As we bid a fond farewell to the annual “Tishrei marathon” – a three-week festival of feasting, fasting, dining alfresco and (literally) holding the earth in our hands – we are left with two penetrating and powerful images of Simhat Torah: the Dance and the Scroll.
Both the circular, seemingly never- ending hakafot in-the-round, and the conclusion of our yearly cycle of Torah readings – only to immediately begin anew – send the very same message: The Jewish people never end; we go on and on in an upward spiral, in raucously upbeat style.
That message is particularly potent this year, as we have fought a bitter, frustrating war with the incorrigible enemy on our southern flank, and witnessed the continuing erosion of support from our European and American “friends.” The recent declaration of Sweden’s leftist government to the effect that it “recognizes” a Palestinian state has sent shock waves through our Foreign Ministry. Is this a one-off aberration, or does it signal a growing trend to bypass Israel’s interests and unilaterally create anti-Israel facts on the ground? I suggest this is just the latest twist to that Swedish psychosis known as “Stockholm Syndrome.” That phenomenon derives its name from an incident that occurred back in 1973, when several bank employees were held hostage in a Stockholm bank vault for six days.
In the course of that time, while their captors negotiated with police, the victims became emotionally attached to their captors, rejected assistance from government officials and even defended the criminals after being freed from their ordeal. Just six months later, the most famous example of this syndrome would grip the entire world’s attention, as heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. She would eventually become an accomplice of the “urban guerrilla” group, famously caught on camera participating in the robbery of a California bank.
Sweden’s rash decision to identify with the Palestinians – whose “unity” government includes a full partnership for the terrorist Hamas gang, which rejects peace negotiations with Israel and swears eternal devotion to our violent destruction – takes this perversion of “buddying up to the bad guys” to an unprecedented level. But I believe it is not the only syndrome which afflicts Sweden.
The most popular tourist attraction in Sweden – indeed, in all of Scandinavia – is the Vasa Museum. There sits the reconstructed Swedish warship, built in 1626, that sank on its maiden voyage.
This massive, ornately decorated, state-of-the-art ship was the pride of the Swedish navy, built at the order of Sweden’s King Gustavus Adolphus as part of the military expansion he initiated in a war with Lithuania that lasted from 1621 to 1629. Its two full gun-decks made the ship so top-heavy that it foundered and sank just out of the harbor, to the shock and dismay of the large crowds bidding it farewell. It lay on the seabed for 333 years, until it was rediscovered in 1956 and finally dredged to the surface in 1961 in a massive national project.
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The museum built around the Vasa opened in 1990 and has attracted more than 30 million visitors. It is, indeed, an impressive exhibition.
Yet more than the stunning sight of an authentic, four-century-old warship, the Vasa dredges up a fascinating, perhaps little-known historical truism: Sweden was once a bona-fide world power. For more than a century, between 1611 and 1718, it was the most dominant country in the Baltic, eventually gaining territory that encompassed the Baltic on all sides and dominating its neighbors. It rose to prominence in international affairs by becoming one of the most militarized states in history – at one time even defeating the Russian navy – ushering in what the Swedes refer to as stormaktstiden, or the “age of greatness.”
Yet the glory that was Sweden was short-lived; by the beginning of the 18th century, Sweden’s army had been decimated and it retreated back into being the scenic, mild-mannered nation it is today, at best a minor player on the grand stage of history. Any attempt by the Swedes to now effect major changes in global affairs is what poker players would call “overplaying your hand.”
But I have another title in mind. This is what I call the “Delusions of Former Grandeur Syndrome,” countries that once commanded fear and respect, that once were true movers and shakers on an international level, trying to recapture their former influence and glory. This syndrome can be seen on a daily basis in the bombastic rhetoric of Turkey, whose despotic leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees himself as the heir not only to Ataturk, but to the leaders of the once-mighty Ottoman Empire, which at the height of its power in the 17th century, under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, controlled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia, the Caucasus, North Africa and the Horn of Africa.
Turkey is the natural rival of Egypt, which also once commanded a great and powerful empire (see the Book of Exodus) and considers itself the natural leader of the entire Arab world. And let us not forget Iran, Egypt’s nemesis, which entertains nightly pipe dreams of recreating the Persian Empire, a dynasty that rivaled the Roman Empire for size and strength.
More often than not, these “once weres” and wannabes fixate on attacking the Jewish nation. Perhaps they recognize – even more than we ourselves sometimes do – that though we are comparatively small in size and uninterested in expanding our sphere of influence, Israel is still a force to be reckoned with, an eternal player in the game of global affairs. And so they try to embellish their international reputation by setting their sights on our demise.
But it is all for naught. We will prevail – and deep down, they know it.
The key to our survival is standing tall, and remaining resolute. Our greatest moments of danger have come when we lost our resolve, and gave in to the audacious demands of our enemies. We displayed this weakness in the infamous Jibril Rajoub agreement in 1985, when we freed 1,150 terrorists in exchange for three Israeli soldiers; this disastrous deal led to the first intifada just two years later.
We erred again when we succumbed to American and European pressure and signed the infamous Oslo Accords – there go those sly Scandinavians again! – which has cost thousands of dead and wounded Israelis. And, most recently, we let our compassion overpower our common sense when we crumbled before the well-oiled Schalit PR machine and traded more than 1,000 Palestinian murderers for Gilad.
That one-sided exchange strengthened Hamas, emboldening it to the point where it started the Gaza War, resulting in the death of 64 soldiers. Numerous civilians – including the three Israeli teenagers murdered this summer – have also been killed by “graduates” of the Schalit fiasco.
The last memory I have of our son Ari – whose 12th yahrzeit is today – is of him holding the Torah aloft, high in the air, as he danced with it on Simhat Torah, the day before he was killed in battle with Hamas terrorists in Nablus. That image, forever fixed in our minds, epitomizes the challenge our nation faces on a daily basis.
It’s not easy to keep your balance and maintain your posture in this part of the world. But if you falter, if you waver, if you think only of the short term and don’t hold your ground, you will lose everything in the long run.
As in chess and boxing, it is the last man standing who emerges triumphant.
We must always be sure we are that man. ■ The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; firstname.lastname@example.org
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