It is poetic justice that Israel's PM is a Holocaust survivor's son - opinion

This, my friends, is what the miracle of living in Israel is all about. Never take for granted that you can randomly see a bus that is heading to the Western Wall.

Egged public transport to the Western Wall in Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Egged public transport to the Western Wall in Jerusalem
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Last week, I posted on social media about an interview I conducted in 2003 with then-justice minister Yosef “Tommy” Lapid. At the time, I was a Knesset reporter on the English-language news of Kol Yisrael, Israeli public radio.

The late Lapid was the father of Israel’s current prime minister. He was a Holocaust survivor. Prime Minister Yair Lapid made reference to his father’s ordeal, when he addressed the nation on Saturday night, after assuming the premiership the day before.

In the radio interview, nearly two decades ago, I asked the late Lapid if he ever thought it would be poetic justice if he could become prime minister of the Jewish state, after surviving the Nazis. He replied: “I’ll leave that to my next generation.”

That memory came back to me when the younger Lapid did indeed become prime minister, last Friday. The responses I received on social media to this post were “likes” and some “loves.” However, almost no one commented, with the exception of one person, who wrote: “It would have been poetic justice if his kids had become religious.“

The late Lapid had strong objections to the religious side of Judaism. He was outspoken in his criticism of the haredi lifestyle and had it out many times with haredi political parties. He was bitter. He told me and many others that God had abandoned the Jews in the Holocaust.

Tommy Lapid, then a journalist, reporting from Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem, 1961. (credit: NATIONAL PHOTO COLLECTION/GPO)Tommy Lapid, then a journalist, reporting from Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem, 1961. (credit: NATIONAL PHOTO COLLECTION/GPO)

The way I viewed his comments was: Who could blame him? I did not live through the Holocaust.

As an Orthodox Jew, I was put off by some of his sharp talk, but I was born and raised in heavily-Jewish Brooklyn, New York. In Lapid’s address to the nation, he referenced how, when his father was 13, the Nazis wanted him dead.

When I was 13, my family and I flew from New York to Israel for my bar mitzvah, which we celebrated at the Western Wall. Imagine what the late Lapid would have given at the age of 13 to fly out of Nazi rule to celebrate his bar mitzvah in Jerusalem.

I don’t mean to pounce on that comment on social media, but for me, it is indeed poetic justice that Tommy Lapid, even if not religious, became a cabinet minister in the Jewish state that was established on the heels and the hell of the Holocaust. And it is certainly poetic justice, whatever your political views, that after Tommy Lapid said that he would leave the premiership to his next generation, his son is now prime minister of Israel.

THE PERSON who wrote the comment on social media is listed in his account as living outside of Israel. He attached a smiley emoji to his comment. I am not sure what he meant by that. He received a like for his comment, also from outside Israel.

Justifiably or not, this comment reminded me of an argument I have heard from various people. It’s an argument that stresses what is perceived as the secular nature of Israel compared to the more Orthodox lifestyle practiced in various Diaspora communities.

It’s easier to live an Orthodox life in one of these Diaspora communities than in Israel, I have been told on a number of occasions. Since you can rationalize that you’re in the Jewish state so it’s okay not to be religious, the argument continues, it’s easier to be lured out of Orthodoxy in Israel, than within the confines of Orthodox Diaspora neighborhoods.

Those who make this argument should forgive me; I do not consider myself better than they are because I live here. But now that I’ve already asked for forgiveness, permit me to say that their argument is so out of sync with the historic proportions of the ongoing building of a modern Jewish state.

In late April, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, we stood at attention as sirens sounded throughout Israel. When the siren fell silent and we all returned to our routine, I was struck by an enormously dramatic sight. Standing on a Jerusalem street, I lifted my head from pausing in memory of the Holocaust victims and the first thing I saw was a bus which had also stopped for the siren and was now starting up again. At the front of the bus were the words “Western Wall” lit up brightly as the ultimate destination of this route. I stood, I stared and I cried.

This, my friends, is what the miracle of living in Israel is all about. Never take for granted that you can randomly see a bus that is heading to the Western Wall.

This is the ingathering of the exiles. Jews emerging from the exiles have so much in common but are also very different. We are back in our land as a people and we’re working on this immense project of developing a society that represents the different shades of who we have been in exile.To stay back in the Diaspora now because we’re less religious here is to remove yourself from this project.

FOR THE record, I am told that actually a large percentage of Israelis have classified themselves as traditional when asked in surveys. I classify myself as Orthodox, but I love witnessing the diversity of how people express their Judaism here. It is our country, our calendar, our holidays and our destiny.

I am so grateful that I’ve had it relatively easy in making the move from the United States, a country I still love, to the State of Israel. I do have a lower salary. I haven’t been able to get rid of my foreign accent. The taxes are much too high. I am not going to say that I’m never down about it. But that periodic low can never compare with the high of living here.

Our children are independent. Some may even decide to leave Israel. But here in our real home, Torah study is flourishing. And even if you don’t study much Torah, the national day of rest is still Shabbat, the Jewish holidays are the national holidays, and if you want to make a difference because you feel it’s not good enough, join the enterprise.

I love telling the story of a very stressful Tisha Be’av, when I was feeling so unnerved that I turned on a music radio station to relax. I felt guilty. But then the deejay concluded his program by stating that if among the listeners there were those who were fasting, he wanted to thank them “for making us a part of this complex day.”

If you slip from your religiousness, you are still slipping back into a society that is predominantly Jewish. We must protect minorities because, as the Torah says, we know what that was like and don’t want to treat others the way we were treated.

But here, we are home: religiously, politically and militarily. It’s a messy home, at times, but it’s home and it’s our future. As God determines our future fate, we also have to determine our own. He has given us the opportunity.

And it is poetic justice that right now, the prime minister of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel is the child of a Holocaust survivor. It is our past that is transforming into our future.

The writer is op-ed editor of The Jerusalem Post.