Tuesday, Jun 18, 2024

Behold a Nation

Time and again, she was disappointed, feeling betrayed and disillusioned. How, she wondered, could this possibly be? How could the people who she thought were her comrades turn their backs on her and her people when she needed them the most? What happened to the old saying, “A friend in need is a friend indeed”?

Her name was Golda Meir, former schoolteacher, kibbutznik, a leading figure in the Israel Labor Movement, and now prime minister of Israel. She was a staunch Zionist and fervently believed that socialism would cure the world of all its ills and be a boon for the Zionists, who were essentially socialists with Jewish-sounding names.

She spent much of her time in the committee rooms of the Soviet International, the worldwide alliance of socialist and labor parties, where she was very active. But with all the camaraderie and talk of a utopian world at these gatherings, when the chips were down and the State of Israel was in need of support from these so-called friends, there was none forthcoming.

During the years of 1972-73, when the euphoria of the lightning victory of the Six Day War of 1967 had dissipated, there was a proliferation of Arab terrorism against Israel and Jewish targets throughout Western Europe. A Belgian plane headed for Israel was hijacked, eleven Israeli athletes were murdered at the Olympics in Munich, and numerous planned attacks against El Al offices in various places were foiled.

And then, a train carrying Jews from communist Russia going to Israel via Vienna was hijacked by two Arab terrorists at a railroad crossing in Austria. Seven Jews were taken hostage, among them a seventy-three-year-old man, an ailing woman, and a three-year-old child. The terrorists announced an ultimatum that unless the Austrian government immediately closed down Schoenau, the Jewish Agency’s processing center for Jews going to Israel, not only would the hostages be killed, but Austria itself would become a target of attacks.

The Austrian cabinet, led by Bruno Kreisky, both a Jew and a socialist, convened hastily and gave in to the terrorists’ demands. Schoenau was closed down and the terrorists were allowed to escape to Libya. The entire Arab world rejoiced at this victory and Prime Minister Meir was beside herself with disbelief. Israel, sensing a lack of support from other nations, felt all alone. And now a Jewish socialist denying the possibility of freedom for Jews fleeing Russia was something she could not fathom. She had a bitter confrontation with Kreisky over this matter and left shaking her head in disbelief how a Jew and a fellow socialist could be so apathetic to the plight of these poor Jews.

Then came the shock of the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The State of Israel received ample warning signals of an impending war, but because of overconfidence, they didn’t take them seriously. They were unprepared for the attack by both Egypt and Syria simultaneously on Yom Kippur. Reservists ran out of shul in their talleisim, headed for the front. After the initial shock, with rachamei Shomayim and courageous fighting, the Israeli forces surrounded the enemy and were capable of landing a knockout blow if not for the intervention of the U.S. and Russia. What began as an embarrassing retreat ended in an almost total rout of the enemy and humiliation of their patron, the Soviet Union. But this came with the initial painful loss of Jewish lives and was a major moral victory for the Arabs.

There were calls from the people for her to resign as prime minister. She was furious at her fellow socialists, leaders of the European governments who refused to allow Israeli aircraft to land and refuel in their territories as part of an airlift to replenish the crippling Israeli losses. So she called Willy Brandt, chancellor of West Germany and a highly respected leader of the Socialist International, to ask for a meeting of the organization.

The meeting took place a short while later and was attended by all the heads of the socialist parties. Golda, having requested the meeting, was the first to get up to speak. She was about to face a moment of truth. Were her beliefs and hopes based on reality or were they merely a fantasy? Was the Jewish state a rightful member of the socialist fraternity or was it considered the odd state out of the family of nations?

She got up and, instead of delivering her prepared speech, spoke off the cuff and straight from the heart. She said to the delegates, “I just want to understand truly, in light of what I have told you, what socialism is really all about today. Here you are, all of you. Not one inch of territory was put at our disposal for refueling the planes that saved us from destruction… You know us and who we are. We are all old comrades, long-standing friends. What do you think? On what grounds did you make your decisions not to let these planes refuel? I know that we are only one tiny Jewish nation and that there are over twenty Arab states with vast oil interests. But what I want to know from you today is whether these things are deciding factors in socialist thinking too.”

One of Mrs. Meir’s pet projects was to lend a helping hand to African states that had recently gained their independence. She set up a new division, the Department of International Cooperation, to send thousands of Israeli experts of every sort: scientists, doctors, engineers, teachers, agronomists, and irrigation experts. She said, “This is first and foremost a matter of principle, of ideology, of my social beliefs, of my Labor Zionist faith.” And indeed, the Israelis were very successful in this endeavor.

However, because of the war, the entire assistance enterprise collapsed. Under pressure, African leaders severed diplomatic ties with Israel, some even calling Mrs. Meir a war criminal. How’s that for hakoras hatov? “I called my lovers but they deceived me” (Eicha 1:19). Believe it or not, despite all of these disappointments, Mrs. Meir believed wholeheartedly that her country’s overtures to the nations of the world would eventually get them accepted into the international fraternity (adapted from The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner).

These memoirs of Yehuda Avner, speechwriter and aid to four prime ministers, came to mind a few weeks ago during the Palestinian rioting at the Gaza border. Every time I heard the news on CBS, it felt like a sharp object jutting into my side. Over and over again, they never failed to report the death toll of “innocent” Palestinians who were being brutalized by the Israeli oppressors. What they failed to report were the leaflets that Israelis dropped on Gaza warning the people not to riot, and that Hamas leaders egged on their people to come to the border, knowing full well that there would be casualties to be used for their own propaganda. They omitted the fact that fifty of the sixty dead were known terrorists and that the Israelis took special precautions in limiting bloodshed as much as possible. They ignored that the Israelis shot real bullets only when rubber bullets and water cannons could not do the job. How would any other country react to people that were charging in to break through their border and create havoc?

It was heartening to hear the American ambassador to the U.N, Nikki Haley, staunchly defend the Israelis. It was the kind of passionate defense we haven’t heard by American representatives in a while. But what is baffling is the stance taken by many of the countries there, a number of them who benefit from Israeli generosity in sharing their knowhow with them. How can they be so blind as not to see the stark differences between the two sides? The Israelis, who are a flourishing society in finance, technology and the sciences, and who have contributed so much to the world and are people of law and order, want nothing more than peace, as opposed to the Palestinians, whose contributions to the world are nil and who promote hatred and death.

But we, who have the Torah, know the answer to this. It is a posuk in this week’s sedrah expressed by Bilam Harasha, himself a hater of Jews. He said about our holy people, “Behold it is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations” (Bamidbar 23:8). We have experienced this throughout the generations in golus – evil decrees, blood libels, exile, and isolations, with hardly anyone coming to our defense. And even today, in modern times, with a world more attuned to social justice, we remain a nation apart.

Rav Yeruchem Levovitz, the mashgiach of Mir, says that the hatred of the umos haolam toward Klal Yisroel is one of the great secrets of the briah. It manifests itself in ways that defy any logic or reason. The blood libels and other false accusations that were launched against us had no basis whatsoever. Yet they were accepted and even invented by their intellectuals and their elites. One of their claims is that Jews rule the governments and are instrumental in all decisions. According to them, we are also responsible for all the wars in the world. They say that we would like to destroy all of the nations and make other ridiculous claims.

Because we are used to these nonsensical arguments, we don’t pay much attention to them. But if we give it some thought, we will recognize that here lies one of the great wonders in our emunah. Beneath their so-called fears, there is something much deeper, something associated with the spiritual world. The essence of these fears is the dread that the forces of tumah have for the forces of Hashem. And the greater our level of kedusha gets, the greater the hatred for Klal Yisroel gets.

It has been documented that the Nazis ym”sh were focused on destroying Warsaw and other places where the “Talmudic” Yidden were concentrated. They represented the forces of tumah and strived to obliterate kedusha. Rav Yeruchem’s words were said over eighty years ago, yet they ring true to this day.

On an earthlier level, the seforim say that this natural isolation that we face is the greatest blessing for us, for it reminds us that we are different than all the other nations. That we’re unique. For unlike most of the world’s inhabitants who have made their purpose in life to engage in physical pursuits, we are a heavenly people. We are meant to live our lives for the purpose of bonding with Hashem. To us, this world is only temporary and we will merit to live in an enjoyable eternal world of Gan Eden. Our reality is in drastic conflict with the rest of the world, much like our ancestor Avrohom Avinu, who stood up against the idolaters of his day. Consequently, we can never be accepted by the family of nations, nor should we embrace their way of life.

It is also a reminder to us that we have no friends to count on, no other people to help us. We only have Hakadosh Boruch Hu to lean on. Our only help can come from Hashem and only by our focusing our efforts on drawing close to Him.

In the eighteenth century, the terrible poverty and the hardships that Jews faced forced them to turn to new avenues of hope. In the words of Rabbi Berel Wein, “Whereas Western European Jewry turned to the outside world for meaning and purpose, Eastern European Jewry, in the main, would turn inward, finding new hope and strength in preserving its ancient traditions and beliefs, but in a revolutionary and vibrant fashion” (Triumph of Survival, page 86). This brought about the founding of yeshivos, chassidus, and the Mussar Movement, as opposed to the Haskalah, Zionism, and communism. How different are the results of these attitudes…

We continue to flourish as a nation apart, maintaining our pure identity. We will survive the difficulties with the help of Hashem until the day of redemption, when all will recognize Hashem and His great nation.



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