A letter to Israelis: We are with you

A friend in Israel writes, “Sometimes we feel as though no one in chul (chutz la’aretz — outside of the land) really understands what is happening here.”
October 19, 2015

A friend in Israel writes, “Sometimes we feel as though no one in chul (chutz la’aretz — outside of the land) really understands what is happening here.” She means the daily apprehension, the fear when you see your child walk out of the front door in the morning. She means the knowledge that any passing car can become a ground missile, any disembarking passenger an avatar of death. She further fears the knives wielded on streets will bring out the rhetorical knives as well: ones like the words of U.S. State Department Spokesman Adm. John Kirby, talking about how both sides have committed acts of terror.

What can I say to her; what can we say? How do we, who have chosen the buffered safety of life outside the land, respond to those who live in Israel? These are my words to Rena, to her children, to all of our sisters and brothers who feel alone: Jews across the world wake each morning with prayer and trepidation, the prayer borne of faith and the trepidation of love. The sacred cord ties us from Paris to Miami to Madrid to London to Los Angeles to Buenos Aires to Toronto to Kiev to New York, its origin in the energy of Jerusalem.

The world may not care to understand what it is to be surrounded by enemies, watchful and fearful, but we do.

Countries that associate with others — the EU or NATO or ASEAN or Latin American States or OPEC — cannot imagine what it is to belong to no club, to stand singular in the family of nations. We remember the verse of Lamentations: “How the city sits solitary.” There is one Jewish nation. One.

When people forgive the catastrophic political culture around you, asking what can one expect of people who have never known democracy, believe me — we remember that the founders of Israel came from lands with czars and dictators and tyrannies and still managed to create a democracy. We do not forget Israel’s roots, and we have not ceased to be amazed at them.

When your children are still at an age when girls and boys resist learning about the past, falling asleep in classes featuring dry recitations of dates and events, we know that you are haunting them with history. They learn at 6, 7, 8 years old that the strong arm of Israel has a number tattooed on it that will never disappear. As one of your greatest writers has said, before Israeli children learn the facts of life, they learn the facts of death. We, your sisters and brothers, do not forget.

Your 17-year-olds who patrol the borders may be a symbol to some of brute strength. To us, they are our children, barely discovering what life is, forced to carry a gun and make choices in a split second that will save or doom lives. On the evening they should be on a first date, they listen for sounds of terrorists in the night.

When you read in the Torah of Reuven, Gad and half of Manasseh — the tribes that Moses permitted to dwell outside the land — you may suppose that we no longer heed Moses’ admonition that the tribes must help fight for the land to earn the privilege of residing elsewhere. Most of us have not forgotten. We know there is a tax for not living in the land.

When pundits from all over the world, in the safety of their studios, question how you defend yourself, know that we trust you. Do we ever question? Of course. We all think, argue, doubt, wonder. But in the end, we trust you not only because you have survived the many storms, but because while families fight, they also trust and embrace.

So what do we offer you in your pain? We will send money to support hospitals and soldiers and the wounded and bereaved and charities and schools. We will speak up when the world assails you, judges and condemns you, dismisses your fears because they themselves do not wish to be afraid. We will visit you and stand next to you.

But most of all, please know that we love you. We love you not with the distant, easy affection that we give to people who do not impinge on our lives or disturb our sleep. We love you, our Israeli brothers and sisters, with the soul-rocking love that binds our fate and our destiny with yours, the love of family far away that does not forget. We know that you would have us be there and instead we are here. But also, please remember, we are here.

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