Uluru National Park, Northern Territory, Australia – The world’s largest rock is red, beautiful and resembles a giant meteor that fell out of the sky and stands squarely in the middle of Australia. I have visited Uluru (formerly known as Ayer’s Rock) before, especially in the Australian summer, when I felt I was placed in an oven that was set to hard broil and tormented mercilessly by flies. I have never experienced such extreme heat. Israel in high summer is Scandinavia compared Australia’s bright red center.
Coming here in the winter is a more civilized experience, except one major omission: Americans. There are Asian and European visitors here. But we have not encountered even a single American. Which has worked somewhat in our favor as we’re the exotic family from half a world away.
And how do Australians and Europeans see Americans?
Well, there was the woman from Alice Springs whom we asked to take our picture in front of the great rock. After joking that she’d have to account for my height (small) and my girth (slightly larger), she put down the camera and said. “Are you sure you’re American? I’ve never met a self-deprecating American.” She was totally serious. The Americans she’s met, she explained to me, are boisterous braggarts who assume the own the world.
Her description did not accord with my knowledge of my fellow countrymen, so let’s assume she had a bad experience.
Then there were the many Australians we met in Sydney, Australia’s leading city where my wife was born and raised, and where my parents-in-law live. They described to us a vision of Americans as a nation of people who first and foremost walk around breathing on each other in order to spread covid. Australia, along with China, had the strictest lockdowns in the world - a fact justified, I’m assuming, by seeing Americans walking around with lungs like jet engines that were spewing out coronavirus.
They must also assume that Americans are a superior race of invincible humanoids because they all have a vision of America being a place where bullets are whizzing by city streets from the moment you wake until late at night. What do we Americans do with our time? Why shoot each other, of course.
This past weekend, the terrible and tragic news of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe being assassinated hit Australia. To say it barely made news would be an exaggeration, but to say that it immediately disappeared from the front pages is entirely accurate. Imagine this, even though Australia is a country deeply tied to Asia, with China and Japan looming large for the Australian economy, in that order.
The same Japanese force that attacked Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, attacked Darwin, Australia, just three months later. So you’d expect that any news pertaining to the actual murder by gunfire of the most consequential Japanese prime minister since the Second World War would be a huge story.
It was not. Had it been a murderous gun rampage in the United States it would have rocked Australia and reinforced the notion that America is becoming a nation of violence lunatics who pray to Jesus in the morning, shoot each other in the afternoon, and then get on their knees and pay homage to Donald Trump at night.
WHICH LEADS me to a conclusion.
When I was a boy growing up Miami Beach, Florida, and saw how much disproportionate coverage the tiny state of Israel received, I began to understand the adage that “Jews are news.” There is nothing the Jewish nation does that does not receive an insane amount of coverage, for better and for worse.
The magnetic pull of the Jewish people, in general, and the Jewish state, in particular, to the front pages of the world’s media reinforces an idea of the Jewish people as a chosen nation. A nation whose obsession by the other members of the world community bespeaks an evident, if unacknowledged role of spiritual leadership, just as the Bible declared when it marked the Jews as a “light unto the nations.”
Readers of my columns will know that I have long lamented the Jewish refusal to assume that mantle of leadership. I feel strongly that the Jewish people should be at the forefront of teaching the world about resting on the Sabbath (resting does not mean going to the cineplex or shopping mall), honoring parents (which does not imply consigning them to a nursing home), honoring the sacred vows of marriage (which includes not betraying one another with unhealthy porn addiction), being scrupulously honest in business (even if it means losing money in the short term), tithing (not easy in a bad economy), and regular communal engagement (whether through Synagogue, other houses of worship, or helping to build communal life).
Whenever we travel as an Orthodox Jewish family, we feel a special responsibility – wearing kippot and tzitzit – not only not to make a chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name through unethical behavior), but to consecrate God’s name through positive action.
Here at Uluru, smack at the center of Australia, Jews are barely known, Judaism much less so. When we explained our Sabbath restrictions to hotel staff, they nodded in respectful acknowledgment and told us they understand that we’re Seventh Day Adventists. We could have left it at that.
But we made the point of explaining that the Jewish prohibitions of doing work on the Sabbath are different. They relate to any creative work that leaves a lasting and material improvement the world, which is why even writing words with a pen are prohibited.
It’s time that America begins to acknowledge the same. The world is obsessed and enthralled with America, which gives it a unique responsibility to promote uniquely American values for the benefit of the world.
Whereas once that obsession with America was almost wholly positive – America as a harbinger of freedom and human dignity, whose greatest generation defeated Hitler – today, people are looking to unfairly criticize the US. They overlook American sacrifice in the Middle East to remove barbarous dictators like Saddam Hussein, stand up to Iran and support Ukraine against the brutality of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But for all that, everyone understands that America is still the greatest light of liberty the world has ever seen.
It’s a responsibility we should take seriously. Let America never placate tyrannies like Iran or allow them to fund terrorists around the Middle East. Let America never turn a blind eye to the aggression of thugs like Putin, whose megalomania and violence threatens world peace.
And let’s see America forever stand by allies like Israel, who are committed to the very same values, ideals and principles that Americans just recently reaffirmed on the Fourth of July: an unshakable belief that all of God’s children are equal all are born free, and all deserving of a life suffused with happiness.
The writer, “America’s Rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author or 36 books, including most recently, Holocaust Holiday: One Family’s Descent into Genocide Memory Hell.