My friend David Nesenoff is one of the most creative people I have ever met. Beyond being the only person I know that has written and directed a film that was screened at Sundance, I have seen pro bono music videos and songs touch many hearts. Where he excels the most is as a Rabbi and teacher. David can take complex issues and put them into terms that everyone can relate to and understand.
Just before this past weekend he sent me one of his Rosh Hashana sermons. It brilliantly lays out the case for Israel, and he as honored me by allowing me to reproduce it below.
One note if you are going to read this, read the WHOLE thing, otherwise you will not understand what this piece is really about:
by Rabbi David F. Nesenoff
Temple Beth Sholom of Smithtown
Rosh Hashanah 2nd Day 5767
So this past summer we went to Israel to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of my son Adam. You know, Israel, it’s that place we sometimes visit.
Sometimes we send money there.
Sometimes we buy a bond.
Sometimes we plant a tree.
Sometimes we read about it in the newspaper.
Sometimes we say a prayer in the synagogue.
Sometimes we hear really mean people say really nasty things about that country.
Sometimes we see the TV showing the aftermath of blown up buses there.
Sometimes we see tanks and jeeps and rockets and missiles and people are arguing about what’s going on over there.
Sometimes politicians are supporting that country.
Sometimes there are rallies and sometimes there are parades. Sometimes we see that country represented as a contestant in the Miss Universe pageant and sometimes we see them in the Olympics. Sometimes their athletes are shot and brought home in caskets and sometimes their citizens are hijacked or held hostage and need to be rescued.
Sometimes that country just gets labeled as the Middle East or the Middle East conflict and sometimes we see people negotiating over the conflict.
And sometimes they are shaking hands and sometimes they are killing each other’s eighteen year olds’.
And sometimes they are just wounding and maiming them.
So Nancy and I and Adam and Ashley decided to go and Bar Mitzvah Adam in Israel because sometimes Jews from America do that sort of thing there.
When I was 14 I went alone to Israel for a year to study in an Agricultural High School in Ashkelon. And when I was in graduate school I studied for a year at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Some of us have been there for short time periods and some have been there longer, or some have gone more frequently and some of us have not been there yet and some of us might believe that they will probably never journey to that country.
But we all have a basic knowledge of Israel. It’s a Jewish country with a great history; it is ancient yet contemporary; it’s religious but not everyone is religious. There’s a desert; there’s a wall;People have accents; they grow oranges; Hadassah has a hospital, choumous, felafel, shekels, El Al etc…
And even though I was born in Glen Cove and grew up in Syosset Long Island, Israel is my Jewish homeland. It is the homeland for all Jewish people.
Why is it our homeland? Well ask anyone they’ll tell you. Everyone knows why Israel is the Jewish homeland. We know, you know, I know. The television knows. The media knows. The public knows, the world knows. All the schools know. The senior citizens know, the college kids know. Everyone knows why Israel is the Jewish homeland.
Israel was sanctioned a State in 1948 after the Holocaust so the remaining Jews who were almost wiped off the face of the earth by the Nazis would have a place to go and call their own. So Jews started arriving in the late forties to Israel to live and start a new life. They had a rightful claim to the land because thousands of years earlier they once had lived there.
In today’s torah portion we read about Abraham who was in Israel and who earlier in the torah was promised that land by G-d. And in the following portion when his wife Sarah dies Abraham actually buys with money land in Hebron to bury her.
And then for hundreds of years Jews lived there, and then they were slaves in Egypt. And then they went back to Israel and Joshua broke down the walls of Jericho and began reclaiming Israel again. And then there was King Saul, and King David killed Goliath and Solomon built a Temple and it was destroyed twice and the Jews left and went into exile in the year 70.
So after the Holocaust in the late 1940s it was a natural for the Jews to go back there– to their land and reclaim it again. And with the world feeling really guilty right after the Holocaust it made it that much easier to get the land back and kick out hundreds of thousands of Arabs who were living there and dwelling peacefully with their families and loved ones. But it was ours first as it was promised to us by G-d in the Torah so we have a claim to it. And that’s why we have a Jewish Homeland and so I went there this summer with my family for my son’s Bar Mitzvah.
And like I said, we know that, sometimes, American Jews do that today.
So, Shana Tova and Happy New Year.
You know, before I conclude, maybe, I should just mention one more thing.
If I stole your diamond ring and said that G-d told my grandfather that the diamond ring was his, so therefore it is now mine. I think we would have ourselves a conflict.
If I really believe that the ring is mine, even if G-d did tell my grandfather something, I better show up to court with a few other supporting facts with regard to my ownership of that diamond ring. And even though I am an ordained rabbi if I want that ring that is mine I better not bring up that G-d story like it is something anyone is actually interested in hearing about.
I better show up with a case file and evidence and facts and accounts and photographs and testimonies and data and particulars and statistics and non-paranormal reality. Yeah I would stay away from that G-d story when I’m presenting my case for that diamond ring in front of the judge, the jury and the general public.
From 1517 to 1917 Turkey controlled the areas we know as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel. During World War I Turkey supported Germany. When Germany lost the war, Lebanon and Syria was assigned to France… and the area we know as Jordan and Israel was mandated to Great Britain.
The Jews of numerous Arab countries had already begun mass immigration into that area in the 1880’s in an effort to rid the land of swamps and malaria. This Jewish dangerous and painstaking effort to turn uninhabitable marsh and malaria and mire into livable property was actually becoming successful. The Jewish revitalization of the land was paying off and then and only then attracted a large immigration of Arabs from neighboring areas who were drawn by employment opportunities and healthier living conditions than the Arab countries they were living in.
In 1923, the British divided this area and gave 75% of the land to the Arabs and 25% to the Jews. The Arabs launched never-ending murderous attacks upon the Jews in an effort to drive them out. Most terrifying were the Hebron massacres of 1929 and later during the 1936 to 1939 “Arab Revolt.” The British at first tried to maintain order but soon (due to the large oil deposits being discovered throughout the Arab Middle East) turned a blind eye. It became painfully clear to the Jews that they must fight the Arabs AND drive out the British.
The Jews were forced to form an organized defense against the Arabs, thus was formed the Hagana, the beginnings of the Israeli Defense Forces. There was also a Jewish underground called the Irgun, led by Menachem Begin (who later became Prime Minister of Israel). Besides fighting the Arabs, the Irgun was instrumental in driving out the pro-Arab British. Finally in 1947 the British had enough and turned the problem over to the United Nations.
The 1947 U.N. Resolution 181 partition plan was to divide the remaining 25% that the Jews were living in, into a Jewish State and a second Palestinian State. The Jews accepted the UN plan. The Arab Palestinians rejected it. The Arabs still wanted ALL of the land both east AND west of the Jordan River.
On May 14, 1948 the Jews finally declared their own State of Israel and became “Israelis.” On the next day, seven neighboring Arab armies… Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Yemen… invaded Israel. Most of the Arabs living within the boundaries of the newly declared “ISRAEL” were encouraged to leave by the invading Arab armies to facilitate the slaughter of the Jews and were promised to be given all Jewish property after the victorious Arab armies won the war. The truth is that 70% of the Arabs who left in 1948 – perhaps 300,000 to 400,000 of them – never saw an Israeli soldier! They did not flee because they feared Jewish soldiers or Jewish thugs…. But because of a rational and reasonable calculus: the Jews will be exterminated; we will get out of the way while that messy and dangerous business goes forward, and we will return afterwards to reclaim our homes, and to inherit those nice Jewish properties as well. They guessed wrong; and the Arabs are still tortured by the residual shame of their flight.
The remaining 30% either saw for themselves that these Jews would fight and die for their new nation and decided to pack up and leave or they were driven off the land as a normal consequence of war.
When the, nineteen month war, ended, Israel survived despite a 1% loss of its entire population! Those Arabs who did not flee became today’s Israeli-Arab citizens. Those who fled became the seeds of the first wave of “Palestinian Arab refugees.”
In the final analysis, the Arabs of Palestine ended up with nearly 85% of the original territory of that area, and it’s called Jordan, or in reality, their ARAB Palestinian state! But that was still not 100% and thus the conflict between Arab and Jew for “Palestine” continues through wars and continuous Arab terrorist attacks upon Israeli citizens.
Your Honor, that diamond-ring is mine. I dug into the cavern and struck the walls and collected the stone and carved it and cut it and set it and wore it and bled for it. This is not about my G-d or their G-d. This is not about the Holocaust or the 1940s. This is not about Kings Saul, David or Solomon. This is not about throwing Arabs and their loved one’s out of their homes. This is not about ancient times.
This is about the creation of a modern country in modern times in a legitimate manner. This is about the blossoming of a fruit that was planted in swamps and marshes and malaria.
This isn’t about 70 BCE or 70 AD. This is about 1517, 1880, 1917, 1923, 1936,1939, 1947, and 1948.
That diamond ring is mine and that diamond ring is my son’s. And if I want him and his children to have that beautiful sparkling gem, I better stop telling stories about how my G-d is better than your G-d.
And I better remember to retell and recant and reclaim the history and facts surrounding that precious diamond ring.
Oh to live in a world with only one Hitler. We live in a world of ruthless Muslim dictators who are counting on the big lie to overtake the world’s ignorance and bring about the final solution. They want to finally drive Israel into the sea. And they are telling the story of how the Jews directed by their G-d came and took the land in 1948 away from the poor Arabs, and the post Holocaust UN and world felt guilty so they gave it to the Jews. And these Moslem and now European and South American and Eastern bloc nations are getting away with that story because we Jews are telling the same story.
We must teach the world the real story. And we must start by learning it ourselves…. And teaching it to our children in Hebrew School, in Adult Education classes and on college campuses. We must teach it to our friends and to the media. This is not about G-d. And those who are defending Israel with divine support as their evidence are killing us. We have got to focus on the truth that is undeniable: the truth of facts, not faith.
The diamond is slipping off our finger. We can only keep it on for so long by making a fist. We must learn and then educate our people and our world about the facts regarding the creation of the State of Israel, the Jewish Homeland. This is not about G-d
And so I went to Israel to Bar Mitzvah my son this past summer. And Adam recited the blessings over the Torah on Masada in the middle of the desert on top of this mountain where, in the year 72, one thousand Jews drew lots to select two of them to slaughter all of them, in a kind of suicide pact, rather than be killed by the Romans who were about to breach the mountain fortress. When the Romans discovered all the dead bodies, two Jewish women remained to tell the story of this Jewish community.
Make no mistake about it, we have an ancient story to tell, but we must testify with the contemporary facts of our homeland or we will be destined to retell that ancient story again and again.
This past summer in Israel, I also stood in the home of Meir Dizengoff, who in 1909, not 1948, 1909, gathered with 66 families on the sandy shoreline of what was to become Tel Aviv. I stood in the bomb shelter of his home where David Ben Gurion proclaimed the Independence of the State of Israel.
Our Israel is still in the bomb shelter proclaiming her statehood while Moslems and others deny their recognition of this valid legal Jewish Homeland.
Don’t let anyone call you or your father or your children a thief. That diamond ring is ours, but we better polish up on our understanding of how we got it.
The Jews in that swamp land were not religious and they were not Orthodox and they were not Chasidim, they were just pre-Holocaust Jews who no one wanted and they were willing to try to settle in a
G-d forsaken place which no one wanted either.
Your Honor, that diamond-ring is mine.