As the 5775 Jewish High Holiday season winds downs, as those of us with delayed work projects gear up to catch up, this period feels like it is sputtering to a close rather than building to a spiritual climax. It often seems that both Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah should be entered in the Silly Holiday Derby. The pointlessness of Shmini Atzeret, an eighth day tagged onto Sukkot, after the lulav-crashing intensity of Hoshanna Rabba, has launched a thousand sermons, and, it seems, a thousand different rationales. I remain unconvinced. Do we really need another day off with more burdensome prayers, heavy meals and leaden sermons? And, after the kind of year we had, who is really having a Simchat Torah, any kind of rejoicing with the Torah?
Last week, while visiting friends who had CNN on in the background, I half-watched for about two hours. CNN’s reporting was obsessive, speculative, hysterical, sensational, and sadly lacking in context. The news show offered an endless loop, reporting the same story over and over again. We saw the same few images, the same phrases, the same news-crumbs recycled every few minutes again and again. Viewers landed mid-story, at its most inflammatory juncture, without understanding the context. At one point, introducing a new image, the anchor admitted she had no idea what she was reporting, saying, “Whether or not that is Michael Brown we just don’t know.”
In these pages, Daniel May’s “What Would George Orwell Say About the Gaza War?” used totalitarianism’s great enemy to criticize democratic Israel’s justified struggle against totalitarian Hamas. May’s argument, misreading Israel’s self-defense justification, and echoing Hamas’s propaganda points, peppered with clever quotations from George Orwell, was itself Orwellian.
Every soldier killed, each rocket fired, every tunnel uncovered, each detail of Hamas’s planned Rosh Hashanah swarming of Israeli civilians from the tunnels revealed, solidifies Israel’s anti-Hamas consensus. Most Israelis, from right to left, from ultra-orthodox to ultra-atheist, support Israel’s actions in this “ein breira” no choice war against an evil entity seeking our destruction. Give Hamas’s terrorists credit for honesty – their charter advocates exterminating Israel – and the Jews. And “Thanks” to these aspiring mass murderers, Israelis have not been so united in a long time.
Two months ago, world leaders worried about the more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. Since then, a more outrageous mass crime has occurred in the Middle East. The radical totalitarian group Hamas is holding nearly 700,000 Gazan children, another 900,000 adults — and much of the world — hostage, with lethal results.
David Azrieli, Israel’s master-builder, has died at the age of 92, surrounded by his loving family. A giant of a man, whose spirit was as grand and dazzling as those three eponymous towers which now dominate the Tel Aviv skyline, David was a passionate Zionist, whose business – and love for the land — grew with the State. His story is Israel’s story, a redemptive tale of building an altneuland, an old new land, as sleek and modern as many but uniquely soulful and traditional. The hard-charging, ever-modernizing, entrepreneurial developer who brought the indoor mall to Israel – and coined the term for it, kanyon – was also an old-fashioned softie and family man who enjoyed quoting Jewish texts as an old melamed, collected Jewish ritual objects along with Israeli art, and melted with the rest of us whenever someone started singing those old-fashioned, perpetually-innocent chalutzic songs from the forties and fifties.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014 was yet another oxymoronic pushme-pullyou day that seems as anomalous yet ubiquitous in modern Israel as the brutal summer sun and the year-round high-tech and pharma miracles. Israelis were in double-mourning: still reeling from the evil outsiders who murdered three innocent Israeli teenagers; now horrified that some fellow Israelis responded with an equally evil revenge killing. Both events transcended the usual political battle-lines. Just as Israelis, left to right, embraced the Israeli kids as their own, Israelis, left to right, repudiated the barbaric revenge-murderers. Israelis were worried, watching Hamas’s escalating rocket barrage. But Israelis were also determined, to continue living life fully and contributing to the world creatively, profoundly.
I recently led a periodic outside review of the Young Judaea Year Course, the flagship gap-year non-yeshiva program for American teenagers. I discovered a striking but not surprising anomaly. Although most participants describe this year between high school and college as a “miracle,” “magical,” the best year of my life,” few American Jews bother attending. Only 400 to 600 non-Orthodox American Jews per year choose to spend a year living in Israel after high school. With all the anxiety about Israel’s standing on college campuses and the next generation’s Jewish identity, parents are overlooking an obvious solution to the twin problems.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent trip to Israel was triumphal. At a time when Israelis frequently feel criticized, boycotted, abandoned, delegitimized, he represented the silent majority of citizens in the world’s major democracies who not only accept Israel’s right to exist, but cherish Israel’s contribution to the world.
When running for president in 2008, Barack Obama infuriated both Bill and Hillary Clinton by saying he dreamed of being a transformational leader like Ronald Reagan — and unlike Bill Clinton. Insulted by this challenge to their legacy, the Clintons accused their opponent of endorsing Reagan’s policies, when Obama was assessing impact not ideology. Indeed, Obama hopes to make as big a presidential footprint as the 40th American president, who was born 103 years ago today on 6 February 1911. Yet, as California celebrates “Ronald Reagan Day,” and as Barack Obama begins his sixth year in office, even Obama’s supporters would have to admit that the Democrat from Illinois who was born in Hawaii does not measure up to the Republican from California who was born in Illinois — at least so far.