“It is a powerful nation that dwells in the land [of Canaan]; and there we saw the children of giants.” (Numbers 13:28)
The above quote – uttered by the spies who came to scout out the Land of Israel before its initial conquest – may have been said in regard to the foreign inhabitants then living there, but it was clearly a prophecy that describes us, the valiant Jewish People, small in size yet gargantuan in stature.
As the latest battle against our barbaric enemies rages on, the true and heroic character of both our soldiers and our citizenry shines forth in undeniable glory. Argue as you may against our Herculean efforts to warn the enemy and limit their civilian casualties – I, too, often grit my teeth when I see us hold back from “doing what it takes” – it is clearly a function of our noble Jewish character. That character abhors wanton slaughter and forbids the gross excesses of war that characterize virtually every other conflict in the world, from Vietnam’s My Lai to the Rwanda massacre to ISIS. We fight because we have to fight, not because we want to fight.
As he waited on the Gaza border for his orders to move in, DB, a gentle, sensitive young medic from the Sharon, wrote the following letter, putting it all in perspective: “Dear Family and Friends: “I know how nervous you all are, but the worst thing that you can do right now is worry and be overly anxious about the situation.
“We soldiers appreciate that you care, but worrying does only harm, because it lowers the nation’s morale and puts negative pressure on the government, which could then result in accepting a cease-fire. I’m the last person who wants war, but to have a cease-fire now is like sedating a rotten tooth. It may stop hurting for a while, but sooner or later the pain will grow bigger and bigger, and so will the danger. The solution needs to be a complete root canal.
“This situation, you know, has been going on for a long, long time. But now that it has reached ‘the state of Tel Aviv,’ the entire country is grasping the reality of what it has been like for the people living in the South, whose lives have been almost unbearable. But there is a beautiful side to this, too! We are opening up to each other, people we don’t even know are supporting us, hosting hundreds of soldiers for Shabbat meals, doing our washing, giving us everything we need. Our true colors are shining! We pray more, we hug more, we love more, we cry more. We have grown so much in the last few weeks. I am so proud to see our great nation uniting. I just pray it will continue and not vanish after this war is over.
“I’m going to sleep now; I don’t get much sleep and I think I’ll need it. Have faith, pray for us and know that Am Yisrael will always prevail because we are on a mission to bring justice and peace to the world.”
Wow – what a letter! And you can be sure it has been repeated a thousandfold and is indicative of the sterling quality of our fighting men and women. Each one is a gem, a universe in and of him- or herself, and seeing them placed in harm’s way – let alone falling in defense of the nation – is terrifying and traumatic. Yet at the same time, it is a source of great pride.
I marvel at the courage of these kids as they fearlessly flush the lowlifes of Hamas out of their rat-holes.
But the soldiers are not the only heroes; they are not alone in their mission.
Behind them stands a wall of support that stretches from Rosh Hanikra to Eilat. All over the country, hundreds of organizations and private citizens are collecting everything from warm socks and warm food for the soldiers, to dolls and toys for the kids in shelters, to free reflexology treatments for the parents under fire. It’s reached the point that some communities – as Moses did after soliciting contributions for the mishkan – are calling for a halt, because they have more than they can handle.
THERE IS another letter I received from the States, and I must share some of it with you, though it pains me to do so. It is from a sermon a rabbi gave last week, urging one of his young congregants to cancel his planned participation in a summer youth program in Israel. It reads, in part: “To the teen who was supposed to leave for Israel this week: “We as a people will do what we need to do to survive, but there is no need for you to be part of the violence over there.
You are still a kid and we adults still have some control over your life. Yes, Israel needs us more than ever. But Israel also needs us here [in America] speaking up, spreading the truth, standing up to the lies, the distortion and the bias.
Israel does not need us in the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv right now. Going to Israel right now does not make you a better Zionist. Peace is around the corner.... That will be the time for you to safely see Israel and have the experience of a lifetime.”
Lots of people and programs have canceled their trips to Israel this summer; that’s not a surprise. But it would be good to add a bit of guilt to the refund, knowing that, once more, the fighting is left to the few and the brave. Yes, there is danger here at times – almost as much as in Chicago, Detroit and LA on any given weekend. But we deal with it.
Can you imagine what would have happened if we had decided we were only going to build a Jewish state when it was danger-free? Would we have come in the ’20s, the ’30s and the ’40s? Would we have built kibbutzim and moshavim in the outlying areas, which then became our national borders? Would we have chanced a War of Independence against seven Arab nations, armed to the teeth? Since when is danger a reason to give up your ideals, to forgo your dreams and your destiny? Has anyone ever changed the course of the world without taking risks? Like many Israelis, I have been inundated with emails from good-hearted Diaspora Jews, asking me where they can send donations during this crisis. I hesitate to provide names and addresses, both because I don’t want to list a few legitimate causes to the exclusion of others, and also because I don’t want to contribute to the flood of less-than-kosher organizations cynically using this war to fill their coffers.
I have a better idea for all you generous people abroad. Close your checkbook and stop sending us donations.
Take that money and dedicate it to a trip to Israel, for you or for someone you know – perhaps for one of the 70 percent of American Jewry that has never yet set foot in Israel. Because – sorry, fund-raisers, I gotta tell it like it is – we want your bodies more than we want your bucks.
We want to see you, in the flesh, here among us, shaking our hands, hugging us, seeing our pain but also sharing our pleasure in living in the greatest Jewish country that ever existed.
Most of all, we want you to do it for you, not for us. Because it will make you a better person, a better Jew, a better Zionist.
And, I have no doubt, it will make you grow bigger, stronger, taller. That’s what living among giants can do.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.