“Lilush, chayim sheli” (my life), a typical Israeli mom, Michal Ben Nun texted on Friday, adding a heart emoji. “Tishti mayim karim” (make sure to drink cold water). By Shabbat, that mother plummeted from worrying about her 19-year-old daughter dehydrating to mourning her.
We ended another Shabbat in Israel horrified. This time, Ben Nun, “Lilush,” 19, and two 22-year-olds were murdered by a Koran-toting, heavily-armed, rogue, Egyptian policeman. Ben Nun recently chronicled her difficult yet fulfilling combat training on TikTok. Her 24-year-old sister, Ophir, said, that even if “Lia knew what would happen, she wouldn’t have abandoned her mission to become a fighter.”
Ben Nun was ambushed alongside Uri Itzhak Ilouz, who had recently attended his grandfather’s memorial. He and his father would spend every Shabbat with his grandfather after his grandmother died. “What kind of youngster does that,” a friend marveled. “He was a righteous kid.”
Finally, while pursuing the terrorist, Ohad Dahan was killed, too. Ohad’s cousin, Noam, said, “He was educated to love the country and care for the state. He was an outstanding student and always helped everyone. He will stay young forever...”
Capturing Israel’s mood, Safed’s mayor, Shuki Ohana, said, “An awful, heavy grief has fallen on the city.” The anguish courses from North to South, from Safed to Rishon Lezion to Ofakim to the Egyptian border.
Israel is the Phoenix Nation: It comes back up every time it gets knocked down
But we are the Phoenix Nation. We get knocked down and we come up again. Saturday night, team Israel surprisingly beat Brazil, advancing to the Under-20 World Cup semifinals in Argentina, which became the host when Indonesia tried banning Israel. “We had a very tough day in the State of Israel,” said Dor Turgeman, 19, who scored the winning goal, “and we want to dedicate this win to their families and to the entire country.”
The next day, Sunday, 40,000 New Yorkers marched in the Celebrate Israel Parade, outnumbering 200 angry Israeli protesters by 200 to one. This celebration of what Israel is, this mature expression of thoughtful patriotism, Left and Right, mocked predictions that thousands of protesters would hijack the parade. “This is now the new normal in the Diaspora,” Haaretz claimed hopefully – but prematurely, mistakenly. “Turning up for Israel means protesting its government.”
While the protesters, like the anti-Zionists, dominate the discussion – we the muscular moderates know better – and act better. We know that Israel is more than terror attacks and judicial reforms; Israel also has the world’s 13th longest life expectancy and a gusty under-20 national team uniting Israeli-Arabs and Israeli-Jews playing and winning together.
LAST WEEK, Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch challenged his movement to recharge Reform Judaism. His justified repudiation of anti-Zionism as a sign of Jewish illness garnered the most headlines. He courageously warned his liberal rabbinic colleagues not to march arm-in-arm with Israel-haters, lending them our moral authority, challenging them to counter expanding anti-Zionist anti-peoplehood forces in liberal spaces throughout the Western world.
But Hirsch also articulated a spiritual and moral challenge that Identity Zionism addresses. He hopes a renewed appreciation of Israel, Zionism, Jewish peoplehood and Jewish particularism, will inspire the many American Jews who are disengaged, unaffiliated, or spiritually adrift. Without this Jewish and Zionist renaissance, he warned, “the protecting walls of Jewish nostalgia and generational loyalty will collapse under the mounting pressures of illiteracy and disinterest.”
In more popular terms – but with spoiler alerts – consider how The Marvelous Mrs. Maisels concluded. For five seasons, while charmed by the colorful characters, witty writing and New Yorkish nostalgia, I detested Midge’s superficial shticky, Judaism-by-punchline. Ultimately, Maisels becomes the mega-celebrity she yearned to be but at the cost of her soul and her family. The show ends in 2005. She is oh-so-lonely in her magnificent penthouse with her ex-husband jailed because of her, her son, a Zionist lunatic because of her, and her daughter, a neurotic academic because of her.
By contrast, Ted Lasso ends with the wise, witty football coach, rejecting British fame and riches to reunite with his son in America. Ted understands that “there is something worse out there than being sad – and that’s being alone and being sad.”
Ted Lasso, the uber-goy, nevertheless embodies the Zionist value of us-ness, the “ness” (miracle) of the “we.” Us-ness spirals ever-outward – by caring for others, you care for your identity, your history, your community, your people, your country and the world. I-ism spirals ever-inward, cutting you off from anything bigger than yourself, anyone who might annoy you – or block your career path. You then risk ending up like Mrs. Maisel – the series’ dystopic finale undermines its feminist message of empowering women tired of waiting around.
Anti-Zionists won’t destroy Israel but they threaten some Israeli lives and many American-Jewish souls. Similarly, all Westerners must beware the spreading soul-sucking epidemics of self-absorption, careerism and distance from meaningful communal structures like Zionism, peoplehood and Judaism.
Like a shrapnel-packed suicide bomb, every terrorist murder rips lives to shreds, embedding toxic fragments in broken hearts. We’re depressed but not demoralized or defeated, thanks to us-ness.
Because these young heroes knew they had something to die for, they had something to live for, too. We Zionists keep saying, in so many ways, to the newly-stricken families and the other mourners that you and we are sad today. But we know, Ted Lasso-style, that you and we are never alone. We will never forget these wonderful souls, the country they defended and the Zionist us-ness they embodied in their young and far-too-short lives.”
The writer is an American presidential historian and most recently, the editor of the three-volume set, Theodor Herzl: Zionist Writings, the inaugural publication of The Library of the Jewish People.