Opinion

In plain language

In the lions' den

Painting by Peter Paul Rubens/Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Painting by Peter Paul Rubens/Wikimedia Commons
Daniel is one of the best young men I know. Blessed with a gentleness of spirit and a huge heart, he goes out of his way looking for causes to support and projects for which he can volunteer. He accepts everyone on their own terms, a philosophy that has made him popular in many different circles. His family is extremely active in their community, and they raised Daniel always to seek out the best in others while striving for personal excellence. Even the slogan on his cellphone reflects his personality: “There is always room to improve!” About a year ago, Daniel decided to visit Ramallah. On an earlier trip to New Zealand, he had met a man who was now teaching at the Ramallah Friends School, an institution founded by American Quakers more than a century ago, and Daniel wanted to spend a day with him.

Some of Daniel’s friends were apprehensive about him making the trip, but Daniel was unfazed. He had made a number of Arab friends while playing on the mixed Palestinian-Israeli soccer team sponsored by the Peres Center for Peace, and had even learned to speak a bit of Arabic. Besides, he would be wearing his Australian cowboy hat and speaking only English, and would be just another wide-eyed tourist out for a day of touring in Palestine.

After meeting his friend at the school, Daniel decided to walk around the town.

He had heard the Ramallah souk was a happening place, and was in the mood for some genuine humous and lafa. He went from stall to stall, having a grand old time, chatting it up with the vendors and wishing, “G’day mate!” to one and all. He then wandered into a phone store, looking for a new iPhone holder to replace his old, worn-out case. He tried one on for size, but it was a bit too snug for his phone.

At that moment, his phone rang, and he struggled to get it out of the case. The store owner came over to help him, but Daniel, nervous that the man would see the number on the phone, blurted out, “B’seder, it’s OK, I’ve got it.”

The Palestinian, hearing the one word of Hebrew, looked at Daniel with daggers in his eyes. “Yahud, Yahud! [A Jew, a Jew!]” he yelled, “Itbah el-Yahud” – slaughter the Jew!” Daniel, terrified, began to run, the Palestinian chasing him through the casbah, screaming for his murder. By God’s grace, Daniel outran his pursuers and made it back to the Quaker school, where his friend gave him shelter until he could be spirited back to Israel proper.

The teacher – who turned out, wouldn’t you know it, to be Jewish – heard Daniel’s story and wanted to write to the press about it, but the principal warned him that this could endanger the entire school and that he would be dismissed if he told anyone what had happened.

Every time I see Daniel now, I say a prayer of thanks to the Almighty that this wonderful young man was not harmed. But his story – one that has unfortunately been repeated numerous times, often with a much more tragic ending – serves as a stark reminder of just what kind of enemy we face. An enemy that hates us not for what we have done, but simply for who we are. An enemy that can smile at you one moment, and stab you in the heart the next. An enemy whose culture is centered around hate for “the other,” taught from birth that all Jews are evil infidels and deserving of death.

There was a time in history when the Muslim world had a benign, even cordial relationship with the Jews, while the Christian community took the lead in persecuting us with every torture imaginable. But the tables have turned. Now it is the Muslims, from Muscat to Malaysia, Bali to Baghdad, who demonize us and scream for our destruction.

Now, anyone who reads this column knows that, at my core, I am and always will be an optimist who believes unflinchingly in the triumphant destiny of Israel.

We have returned to our homeland, and we are here to stay; no force can dislodge us from our place or impede our progress toward complete Redemption. But that does not mean the road will always be smooth and straight.

There are dark clouds gathering on the horizon, I fear. The “peace” talks now going on between Israel and the Palestinians will produce no healthy baby when their nine months are up; anyone who believes otherwise “labors” under a false impression. The core issues – Jerusalem, the right of return, acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state – are insoluble. We know that, and they know that, and any declaration to the contrary is either pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking or simply stalling for time.

And when these talks inevitably collapse in failure, whom will Barry, Kerry and company blame for it? Israel, of course. And this will add to the already mounting pressure on American Jews to choose between the United States and Israel. The Iranian nuclear controversy has provided the first crack in the wall of our common interests; the failure to reach an agreement with the intractable Palestinians will certainly exacerbate that tension. And with American Jewry becoming ever less Jewish and ever more estranged from Israel – some of the most fervent supporters of the Palestinian “boycott Israel” campaign are Jews – we may be forced to go it alone in the international community, without our traditional best friend at our side.

And here in Israel, push will come to shove when the Iranians achieve their goal of nuclear capability, as will almost certainly happen at some point.

Will we go to war with them, before or after they reach “breakout”? Or will we live under a (mushroom) cloud of existential fear and doubt, knowing we are ground zero on every Muslim’s hit list? Under those circumstances, will Jews from around the world continue to immigrate here? And will Israelis who are already here stay put? By tradition, there are two personalities who epitomize Jewish leadership: Judah and Joseph. Judah, the lion-king, the forerunner of David and the Messiah, represents heroism, courage, steadfastness.

Only a descendant of Judah, like the young David, could stand up to Goliath and slay the menacing giant.

Joseph, on the other hand, whose progeny presided over the kingdom of Israel and the Ten Lost Tribes, is the model for self-sacrifice, eternally prepared – like his great-great-great niece Queen Esther – to die for his people if necessary.

Let us look the future squarely in the face and acknowledge that in the days ahead, we may all be called upon to emulate these twin virtues of strength and stoicism. Our endurance and our staying power may be sorely tested. Will we, like Daniel, be able not only to ward off the hungry lions that stalk us, but to emerge from the den victorious?

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. rabbistewartweiss.com. jocmtv@netvision.net.il


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