Published by The Freeman Center
The Maccabean Online
Political Analysis and Commentary
Looking Back Into Our Future
SERMON/SPEECH BY JACK BERGER,
FREEMAN CENTER MEMBER
May 15, 2010
In the words of Ezekiel, “Ben Adam can these bones live… These bones Ben Adam are the whole family of Israel (… of Jacob)… and they the shuffling skeletons barely alive lament, ‘Our bones have dried and our hope is lost. We are doomed…’ yet from the heavens, a voice, My people, Behold… in just 3 years I shall open your graves of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Babi Yar… too many to name… and I shall put My spirit into you and I shall bring you back to the Land… the Land I promised to your forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… and there I will be your G-d!”
Ezekiel’s words from long ago - a prophecy looking back into our future.
In 1945, with the tragedy of the Shoah no longer a silent nightmare, the world capitals were filled with a deafening silence. For all too long the nations of the world had been “Holocaust deniers”. But deniers knew. They had taken temporary solace in discomforting lies which could no longer be denied… and a veil of shame spread not only over Europe, but to the shores of America and to American Jewry that for years had chosen to stand idly by the shedding of our brothers’ blood. Shame still had feelings in those days.
From the stench in the graveyards of Europe and the shame of all decent people, in the face of reality - few wanted to even ask the question – could these bones live?! And many believed that this time history would finally have its way with the Jews… the horror was beyond Crusades, Inquisitions and pogroms… but our Rock had other plans. He was about to split the Sea again – He had a miracle in store for the entire world to see… “Ben Adam, can these bones - from what is the remnant of European Jewry - live?”…
And so it was, 62 years ago yesterday afternoon, erev Shabbat, that a short, white haired man, stepped to a microphone in a crowded room in Tel Aviv and with the strength and courage forged over 2,000 years of wandering thru Crusades, Inquisitions, pogroms - and that day with six million of our people at his side, defied the American government, defied the Europeans, defied the United Nations and defied the history of civilizations. The ceremony began with a mournful playing of Hatikvah in remembrance of the 6 million slaughtered. On the wall behind the speaker hung a huge picture of the unlikely dreamer Theodor Herzl… Ben Gurion / as Nachson before him / began in our new/old ancient language to step into our history with these opening words: “In the Land of Israel the Jewish people came into being. In this land was shaped their spiritual, religious, and national character. Here they lived in sovereign independence. Here they created a culture of national and universal import, and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books”… 16 minutes later he concluded by leading the assembled with the Shehecheyanu…
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of Universe who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this day”… and although not yet the land of milk and honey, you could hear the shrill sounds of shofars throughout the land announcing the rebirth.
After 2,000 years of wandering in the wilderness of Diaspora delusions – our people had, Shivat Zion, come home… and once again, the crowds in the hall and on the streets of Tel Aviv broke out this time in joy with the singing of Hatikvah – and there was dancing and praying throughout the land. It was Shabbat… and what a special Shabbat it would be… the 62 year war was about to begin.
Eleven minutes later the United States recognized the State of Israel and 48 hours later the United States embargoed all arms headed for Israel . Yes, said the United States , we will recognize you for New York ’s electoral votes, but your life will be short lived – c’est la vie! We’ll let the Arabs take care of the Jewish problem… America needed Arab oil to rebuild its economy after the war and those damn Jews in Palestine were not going to get in the way of America ’s need for prosperity. How wrong they would be. American Jews were both joyous and anxious… it has always been an uneasy relationship.
As some of you are aware, my views and reputation precede me. I gave a talk a number of years ago and after my talk a woman came up to me and handed me a book she said I must read – she told me that her father was one of the men at the meeting revealed in the book. The name of the book is “The Pledge” by Leonard Slater written in 1970 about men willing to do extraordinary things in a time of our people’s need… – I’ll give the synagogue the information. If you never read another book pick up and read the true story of a few dedicated men who refused to stand idly by – she knew her customers.
Zachor, Zachor… remember what Amalak did to you when you left Europe …
In May, 1948, a reporter, Eric Dowton wrote for The London Daily Telegraph,
“Mass murder was committed every day for a month on the streets of Jerusalem in the early summer of 1948. Children, women, the aged, the sick and wounded in their ambulances, were slaughtered without mercy.
Yet the world… did not protest. Washington and Moscow , London and Paris were silent… At the United Nations, an organization barely five years old, already the biggest circus for hypocrisy, faint protest voiceswere brushed aside. With few exceptions the world’s news media wassilent to condemn the Jerusalem bloodletting. The guns were Arab artillery, and much of the world hoped for, expected to see, the Arabs victorious in their way with the Jews. Thus most of Christendom again averted its eyes from the butchery of Jewish civilians in Jerusalem , while Islam gloated.
I am not Jewish. Raised a Protestant Christian… Often I wonder how Christendom can get to sleep at night, with so much (Jewish) blood on its hands. I feel so strongly about the indifference of the international community, especially the Christian church, toward events in Jerusalem in 1948 because I was there…
The Arab nations were supremely confident that once the British were out of the way, they could sweep the despised Jews into the sea… Many
Arab leaders boasted that they planned a way of “complete annihilation” and “utter extermination” against the Jews. (Finishing the job that Hitler had started.) And not one major figure in the international community (including the United States ) or in Christendom protested such threats…and this after the murder of millions in Europe …
Among foreign correspondents the general view was the Arab armies likely would overrun Jerusalem and massacre the Jews along the way… yet I listened with hope to Ben Gurion’s words coming from the Meir Dizengoff Art Museum in Tel Aviv; “… it is the self-evident right of the Jewish peopleto be a nation, as all other nations, in their own sovereign state…
Accordingly, by virtue of the natural and historic right of the Jewish People… we hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine, to be called Israel .”
It was a Friday, the Jewish Sabbath, and synagogues were crowded with tearfully joyous congregations despite the danger from shelling. In Jerusalem , their thanksgiving was shadowed by the somber realization that the Arabs were closing the noose around the city, and that a battle wasabout to begin which would test their courage and will… I prayed for the Jewsand their dreams… None of us (in the media) foresaw the (miracle of the) humiliating defeat awaiting the blood thirsty Arabs…”
Long ago a pledge was made:
And I shall be your shield and you shall be My people… and a commandment was given, Thou shall not stand idly by the shedding of your brother’s blood. Listen world, listen Jew…
The new state was to be called Israel … our father Jacob , Israel one who prevails with
G-d… Although other names were considered, New Judea or Zion , there could be only one name – Israel … Israel in the memory of Jacob... and the words, “If you will honor me, please promise you will bring me back to the land and bury me with my fathers – at Machpelah in a town called Hebron”. Hebron is not a settlement.
The first Arab conquest of our land was in 634 C.E. over 2,000 years from when Abraham walked the land. From 1517 to 1917 – four hundred years – the Ottoman Turks controlled the land and to the Turks the land was simply a remote, unproductive part of their empire. Jews, many from Russia , began our journey back to the land in 1881.
During the long interval of Arab, Seljuk, Christian, Mameluke and Ottoman control, Palestine never became a national homeland for any people, or even existed as a geopolitical fact. Conquered and re-conquered fourteen times in thirteen centuries, each conqueror merely absorbed Palestine and ruled it from without, each leaving its legacy in soldiers and slaves whose descendants shared no ethnic or cultural identity. By 1881 the inhabitants totaled barely 300,000 including the area of Trans-Jordan, the Jews among them numbering a scant 25,000 compared to the 2,000,000 of Roman times… or the 5.9 million today.
Throughout our Torah the promise of covenant with the land was given to our people . The promise was not going to be easy and yet with each conflict a lesson was being learned, a people were being forged, a timeless covenant was being created.
Abraham’s nephew Lot was captured by the four Kings. Four armies, who had just defeated the five Kings, Abraham Ha’Ivri defeats the four kings with just 318 warriors and Melichzedik acknowledges that Abraham’s G-d is all powerful… people from all around hear of Abraham’s great victory and are in awe of Abraham. Yet Abraham just wants to get along so later he makes an agreement with Abimelech and Phiol and it was that after these things G-d tests Abraham…
Of all our patriarchs the one that thru his transformation gives us our hope to continue and the one I personally think about most is Jacob who transforms himself from Jacob the insensitive trickster to Jacob the proud, strong Jew, who in many ways became the model for our David Ben-Gurion, the new-old Jew.
We begin the story of Jacob with his relationship with his brother Esau. For those of us who have siblings, if we saw our brother or sister famished and in need of food, would we ever even think to barter with them and take advantage of their moments of weakness, listening to their plea “or I shall surely die” – What kind of person takes advantage of a brother in a moment of pain and suffering – not so Jewish.
When Jacob sees Rachel, he walks up to her and kisses her – no hello my name is, just I want it… it’s mine. Only after his wedding night fling does he realize he had the wrong sister. He had to have been pretty drunk – since Leah and Rachel had been described as being physically very different and does he even get it when Laban, so very sensitive to the feelings of his older daughter Leah says, “we don’t marry the younger before the older here”? Or could you as a parent ever be so insensitive as to single out one of your children / as he did with Joseph to the mental anguish of all your other children? And the question has to be asked - Why does the Torah divulge such negative character traits?
Jacob leaves home and shortly thereafter he hears the voice of G-d and G-d promises him - “Behold I am with you, I will guard you wherever you go, and I will return you to this land, for I will not forsake you.” (Gen 28:15-16) But Jacob responds with the chutzpah of conditions when he says, “If G-d will be with me, will guard me on the way, will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear and I return in peace to my father’s house, then Hashem will be a G-d to me.” (Gen. 28:20-21) It sounds a bit like Monte Hall in Let’s Make a Deal – and it is in this response that shows how much our G-d loves His people - Of all the patriarchs Jacob is us: perhaps the spoiled, ungrateful grandchild in perpetuity.
Shortly thereafter Jacob is told by G-d to travel to Beth-El yet Jacob is fearful that the people of the area will attack him for what he did in Schechem but – “There fell a G-dly terror on the cities which were around them so they did not pursue Jacob or his sons”. (Gen. 35:5) The inhabitants had heard what Jacob and his sons had done and they were fearful and with great respect let Jacob pass in safety… I guess some of Jacob’s potential enemies would now be thinking twice before they tried to harm or kidnap another Jew. Perhaps there is a lesson here for Gilad Shallit.
Fast forward as we follow Jacob to when he goes to Egypt to reunite with his beloved son Joseph. We see a Jacob transformed with a better understanding of his role as Israel .
Joseph had interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and Pharaoh proclaimed for all of Egypt that Joseph was to be “in charge of all the land of Egypt” (Gen. 41:41) That he became his “Avrech” to ride in his second royal chariot. Pretty heady stuff for the Jew boy from Canaan of 30 and yet when “ Israel exclaims to G-d… My son Joseph lives” G-d tells Israel , “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt … I shall descend with you… and Joseph shall place his hand on your eyes.” (Gen. 46:3-4) And you shall see My truths… Jacob goes down to Egypt . Joseph, once the “Avrech”, second only to Pharaoh, the yid who proudly told Pharaoh that it was his G-d who read dreams… had lived in the Diaspora of Egypt… and it seems that things had changed in Joseph’s perception of himself and when “he placed his hands on Israel’s eyes”, Jacob the trickster became Jacob the Jew of truth, no longer solely worried about his own well being. Being reacquainted with his beloved son, he knew he had to set an example for the future of his beloved Joseph.
Joseph tells his brothers and father he will go tell Pharaoh that they have come from the land of Canaan … with all their possessions – they are coming for a long stay. And Joseph says to his father, “When Pharaoh asks what is your occupation, you tell him your servants have been cattlemen from our youth, both we and our forefathers… since all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians.” (Gen. 46-31-33) Joseph is asking his father and brothers to lie. What about the “Avrech”, second only to Pharaoh – It seems that Joseph is now all too aware of his Diaspora delusion… and so too is Jacob.
So it was that when Joseph introduces his father and brothers to Pharaoh and when Pharaoh asks “What is your occupation?” Israel answers – “Your servants are shepherds we as well as our forefathers…” and I can only imagine the shock and fear of Joseph… yet Pharaoh responds to Joseph… “Your father and your brothers have come… the land of Egypt is before you… settle them in the best part of the land… in the region of Goshen and if you know there are capable men among them, appoint them to be overseers over all that belongs to me” - The banks, the hospitals, the schools and universities… our financial centers... (Gen. 47:5-6) And Jacob blessed Pharaoh and left Pharaoh’s presence and Joseph had to be left speechless.
Jacob, no longer the trickster, was setting an example for his son Joseph, that with truth comes respect and this is how our people will become “a light unto the nations” not thru accommodation and not thru Chamberlainesque appeasement. G-d had returned Joseph to Jacob, and Jacob had found his strength in truth and his profound faith in Hashem. He had not only found respect and trust in Pharaoh’s eyes but became a model for Jewish leadership and David Ben Gurion 3600 years later.
Jacob and his words to Pharaoh became our story of May 14, 1948, of a people speaking with faith in our G-d’s promise to His people and with the strength, courage and dedication that was forged during our 2,000 year journey. G-d heard the cries of our people this time in Europe and again led them to the land that was promised to our forefathers long ago – a reconnection to our unique history – a miracle as incredible as the splitting of the Sea.
And so it was that Ben Gurion concluded, “We appeal to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally around the Jews of Eretz Israel in the tasks of immigration and up-building and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age old dream… of Shivat Zion - our redemption of Israel . Placing our trust in the Almighty we affix our signatures… on this Sabbath Eve, the 5th day of Iyar – 14th of May, 1948”.
There were many pressures put on Ben Gurion from the United States to not declare a state but to declare a trusteeship under the United Nations. He went to his trusted friend Yitzak Tabenkin for advice. Many warned about acting too quickly and how dangerous it would be to declare a state.
The Partition Plan would leave the Jewish people with a rather paltry slice of land – but it would nevertheless have been the realization of a Jewish homeland! He asked his close confidant Tabenkin to help him make the decision. Tabenkin asked for a day in which to consider his response: He wanted to take counsel with two individuals.
A day later Tabenkin urged Ben Gurion to refuse the offer of trusteeship and Ben Gurion replied “I accept your decision – but from whom did you seek advice?” “From two people”, answered Tabenkin – “From my grandfather and from my grandson. From my grand father who died ten years ago with his dreams of returning to our homeland, and from my grandson who is not yet born who will one day be born as a Jew in a Jewish homeland!”
It is said the Land of Israel does not belong to any particular generation; it is the patrimony of all generations. No matter how powerful may be the enemy and how threatening he may appear, we must have trust in G-d rather than in treaties of men and have ultimate faith to remember our covenant that was made to our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel in a time of faith and eternal love. Am Yisrael Chai!
Hag so may’ach