January 16, 2019

Terror, BDS & the “Isaac Factor”

As I looked at the gruesome images of bodies laying on the floor in a Jerusalem synagogue, wrapped in Talit and Tefillin and drenched in blood, what came to mind is the haunting poem by Hayim Nahman Bialik, “On the Threshold of the House of Prayer.” Here are some excerpts:

O, sanctuary of my youth, my ancient house of prayer…
Sadly, sunbeams gaze through your cracks and holes,
Each corner mourns, each nook bewails your lot…

O, sacred walls of my house of prayer,
Why do you stand speechless and in despair?
Casting dark and silent shadows, grim to view?

While reflecting on these chilling words, I also thought of Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas and his most recent expressions of hatred. In remarks clearly intended to stoke the flames of violence, Abbas recently said, “We must do everything to stop the Israelis from desecrating and polluting the Noble Sanctuary (The Temple Mount).” While Israel actually protects the status quo of Islam’s religious control over the Temple Mount, and Israeli police officers protect the security of Islamic religious leaders and millions of Muslims who pray there regularly, Abbas’ inflammatory remarks caused the exact opposite: Muslims desecrated a Jewish House of Prayer, Muslims killed an Israeli police officer, Muslims butchered four Jewish religious leaders, and Muslims injured Jewish worshippers. It is Muslims who polluted a synagogue with violence and bloodshed. It is Muslims who desecrated, not Jews.

Also this week, UCLA’s Student Government met and did some desecrating of their own. At their meeting, the UCLA Student Government polluted UCLA, my alma mater. In a shameful 8-2 vote, UCLA’s Student Government voted to endorse the international “Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions” (BDS) movement, whose goal is to weaken Israel and promote the Palestinian agenda. In an institution known for promoting freedom of inquiry, freedom of speech, tolerance, pluralism, open-minded thinking and democratic values, the student government decided to identify with a society whose way of life continues to be contra to all that UCLA stands for. By identifying with a Palestinian society whose religious leaders, politicians and parents promote violence, intolerance and anti-democratic creeds as a way of life, the irresponsible student government took UCLA – whose emblem reads “Let there be light” – into a symbolic “dark age.”

In the wake of this week’s violence in Jerusalem targeting Jewish worshippers, along with the shameful vote that saw UCLA’s Student Government join the chorus of delegitimizers of Israel, one would think that Israel and the Jewish people might feel a sense of despair.  We are horrified, outraged, disgusted – but absolutely no state of despair. There is one person in this week’s Torah portion who embodies our lack of despair. His name is Isaac.

We are all descendants of Isaac, the boy who was bound up on the altar with a knife to his throat, yet nonetheless found the strength to move on and build his life. We are all descendants of Isaac, who, when faced with a famine in Israel, decided to “stay in the land and dig wells.” The resilience of Isaac is part of the Jewish hard drive. I call it the “Isaac Factor.”

Throughout our history, the Jewish people have been persecuted and attacked – both physically (like this week’s attacks in Jerusalem) and verbally (like the BDS vote at UCLA) – but somehow, we always found the strength to move ahead. Like Isaac, we were “bound on the altar with a knife to our throats” many times in our history, but we always recovered and moved ahead. Like Isaac, we also see problems and challenges in our own land, and like Isaac, our response to those problems is to “stay in the land and dig wells.” We are traumatized by persecution, but that does not deter us from continuing to build and promote a better future. We are disturbed by the many problems in the Middle East, but that will never cause us to leave Israel. We are Isaac, the ultimate “survivor” who always finds the strength to move on and rebuild.

Not only do we survive, but we promote life, no matter the circumstances. While  UCLA students voted for BDS in supposed support of the Palestinians, and while Hamas praised the attacks and Palestinians triumphantly celebrated violence in the streets, our Chief Rabbis met with Muslim leaders in a public call for peace, just one day after a brutal attack by Muslims against us. While the “righteous of the world” pay lip service to cooperation amongst peoples, we are the people who – in the midst of funerals and shiva for our own families – sent busloads of Jews from Jerusalem to a Druze village in Northern Israel (along with a rabbi to deliver a eulogy), all to pay final respects to the young Israeli police officer from the Druze community who died in defense of the Jewish worshippers. You can shoot at us in our synagogues or shoot us down at student government meetings, but we will always find the strength to move ahead, nothing will drive us away from our homeland, and nobody will take away our strong sense of humanity and decency.

To the brutal terrorists this week, and to those who shamefully voted for BDS, we proudly declare – despite our outrage – that we are not desecrators. We are survivors. We promote life. No matter what you try against us, you will always come up against our strongest and most durable weapon: the “Isaac Factor.”