No Jewish Future Without Israel?

This week, speaking at Israeli Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron) ceremonies, Prime Minister Netanyahu said:

“… we find comfort in the fact that these sons and daughters died for the noblest of causes: to ensure the survival of this nation. I say ‘the survival of this nation,’ because there is no future for the Jewish nation without the State of Israel. 

[http://www.timesofisrael.com/commencing-memorial-day-pm-says-jews-have-no-future-without-israel/#.VTer2q4vVWk.email]

I need hardly say that the State of Israel’s survival is extremely important to me.  Even so, when I read the PM’s statement, my reaction was, “Really???!!! There is no future for the Jewish nation, i.e., Jewish People, without the State of Israel???”

Given his position and the solemn occasion, he could be forgiven for hyperbole.  But, as committed as I am to Israel, the assertion strikes me as patently false and even, perhaps, dangerous.  The Jewish people, or “nation,” have lived much longer without a physical State (or nation, or tribes) of Israel than they have with it.  And if -- G-d forbid – we had to do so again, there is every reason to expect that we would again survive in the Diaspora, although immeasurably poorer.  Assuming one thing…

It seems to me that the Jewish people could survive only with a constant and unshakable determination that there again be a State of Israel, at the earliest possible moment, however long that may take.  In other words, it’s the longing for Israel, rather than the fact of Israel, that has been and would continue to be essential for the survival of the Jewish people/nation.  For what holds a diaspora people together over millennia if not memory and hope of a national life, with all that such entails – values, culture, continuity, a place among the nations.  

We would still have the Torah, of course.  But the Torah is not just – or even primarily -- a book about ethics, as many non-ritually observant Jews – and Jews living outside of Israel -- contend.  Neither is it just – or even primarily – a book about the early history of the Jewish people’s efforts to reach and live in Israel.  It is a book about how we were to live Jewishly (which of course includes ethically) and, in large part, how we must continue to live, in our homeland, in Israel.  

Would the American people still forever be the American people if the Axis powers had won WWII, expelled all surviving Americans from America, and then those who lived elsewhere or their descendants had no particular interest in ever reclaiming the former America?  I don't think so - and all the more so, Jews and Israel.    

Without the (largely, but not exclusively ethics-driven) mitzvoth of the Torah, Jews cannot indefinitely remain Jews -- anywhere.  And without the longing for Israel, Jews cannot indefinitely remain a people -- anywhere.  

I recently asked a Jew, who is enjoying retirement through frequent far-flung vacations, why he has never been to Israel.  “Religion isn’t really that important to me,” he answered, “although I do belong to a synagogue and go to services sometimes.  I’ll definitely get there … someday … but there are many other places more important to me.”  

I responded that “religion” isn’t important to the majority of Israelis either, although I explained that “religious” doesn’t mean quite the same thing in the US as in Israel.  “In fact," I added, "‘religion’ isn’t that important to me either”  -- a statement that he found incredulous, my being a rabbi and wearing a kippah as I said it.  

“What is very important to me, though, is the strength and survival of the Jewish people.”  And, I thought to myself, and probably should have added though it would have offended him, “attitudes and behavior like yours (and so many other Jews) threaten Jewish survival more than any enemy of Jews or of Israel.”  

If the majority of Jews outside of Israel don’t feel that Israel is critically important to the Jewish nation, then Netanyahu will be right in claiming that the Jewish nation (people) can’t survive without the State of Israel.   

Have you been to Europe, Asia, the South Pacific, South America and/or Africa … but not "yet" to Israel?   How about your Jewish family members and friends?  

Or, has it has been many years since you or they have been to Israel, and you’ve/they’ve since been to other far-flung destinations with no intention to return to Israel anytime soon?  Are there “many other places that are more important to visit?”

If so, you might just ask yourself – and them –  how important the survival of the Jewish people really is – and if you/they claim that it is very important, to reconsider what you/they do -- if anything -- to put this alleged priority into action.  

Shabbat shalom and a belated Happy 67th Birthday to the homeland of the Jewish people.  

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He who guards his mouth preserves his life
Proverbs 13:3