Peter J. Rubinstein | September 22, 2007
We New Yorkers know the experience of standing squeezed together with other people in close quarters when we ride the subway during rush hour or stand in ticket lines for movies at the height of their popularity. These occasions of density by necessity are predictable experiences when so many live in close proximity.
We New Yorkers also have had the experience of standing shoulder to shoulder at traumatic times, during the most tragic and life changing events of our lives. We stood together while flames engulfed this sanctuary in 1998. We stood together to celebrate the rededication of this sanctuary on September 9, 2001. Two days later, again we stood together in utter confusion and calamity as we mourned the thousands murdered in the World Trade Center catastrophe.
During those perilous days, nothing could keep us apart. We ached to be with each other. We lifted each other’s hands high to affirm survival. We grieved. We found strength. We promised to rebuild this synagogue, to rebuild this city and to rebuild our lives…and we have.
Standing together is our people’s saga. It began in the desert described in today’s Torah reading: “Atem Nitzavim hayom Kulchem lifnay adonoi eloyaychem” (“You stand together this day, all of you, before God”).
The Israelites stood shoulder to shoulder: woodchoppers and exalted tribal heads side by side, “elders…wives, children, the foreigners in the camp” together with no regard to age, gender, or status. We joined in urgent common purpose on the vast plains of Moab as Moses affirmed our mission: responsibility for the well being and survival of the Jewish people and responsibility to the people of every land in which Jews settled.
Our ancestors knew precisely for whom and what they stood.
What about us?
In their recent book on “The Jewish Lobby,” John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt put us on notice that the old imputation of Jewish dual loyalty wears the guise of objective academics.
It was an awakening for me not so much for what they said, but for how I reacted to it. My reflex to the charge of dual loyalty has typically been denial: to affirm that I am an American loyalist and that my Jewish identity is strong but of separate consequence. But I have come to accept and now proudly affirm and proclaim, “I have dual loyalties!” And the question to our accusers is “What of it?” Will you, Professors Mearsheimer and Walt, impugn my allegiance to the United States because I stand proudly with the Jewish people? Do you indict me for my unabashed support of the existence and well being of the state of Israel, which joins me to 63 percent of the population of this country?
In this nation, Americans do not shrink from dual loyalties and responsibilities. Immigrants from Africa and Latin America, from Europe and the Far East stay connected to their homelands. We Americans care about people in other countries. We are urged to express our loyalties by statute and culture. We are sanctioned to lobby on behalf of the causes which arouse our passion: Irish Americans for support of Ireland, Arab Americans for support of Palestine.
We Jews, only 2 percent of the population of this country, passionately lobby on behalf of a strong Israel, at peace with its neighbors, within defensible borders, as a democratic friend of the United States. We are proud that AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), as it name says, is committed to the relationship between Israel and America. We endorse its effectiveness and indicate that most Americans and most members of our elected congress view Israel favorably.
Today, we reaffirm our historical mission: We are responsible for the Jewish people in Israel and throughout the world, and we are fervently responsible for the citizens of these United States, this great nation, which is our home. We are loyal to both. We cannot say about either, “It is not my responsibility.” We stand with the Jewish people. It is our responsibility.
We Jews have recently been assailed again by a new round of media, academic and literary attacks aimed at Israel, but which (we know) catches all of us in the cross-hairs.
The de-legitimization of Israel continues in the college classroom. A local professor accuses Israeli archaeology of political motivation. This summer a British union representing academics pressured for a boycott of Israeli educational institutions. Former Senator James Abourezk alleged on a Hezbollah TV station that “The Arabs who were involved in 9/11 cooperated with the Zionists…” Jimmy Carter, under the guise of presidential integrity echoes the anti-Semites’ charge that Jews in Israel are racist, calling Israel an “apartheid” state.
Christiane Amanpour, under the pretext of impartial journalism, equates Israeli settlers and Muslim jihadists as equally threatening to world peace. Attempts at reportorial balance are obscene. Terrorists are terrorist whatever their religion but Jews have not detonated a bomb in Baghdad or Bali or London or Germany or Madrid. Suicide bombings are not on our menu of legitimate strategies.
In their book, Mearsheimer and Walt not only rail against “The Israel Lobby.” They condemn the State of Israel as well. In their words, Israel helped “sell the [Iraq] war to the Bush administration and the American people, well before the president had made the final decision to invade” (p. 234). According to their argument, Israel is significantly responsible for promoting the war in Iraq. As our local newspaper, the Jewish Week surmises, if people around the world are looking for scapegoats to blame for the destructiveness of the Iraqi war, Walt and Mearsheimer “offer up the Jews.” (8/31/07)
Victor Davis Hanson, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, concludes that “A new virulent strain of the old anti-Semitism is spreading worldwide. This hate - of a magnitude not seen in more than 70 years - is not just espoused by Iran’s loony president…or radical jihadists. The latest anti-Semitism…now mouthed by world leaders and sophisticated politicians and academics… often masquerades as ‘anti-Zionism’ or ‘legitimate’ criticism of Israel. But the venom exclusively reserved for the Jewish State betrays existential hatred.”
A new, or “repackaged,” anti-Semitism insinuates anti-Israel rhetoric, and the line between despising Israeli government policy, which we have a right to criticize, and despising Israelis is eroding. The border between condemning Israel and condemning Jews is increasingly porous.
We hold accountable those who libel Israel and attack Jews. We name “anti-Semitism” even when cowardly camouflaged as criticism of Israel. We condemn threats of Israel’s annihilation by Iran, intimidation by Syria and the continuing rocket attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas.
We are courageous in our support of Israel but we also have other responsibilities closer to home. We are responsible to teach our Jewish youth and college students the reality of Israel’s history. They did not experience the threat to Israel’s survival during the Six Day and Yom Kippur Wars. They do not internalize how close Israel always is to the brink and how fragile is Israel’s safety. They need to know Israel’s history, and we are responsible to supply them with information. As well, we are responsible to educate ourselves on the issues and challenges Israel confronts so we intelligently counter the calumnious accusations targeting Israel. Above all, we are responsible to do everything possible to help all of you visit Israel. You need to experience Israel first-hand to understand what an incredible miracle that young nation is.
We again make Israel a priority of this congregation. The mission of a newly organized Israel Committee is to help each of us know Israel’s history, advocate for, and speak on Israel’s behalf, and to visit Israel. Click here for information about planned Israel programs and congregational trips.
We stand with our people. We stand with Israel.
We also stand proudly as citizens of this country, these United States of America.
From its beginning, this nation has welcomed the tired and the poor, and we hope for more.
We aspire to universally available health care, literacy for all children, and national service from all citizens.
We also crave an end to the war in Iraq. Many citizens fear that the war in Iraq is expending our nation’s moral capital, eroding our national conscience. A year ago, we had hoped that a change in political realities or on the battle lines in Iraq would end the bloodshed. It has not happened! Sadly, it has not happened!
I’ve said that, for some in this sanctuary, “the thousands of young American service men and women who have died and the tens of thousands more who will carry their wounds of battle for the rest of their lives are necessary martyrs in a preemptive strike against terrorists who would otherwise be massacring us. For others in this nation, the Iraqi conflict is a shameful national catastrophe.”
The heartache and sacrifice of the Iraqi war has not directly battered most of us. Dismay and anguish have not galvanized public action or protest.
Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli observed while the military is fighting “the American people and most of the other institutions of national power have largely gone about their business.”
Our national public commitment to this conflict is temperate, but the unqualified commitment of our armed services, those who fight on the streets of Baghdad, who have been injured or died in the provinces of Iraq and Afghanistan, is gallant. The loyalty to their oath of service by our men and women in uniform is heroic. They have sacrificed for the nation while many of us have not.
This is the story of one of them. Dani, the only child of Jeff and Sara grew up in Potomac, Maryland. In an email to one of our members, Sara wrote about her son: “Dani joined [the Army] after high school for several reasons though I believe that the most pressing reason was as a reaction to September 11. He wants to protect our freedoms and to do that he felt he has to go after the terrorists.”
Dani was initially deployed to Iraq but is now in Afghanistan. He reenlisted early for an additional three years so that he could join the army’s elite Special Forces. In an email to one of our members, his parents write, “Thank you for keeping Dani in mind.” We keep Dani, and all members of our armed services, in mind.
We may despise the war in Iraq but we stand in support of Dani and all our soldiers and sailors, marines, and members of the air force and National Guard. Since last Yom Kippur, over 1,000 service men and women have died in action. Now 28,000 carry scars and shrapnel and pieces of bullets lodged in their bodies from fighting in Iraq. Seventeen percent of returning veterans suffer from anxiety, significant depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of our veterans are not receiving the help they need. We Jews believe that saving a life is saving a world. This is the way we are going to begin:
1) By Adopting a Soldier
You can reach out to, correspond with, and occasionally send care packages to one of the 170,000 members of armed services in Iraq and 30,000 in Afghanistan. We know about Dani because, through this program, a Chairperson of the Social Action Committee initiated email correspondence and heard back from Dani and his parents. Members of our military deserve more than lip service. They need to know in practical and personal ways that we care about them. Engage yourselves in this program, as over a dozen of our congregational families have already done.
2) There is also an opportunity for you to join our knitting group to create needed items.
We have already sent 20 blankets from our knitting group to a Veterans hospital and 89 knitted hats and 114 squares for blankets to Iraq. The work of your hands will provide warmth for their bodies.
3) Join us in furthering the work of Strategic Outreach to Families of All Reservists (SOFAR), which delivers pro bono psychotherapy and education services to the families of reservists and National Guard members who are stationed in, or returning from, the battle zone.
4. Also join us on Marathon Weekend to welcome the 50 members of the Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans at a party we will help host. We need volunteers to visit with the veterans and their families.
5. Lastly, for now, sign up for Mitzvah Day and help make Chanukah decorations and knit for the soldiers in Iraq.
Click here for more information about these programs.
We pray that the war in Iraq ends soon. But until it does, we on the home front will care for those on the battlefront. We will bring comfort to those in the armed services. And we will mourn those who have died by continuing to read at Shabbat services some names to represent the too many who are killed each week. They are ours.
This is what dual loyalty means: to confront the thinly veiled anti-Semitism of academics and pundits who decry our support of Israel; to uphold the principles of the United States and to sustain the existence and well-being of Israel; to proclaim our allegiance here in the US and uphold the vision for a righteous nation there in Israel; to care for the members of our armed services here and fight for the release of the kidnapped soldiers of Israel there; to be dedicated to peace and justice, and to care for the citizens of both nations and all people of this world. Dual loyalty is a privilege. It is our mandate! It has been our mission from the very beginning!
The United States Declaration of Independence holds this truth to be self-evident: “that all people are created equal.” The State of Israel’s Declaration of Independence affirms “freedom, justice and peace [for all its citizens] as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”
What amazing ideals upon which these two nations were founded! What glorious dreams! What abiding hopes! What a gift these nations are for us and the entire world! We are grateful for Israel. We are grateful for the United States. And we pray for the well-being and peace of both nations and all people of this world. Amen.
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