Every Saturday morning when I walk to shul I see those familiar faces; even before I reach the street my synagogue is on, the guards are there, around the corner. Smiling at me, confirming identification and surveying the area before they unlock the iron-gate that allows me entry into my place of worship. It’s not right, it’s not ok, but as a Swedish Jew I am used to this and I know following protocol is a means of survival.
Four times a year I escape this reality. Four times a year I go to Israel, I shed the cloak of diaspora life; I breathe free air as if it was the very first time and fill my lungs just enough to sustain me until I return. For this is ours, the one place I can pray without guards and where my children can see what life can and should be like for us as humans, and as Jews.
Last week, Jews in the heart of Jerusalem were murdered still wrapped with tallit and tefillin. Not in Nazi Germany nor in an 18th century Russian pogrom, but in Jerusalem, 2014. They were slain in the midst of the amidah prayer, butchered by their neighbors in what should have been a sanctuary.
This is not the first atrocity of its kind this year, not even this month, or this week. The third intifada has claimed lives and changed routines to a degree where crisis has become common-life and protective roadblocks at the light rail-stations are painted in cheery colors as if they were pieces of public art. The citizens of Israel have fought the fight for all of us, adapted and carried the burden, knowing that without the Jewish state there is no real hope of Jewish life. We have watched, we have worried, but we have done so without ownership and without any skin in the game.
Studies have shown that humans can withstand excruciating pain when they have a guaranteed “out”, that if test subjects that undergo torture are given a red button to push for release they will take more punishment, just knowing that it’s there.
The State of Israel has been our out, for 66 years. As diaspora Jews we have accepted the unacceptable because we knew we had that red button to push, a place to go to where we are free to roam and breathe and actually live, rather than focusing all our energy on survival. We took it for granted because we needed the excuse for our complacency and the reason to stay put.
As of today, all those excuses and excuses are null and void.
All over Europe we pray behind walls and watch the world go by through bulletproof windows. We have grown to accept the shtetl-life and come to expect someone else to fight for the escape we rely on. Israel is ours to relate to and complain about, from a safe distance, but always someone else’s to protect. We have made divisions between Jews here and Jews there, between religious and secular and them and us. Maybe to keep from having to choose sides, maybe because we made the mistake of thinking there are sides at all.
You see, these divisions are a luxury and they are a falsehood. Those who hate us, those who want us dead and butcher us at our places of worship, to them there is no such divide. To them, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew, and until we see what they see we can have no hope of defeating them.
No matter what our list of priorities looked like when we woke up this morning, the creation and preservation of a free, strong, and secure Jewish state in the Jewish homeland should be the first priority of each and every Jew as we go to bed tonight.
Why? Because there is no place they will not try to kill us, there is no level of assimilation that will keep us off that train and no partner with whom to pursue the peace we pray for.
This is our time to stand together in protection of Israel. If nothing else, so that we may continue to have the luxury of spending our days quarrelling about all the details that divide us, safely within the borders of the Jewish state.