy into a friend!”
For the sake of our children, grandchildren and generations to come may Israel and its neighbors soon produce those types of heroes!
Rabbi Stephen Fuchs is former president of the World Union of Progressive Judaism and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel, West Hartford. He is the author of What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives and ToraHighlights.