February 27, 2020

An Open ‘Thank You’ List to Those Who Made Our Lives ‘Richer’

I’m a relative newcomer to this magical place called Israel. Although I’ll always remain a proud American, my love for my new home increases each day. It’s populated by diverse, argumentative and combative people. But despite our many differences, we’re united by a sense of belonging and rootedness, of having come home after surviving a journey that should have destroyed us centuries ago.

Now, some folks out there don’t particularly appreciate the sentiment. Some of you are doing your best to thwart our progress. Some are aiming for much, much worse.

But here’s the thing. Without intending to, you’ve contributed to our well-being far more than you could ever know. Here’s my list of people to thank for making our lives “richer” in 2019.

To the Palestinians — Without the constant exhortations from your religious and political leaders to kill us, we could be repeating past mistakes when told that we needed to jump-start the peace process through “confidence building” giveaways. You’ve made things much easier by upping — to account for inflation, I guess — your pay-to-slay payments to the families of those who kill Jews, and for the school curricula that deny our existence while teaching martyrdom as the highest goal. Today, there are no illusions and no negotiating partners.

To the United Nations — Your poisonous obsession with demonizing Israel reminds us that much of the world has not come around to accepting our existence any more than it did when Jews couldn’t find a refuge from the Holocaust.

To Iran — For those who think that Israel can ignore what the world thinks, we have Iran and its Hezbollah and Hamas proxies to remind us that one misstep on our part, one moment in which we lose our vigilance or our edge, and we can be incinerated.

To Jeremy Corbyn — Thanks to the (politically) late-lamented head of the British Labour Party, for reminding us that a pillar of Western civilization could come that close to installing a brazen anti-Semite as its head.

To white supremacists — Thank you for reminding us that the post-Holocaust frowning upon public Jew hatred has come to an end. The most virulent and primitive anti-Semitism is back — coupled with hatred of people of color, immigrants and others. (Here is the real intersectionality!) For that reason alone, we need a strong Jewish state!

To “The Squad” — You showed us the limits and fragility of congressional support when the leadership of the Democratic Party could not bring itself to censure Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for her overt anti-Semitism. When the media give free passes to Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), no matter how sophomoric, ill-informed (like Tlaib’s recent depiction of the terrorist attack on the Jersey City, N.J., grocery store by blacks with links to the Black Hebrew Israelites, as the work of “white supremacists”), or just plain hatred-inciting they may be, we realize that for some Americans in positions of power, that race, gender and victimhood mean more than facts.

To Jewish Voice For Peace — We needed to show the world that Jews can be foolish and/or anti-Semitic. You did it for us by actively supporting the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

Despite our many differences, we’re united by a sense of belonging and rootedness, of having come home after surviving a journey that should have destroyed us centuries ago.

To (too many) Western churches — We’ve lived with the hostility of the elites leading the 590 million-strong World Council of Churches since before our founding. Along the way, we learned that the Mennonites (many of whom were Hitler’s eager supporters in his search for Aryan communities) never had anything positive to say about us, and the Quakers were certainly not our friends. This past year, we saw the Anglican Church of Southern Africa take delegitimizing Israel to new depths, while the U.S. version (the Episcopal Church) became the first mainline denomination to ratchet up a boycott of Israeli goods. Rick Wiles and TruNews reminded us that anti-Semitism is deeply rooted in the U.S., with claims that we are “fake Jews” and responsible for all global problems. So deeply rooted that they could find tens of thousands of viewers in the evangelical heartland. We thank all of you for reminding us that it is easier to profess love than meaningfully demonstrate it.

To the campus and academic communities — We have watched as Israeli speakers were shouted down on campus after campus until they could not continue — while administrations consistently did nothing to protect free speech. We’ve seen Jewish students bullied inside and outside of classrooms, sometimes for being pro-Israel, at other times simply for being Jewish. We observed a federally funded program at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill that featured a comedian telling openly anti-Semitic jokes. At Oberlin College, students set up a memorial to Islamic Jihad terrorists.
We thank you for reminding us that IQ and moral rectitude have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

To intersectionality devotees — How could we demonstrate to the world that anti-Semitism is not restricted to alt-right lunatics and Nazis, if it were not for activist and former Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour (Israel is “built on the idea that Jews are supreme to everyone else”; “nothing creepier” than the Jewish liberation movement) types? Thanks for explaining to us that we suffer from white privilege because half of us in Israel are non-white, we would never have realized it.

Here is why we are counting all the blessings you provided us.

The United Nations World Happiness Report has Israel in 13th place, ahead of the U.S., the U.K., Germany and every other Middle Eastern country. This despite having to send our sons and daughters to our borders every day — from which too many don’t return — to prevent our neighbors from achieving their announced goal of pushing us into the sea. For that privilege, we pay ridiculously high taxes and live with the scorn and derision of a world that never forgot anti-Semitism.

Why are we still so happy? It is because Israel is one of the few places where people still can feel a deep sense of mission and purpose. Israel is one of the only places on Earth where increasing income does not mean having fewer children. On Israel Independence Day, that sense of purpose is palpable. Every patch of grass is covered with people celebrating love of country. Can you still remember when the U.S. was like that?

As the quality of life keeps improving, this sense of national purpose could easily evaporate. Each of us could easily turn to our own smaller universes, if we no longer had to worry about simple survival. The beauty of the entire enterprise — and the willingness of all of us to participate in it — would fade. We would lose our best and brightest to emigration.

You are the reason why we have not gone spoiled and soft. You know — like Europe. But you remind us each day that we need to steel ourselves and to be prepared to go it alone. You had no intention of assisting us — au contraire! We do regret, however, what you’ve done to the people you thought you were befriending. Your encouragement does nothing substantive for the Palestinians other than prolonging their agony, enabling them to stay away from the negotiating table that could give them the better life they need and deserve.

Finally, all of you make us appreciate the millions of true friends we have in the U.S. and beyond.

May the New Year bless our true friends.

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.