Guest Column: Of heels and heroes

We must remember another side of Israeli society.

IDF troops 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
IDF troops 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Life, it’s been said, is one gigantic gray area. Hard to exactly define, full of qualifications and contradictions, our existence is somewhere between the extremes. But life in Israel? Well, that’s a whole different animal, and – as is de rigueur for the Jewish people – completely breaks the mold. Here we do see the extremes: war and peace, triumph and tragedy, hot and – hotter.
Over the last couple of weeks, we have truly been witness to the black and white of Israeli society. While scandals are never in short supply in our neighborhood, the latest revelations have given us all a bad case of headline shock, whose primary symptom is a fear of opening the daily newspaper.
FIRST THERE was the unprecedented fraud and corruption revealed in the grossly misnamed Holyland housing project affair. Millions of shekels found their way into the greedy pockets of city planners and municipal officials. They bypassed standard rules of governance and building ordinances to bulldoze into reality this ultra-lavish, ultra-pricey stain on the Jerusalem landscape, sacrificing all-too-scarce greenery and gorgeous views upon the altar of obscene profits. So pervasive is this criminal conspiracy that even the corruption trial of former prime minister Ehud Olmert – potent though it is – has been shoved to the inside pages and postponed.
Then we were hit by the revelation that a former soldier, in cahoots with a Haaretz reporter, has stolen hundreds, perhaps thousands of classified IDF documents that, were they to fall into the wrong hands, could compromise the safety and security of each and every citizen of the State of Israel. The soldier, Anat Kamm – who, inexplicably, is confined only to house arrest, although she is charged with the grievous crime of espionage – no doubt thought she was some kind of crusading do-gooder out to “expose” the malicious miscues of our nasty Jewish state against the “poor” Palestinians. But in most civilized countries, she – and her partner in crime, currently on the lam in London – is nothing more than just a plain traitor.
There’s more by way of scandal – the illegal trafficking in human organs, the Barzilai Medical Center fiasco, to name just two – but I think you get the picture.
But not the whole picture.
Because there is another, very, very different side to Israeli society, and it, too, is in the spotlight these days.
THERE IS the focus on the martyrs and survivors of the Holocaust, those who were murdered by the Germans and their myriad accomplices and those who emerged battered and bloody from the hell. Their story is one of absolute courage and faith, the courage to emerge from the ashes and go on living while carrying a lifelong, debilitating trauma within their psyche, and the faith to believe that hope could be renewed and restored. They, too, are the victims of horrific scandals – such as Holocaust committees which sit on billions of dollars in restitution money, parceling out mere pittances to elderly and sick survivors, waiting for them to die off so the money can become theirs, free and clear.
But the survivors survive this indignity, too, plodding forward, bearing their pain yet also bearing new generations of Jews who helped mightily to build this nation and to build up every Diaspora community in which they lived. Their heroic stories not only reflect their own inner strength, they inspire all of us to maintain our dignity, even while we are mistreated and maligned, and to believe in a better tomorrow, even when that seems hopelessly far off.
And, of course, there is our collective recognition of the men and women of the IDF, particularly those who fell in battle defending the state throughout all of our (too) many wars. While once the IDF was the great equalizer, and there was a universal respect for these angels in green, they, too, have come “under fire” in recent years. More and more of the population – from secular to haredi – are refusing to serve in the army, leaving fewer recruits to protect more civilians. In some circles, those who do serve in combat units are mocked by those who have successfully managed to evade their military responsibility. And large segments of the population eliminate the prayer for the welfare of the soldiers from their synagogue liturgy, and refuse to observe a moment of silence for the fallen.
Yet our soldiers march on, absolutely secure in their knowledge that they are the primary line of defense which allows everyone else in the country to pursue a normal life. Observant soldiers – who are fast becoming the majority of the IDF’s career officers – know in their hearts that they are God’s holy messengers performing the ultimate mitzva: putting into practice God’s promise to watch over and guard His beloved nation. In the army, our soldiers – though underpaid and often underfed – live and breathe the sacred ideals of unity, purpose and self-sacrifice which raise the moral bar for our entire society.
Money, power and fame – the three demigods which fuel crime andcorruption – are nowhere to be found in the personalities of oursurvivors and soldiers. For they recognize the truth that it is farbetter to be a suffering hero than a successful heel.
As the now-naked Jews lined up at the edge of the pit, awaiting theirturn to be shot by the SS, one man approached a guard and asked if hemight be allowed to say a short prayer before he was killed. The Germansneered, but gave him permission to do so. The man then pulled hisyoung son next to him, placing one hand over the boy’s head, and theother over his own head. “Repeat after me,” said the father, andtogether they recited the following prayer, loud enough for all tohear, including the stunned Nazis: “Blessed are you, O God, who did notcreate me a heathen.”
Their lives ended that day, but their spirit lives on in the best of our nation.
The writer’s eldest son, Sgt. Ari Weiss, fell in battleagainst Hamas terrorists in Nablus in September 2002. He can be reachedat