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In his August 21 Post column, Elliot Jager asked whether "maybe we Jews shouldn't put all our eggs in one basket. Maybe - for lots of reasons - Theodor Herzl was wrong in advocating the negation of the Diaspora."
Jager cited Asher Ginzberg (Ahad Ha'am), who strongly disagreed with Herzl about the purpose of Zionism. Herzl wanted a haven to which Jews could escape anti-Semitism. For Ahad Ha'am, a Jewish state was needed to combat assimilation and he fully expected most Jews to remain in the Diaspora. For Ahad Ha'am, Eretz Yisrael was to be a cultural center which could influence Jews in the Diaspora to remain Jewish.
As we can see from his writings, Ahad Ha'am's major concern about the Jewish future was not so much physical survival but spiritual survival. It was only after the Shoah that the overwhelming majority of Jews realized that had a Jewish state existed prior to Nazism the lives of hundreds of thousands could have been saved. With few exceptions, following WWII world Jewry rallied around Herzl's original platform which called for the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael which would serve as a refuge and haven and guarantee Jewish survival.
Since its establishment Israel has absorbed nearly two million immigrants (including several hundred thousand Shoah survivors) who despite terrorism and wars felt they were safer and better protected here than in their former countries. Unfortunately, things have changed during the past few years due to the rise of fanatic Muslim imperialism, which threatens the very existence of our state.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, has threatened to wipe Israel off the map. We cannot dismiss his threats as a bluff because he has the missiles and soon will have nuclear bombs with which to carry out his threats. Jews in the Diaspora and even Israelis are beginning to feel that it could be more dangerous to live in Israel than in New York, Los Angeles or even Paris or London - despite growing anti-Semitism, especially in England.
THE QUESTION one may properly ask is: If it is more dangerous to live in Israel than in the Diaspora then why should the Jews of the world be encouraged to come on aliya? Jager's column brought to mind my sixth-grade science teacher, Mr. Mitnick, who in 1944, even prior to the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, was openly opposed to Herzl's program that all the Jews in the world should immigrate to a Jewish state.
He already then expressed the fear that if all the Jews were concentrated in one place it would be easier and with less time and effort than the Nazis to annihilate the Jewish people. Had Mr. Mitnick known Talmud he could have found support for his view in Pessahim 87b, where we find the following statement: "God did the Jews a favor by scattering them among the various nations." Had Mitnick been better acquainted with the Bible he could have cited the story of Jacob and his family who, after escaping from Laban, now had to face the threat from his aggrieved brother, Esau. One of Jacob's decisions in preparation to meeting Esau was to divide his camp in two, citing the following as his reason: "If Esau smites one camp then the other will be able to survive." (Genesis 32:5)
However, these thoughts of Mr. Mitnick never sank in deep since both my home and the Jewish education I received in Salanter Yeshiva in the Bronx were wholly Zionist. I always knew that someday I would move and settle in Israel. As a Zionist I could not simply remain on the sidelines and permit others to fulfill the mitzva of "Binyan Ha'aretz."
Despite the dangers facing us today, we who live in Israel can find inspiration from the biblical story which occurred 3,300 years ago when many feared to enter the Land.
The Book of Numbers (Chapter 13) tells us that there were Israelites who were afraid to make aliya and feared the power of the various Canaanite enemies. They even called this country a land which destroys its people. Despite the expected strong resistance of the enemy, Joshua and Caleb, the two "Zionists" out of the 12 spies, spoke up and shouted: "With the help of God, we shall overcome!"
PERSONALLY, I do not feel that any amount of talking about aliya will get people to actually make the move to Israel. It seems that at least until the coming of the Messiah (and some won't come even then) a Jewish Diaspora will remain. Those of us who have immigrated should feel that we have a great privilege living here, that of being the guardians of the rights of all Jews in the world to this land.
Despite all threats by Iran and by various terrorist groups, we shall persevere and hope that our example of living Zionism will inspire many thousands of Jews in America and elsewhere to join us here in the land of our forefathers.
The writer, a former US army chaplain and congregational rabbi, has been living in Israel since 1972. He is managing editor of the Jewish Bible Quarterly published in Jerusalem.
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