Lessons from the “flotilla” incident: Teach your children well
By Rabbi Yitzchok Adler
As a Jew, this past week has been one of the most painful in recent memory. Not only was Israel trapped in a no-win diplomatic corner, but its efforts to defend its national integrity were condemned. My ears are still ringing, from the riotous protests in European and Islamic capitals to the sound of silence emanating from Washington. So strong was the backlash that YouTube talked of removing from its website the videos of Israeli commandos defending themselves from attack. Most international news agencies failed to report about the numbers of Palestinian sympathizers traveling internationally without passports or legal identification. They also failed to report about the weapons on the boats of the freedom flotilla or about the huge sums of money intended to be smuggled into Gaza. If there was any doubt in my mind before, there is no longer any doubt that anti-Israel passions are the new anti-Semitism.
Reading the reports on almost every news-carrying website is like reading the indictment of the ten misguided scouts of last week’s parsha. Every possible misinterpretation and self serving diatribe is committed to the undoing of the dream that waited centuries to be realized. Only a small vocal minority has the courage to tell the truth; and Jews who defend Israel are discounted as being biased. When Joshua and Calev proclaimed, “tova h’aretz m’od m’od – the land is indeed very good”, who listened? When Israel’s prime minister and policy makers declare that Israel had no good choices, and that it did its best to diffuse a crisis waiting to happen, not one world capital stopped its vitriolic rhetoric long enough to listen and consider the possibility of Israel’s truthfulness.
We are living in an era when it is in vogue to define truth as a variable, and when the more powerful are presumed guilty until proven innocent. That is one possible reason why Israel’s defense of its blockade around the Hamas controlled Gaza region has been branded as “state sponsored terrorism”. The Secretary General of the United Nations has called for an investigation. Yet, even before the investigative team could be assembled, Ban Ki-moon declared “This tragedy only highlights the serious underlying problem. The long-running closure imposed on the Gaza Strip is … wrong.” He went on to proclaim that the problem was all the fault of Israel, as if to suggest that the organizers of the flotilla were totally without blame or accountability.
There is an age old custom recorded in Talmud. When a Jew, or Jews, feel at risk or in trouble, the recommendation is to say “Shema” – “Hear O Israel. The Lord is our God; the Lord is One”. The intent of the custom is not about some magical belief in the power of the mumbled utterance, it is about recalling the timeless message contained in the verses – “V’shinantam l’vanecha v’dibarta bam – and you shall teach them to your children and you shall talk about them; b’shivtecha b’veitecha uv’lectecha baderech – when you are sitting at home and when you are walking on the byways; uv’shachbecha uv’kumecha – when you lay down and when you arise.” The imperative is upon parents to teach their children about Torah and the truthfulness of its way. The work begins at home. Families need to talk about the current events and not accept shallow, short-sighted media sound bites as authoritative or accurate. It is no longer good enough to ask our children to switch the channel from MTV or VH1 to a major news reporting network; it is no longer adequate to outsource the education of our next generation to cable outlets and Internet portals dishing out single paragraph analyses. Jewish children need to know the story of our intergenerational history, and they need to hear it from us. It is incumbent upon parents, teachers and community leaders to tell the stories that link the past with the present, for the current generation of elders to teach the next generation about the history, the travails and the successes of our people. If we will not do the teaching, if we do not tell the story, the vacuum will be filled by those who are less informed and by those whose perspectives have been hijacked by politics and partiality.
It might be exceedingly difficult to tell our children that anti-Semitism is a reality and an existential threat, but hiding the truth does not change the reality. Protecting our children from the facts does little, if anything, to prepare them for the future. Each child, according to age and capacity to understand, has a right and a need to know the truth. Anti-Israel politics is the new anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adler is spiritual leader of Beth David Synagogue in West Hartford.
KOLOT is an ongoing feature of the Jewish Ledger in which readers are invited to submit original work on a topic of their choosing. Inquiries and/or submissions should be sent to Judie Jacobson at firstname.lastname@example.org.