Israelis are sticking to their routines – starting the pre-Passover scrubbing-and-food-shopping frenzy. But, after terrorists murdered 11 of ours, Jews and Druze, Arabs and Ukrainians, in eight days, we’re extra-wary. Civilians who have guns are packing. Our soldier-heroes and police-heroes are patrolling. And the rest of us, especially the security-forces’ parents, are praying.
Israel supporters living thousands of miles away may think they cannot help, but they can. Terrorism is a bloody mind game wherein psychological resilience helps quash the physical violence. When terrorists attack, Israelis often feel extra-vulnerable and lonely. So when terror strikes, Zionists everywhere can strike back too, sending the message “You are Never Alone” in multiple ways. Such global “chizuk ” (support) — showing that terrorism distances the evil-doers from their perverse goals — strengthens Israelis while demoralizing the terrorists.
Politically, there’s a clear pro-Israel agenda to champion: ensuring America’s ironclad support for Israel, orchestrating international pressure against Palestinian pray-to-slay policies, refuting the Big Red-Green Lies against Israel, and blocking the Iranian mullahs’ rush to go nuclear. Moreover, those who can afford post-Coronavirus overseas trips can start planning Israel visits, while young people can apply to Birthright and other Israel programs.
This week, however, offers more immediate, non-partisan, ways to support Israelis – with opportunities for symbolic and material expressions growing over the next six weeks.
As thousands of troops and police officers patrol every Israeli downtown, feed them! Pull out your credit card. Get online. Pick out your favorite dining establishment in your favorite Israeli city or town. Call and offer to pay for as many dinners and snacks for security personnel as you can afford. As thanks, just ask for occasional photos and videos recording the reactions, with permission to post online.
In 2015, when a spurt of stabbings hurt businesses in downtown Jerusalem, Shmarya Richler, a Montreal immigrant distributed free, yummy Muffin Boutique goodies to all security personnel. His generosity made matters worse for himself economically, but not spiritually, especially after others chimed in. One informal 24-hour fundraiser led by my friend Fran Kritz from Maryland’s Kemp Mill Synagogue (KMS), funded 300 meals alone. Others followed. The soldiers and police officers were dumbfounded.
Beyond, those personal initiatives, people can adopt police or army units through FIDF: Friends of the IDF, through the Michael Levin Base for Lone Soldiers, or through friends whose children serve. I know one family that sends fruit to their kid’s unit, whenever he is stuck on base for Shabbat, and bought all the soldiers matching jackets and kit bags to build morale.
Generosity is contagious. Once individuals, synagogues, schools, organizations, or groups of friends post grateful Israelis’ reaction, the waves of kindness will cascade, helping to break this terror wave.
Looking ahead, we’re now entering a high season for Zionist celebration, engagement, and activism.
On Seder night, every Jew should leave an empty seat for one of our recent martyrs. It could be Rabbi Moshe Kravitzky, the Chabad rabbi who ran a soup-kitchen for ten years in Beer Sheva – until a terrorist ran over him as he bicycled. It could be Shirel Aboukrat, the female border police officer, who immigrated from France – or her Druze partner Yazan Falah, who was also 19. If you really want to be Zionist and multicultural, honor Amir Khoury, the Christian-Arab motorcycle cop killed while killing the killer to protect ultra-Orthodox Jews – and Ukrainians — in B’nai Brak, at “Haredi” stronghold.
Attached is a reading many of us first recited 20 years ago, as terror menaced Israel, peaking with the infamous Seder Massacre at Netanya’s Park Hotel, which killed 30. Hearing Rabbi Seth Mandell describe the empty seat around the Mandell’s family Shabbat table since Palestinian terrorists murdered their 13-year-old son Koby in May, 2021, first inspired this idea. We can cope with an empty seat one or two nights in our lives – terror-survivors who have lost relatives face a lifetime of empty seats.
Your Seder can also be Zionized, using supplemental texts celebrating the Jews’ 75-year-old modern Exodus, thanks to Israel’s establishment, and the waves of immigration Israel has absorbed from Eastern and Western Europe, from Muslims lands and North Africa, from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, including hundreds of recent arrivals from Ukraine and Russia. Texts from my book “The Zionist Ideas,” keyed to moments in the Seder, can be found on my website www.giltroy.com and on the American Zionist Movement’s website. They range from: reading about Natan Sharansky’s release from the Gulag and arrival in Jerusalem; to Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s explanation that Jews are a “machaneh ” – an interconnected community of fate – and an “edah ” – a community of values envisioning a better life and a better world; to saying “Hallel,” praise the lord, with Golda Meir in 1958, celebrating Israel’s accomplishments after only ten years.
Barely two weeks after Passover ends, Israel freezes. Israelis stand solemnly when the siren moans, ushering in Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day (starting Tuesday evening, May 2, this year). Even thousands of miles away, Israel supporters can join in with the 3 S’s of solemnity: standing for a moment of silence – at home or with others; saying one terror victim’s name aloud while lighting a memorial candle; and striking, as Israelis do – abstaining from entertaining movies, television, or songs for 24 hours.
Lift the mood the next day for Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, with Ice Cream for Breakfast on May 4 – at home and in schools. By letting the next generation taste the Israeli miracle’s sweetness, we remind ourselves too of how lucky we all are to be living in a world with a democratic Jewish State defending noble values in the Middle East. Follow it up more substantively, with a festive but thoughtful Zionist Salon, reading Zionist texts that help us appreciate why we needed a Jewish State, how it functions today, and what it does and can do for all of us worldwide.
Finally, as I have proposed in these pages before, on Sunday May 29, celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, by making a JerusAlbum. These can be online or in print, cataloguing trips you or your relatives took. These albums can collect historic photos or lovely scenes online – enhanced, this year, by photos of all the supportive activities you and your family have undertaken.
It’s easy to be cardiac Zionists — loving Israel in our hearts. But holidays without rituals are like people without homelands: they get fuzzy, abstracted, distorted and eminently forgettable. This year, in the spirit of Zionist pioneering, let’s go from our hearts to our hands, actively building a vibrant Israel connection, with the inspiring Zionist narrative, and the anchoring Jewish past. And it’s clear. Escalating from Cardiac Zionists to Hands-on Zionists is like going from reading about good food to eating it: it is much more nutritious and far more satisfying, not just filling but fulfilling too.