When I was a little girl growing up in New York City, I remember hearing a program about Auschwitz. My mother wouldn’t let me watch. But unknown to her, the television was perfectly audible in my bedroom. I learned about how the St. Louis had wandered the seas with Hitler’s prey, Jews looking for refuge, and how every country in the world had seen fit to close its doors. And how Hitler had learned from this that he could do as he wished with the Jews of Europe.
I learned about the camps: the Zyklon B gas, the way the doors were locks…
And so, as I lay in my bed in the dark and listened to everything that was said, a horrible realization and a wonderful revelation took place in my soul. The horror was the terrible vulnerability of the Jews, and the unthinkable things that had been done to them because of it. The wonder was that I was a Jew and I was still alive and well with my whole future ahead of me; that whatever had happened to my people in the past, I could now help to ensure it never happened again.
In the morning, I asked my mother what she and other American Jews, safe in their comfortable homes, had done to help the isolated Jews of Europe. “There was a protest,” she said vaguely. “In Madison Square Garden.”
I was ashamed. I would never let that happen again, I thought. When I grew up, I would make sure that my life and the lives of my people were inextricable. I would care. I would fight. I would risk. I would be strong. I would give all my love to my G-d, my people, my nation.
And so, in my early twenties I moved to Israel. I was always a little surprised that more of my American Jewish friends didn’t join me. After all, the history of the Jewish people was being written in the Jewish State, not in New York, or Maryland. I was always a little ashamed when American Jews felt that their checks entitled them to pretend that they were citizens of Israel, entitled to decide her political moves, to give her advice, and scold her.
I accepted the summer camps for American Jewish children who were sent for two months to undo years of a barren American upbringing which gave them so little in terms of information and inspiration and connection with the richness of their Jewish heritage. We had fought so many wars to give American Jews a summer camp. But I was happy that those two months actually did help stem the tide of assimilation, and that the children who came did find pride in being part of the Jewish people.
And now, when the moment of truth has come and the entire world is once again smelling Jewish blood, and another six million Jews have become increasingly isolated and attacked and unfairly maligned, now when the solidarity of American Jewry actually means the world to her brothers and sisters in Israel, American Reform Jews have decided that Israel isn’t even worth summer camp.
Let’s be honest. I know what some of you are thinking: Is this woman off her rocker? Me, go into a war zone? Me, risk my children’s lives when Israel has become Beirut. Get real, lady! I see the same pictures you do on CNN -– the death and mayhem.
But the truth is, I walk the streets of Jerusalem. I send my son to school on the buses. I travel to Tel Aviv, and Haifa and Netanya. Millions of Israelis do it everyday and are fine. If I were to travel on the subways of New York late at night, or walk into certain neighborhoods in Baltimore, or Los Angeles or Miami I might not be fine. I might also risk being dead.
And so, I would like to reassure you. Israel, whatever our enemies tell you with the help of CNN, is not a war zone. We take precautions, just as you do in America. We don’t mingle in large crowds. Some of us feel more comfortable in taxis then buses. We don’t travel every road in the country fearlessly, but there are many, many roads in which you need have no fears at all. That is the truth. The big bombs get big news. But that doesn’t mean that on a day to day basis every one of us fears for our lives.
The truth is, youth groups are coming and going every single day, the participants cautiously guarded and directed, leaving with wonderful memories. The irony is that this is the best time in the world to come. The prices are great. Nothing is crowded. The tourist industry is at its most welcoming.
Millions of us in Israel turn to the Jews of North America, South America, England, South Africa, Australia and Europe and say: My brothers and sisters. The hour is at hand to see if we are truly a nation, an indivisible family. To show how deep your commitment goes. Because if Israel is the insurance policy for world Jewry; if her losses and sacrifices have been made to ensure every Jew a homeland, a place where when a Jew has to go there, the country has to take them in, then the time has come for you to do your part.
We are not asking you to put on a uniform and take a gun. Nor would we ask you to send your child into battle. We are asking you a very simple, reasonable thing. Come to Israel and see what a beautiful country we Jews have built. Only you can fill the flights to Israel. Only you can fill her hotels.
Come and show the world there is such a thing as the Jewish people and that they are not cowards. They have strength, and faith and courage. Show the affluent, influential Arabs nations and their European allies that the Jews have come home to stay and that, under attack, we don’t not cower. Our numbers swell.
Do this not only for Israel and her economy, and her people’s morale. Do it so that when your son or daughter asks you in years to come: ”Mommy, Daddy, what did you do when the Jews of Israel were under attack?” you can give them an answer which will make you, and them, feel proud.