Published by The Freeman Center

The Maccabean Online

Political Analysis and Commentary
on Israeli and Jewish Affairs

"For Zion's sake I shall not hold my peace, And for Jerusalem's sake I shall not rest."

 Your Money or Your Life

by Jack Berger


You are standing today, all of you (all generations) before Hashem, your G-d, from the heads of your tribes, your elders… your children… from the (highest) in society… to the drawer of your water, for you to pass into the covenant Hashem, your G-d in order to establish you today as a people to Him and that He will be a G-d to you… I call on heaven and earth today to bear witness against you. I have placed life and death before you, a blessing and a curse, you shall choose life so that you will live… to dwell on the land that I swore to your forefathers (to your fathers and grandfathers) and to Abraham, Isaac and to Jacob. (Deut. 29-30) 

Looking at the world today I think back to the words of Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” When I first read those words in high school, I believed that they were far removed from the rest of my life. America was in a simpler place. My only serious question was why wouldn’t Sandy Koufax pitch the first game of the World Series … after all was Yom Kippur really that big a deal and it wasn’t like he wore a kippah and kept kosher. It was a time when questions hadn’t been asked yet and didn’t need to be answered. Today has caught up with yesterday. 

For me, years before my Bar Mitzvah, I remember the words on our Day of Atonement. Words when secular Jewish friends of mine only came to synagogue one day a year – would  show up on Yom Kippur to hear– “who will live and who will die…” The profundity of that one line and its finite reality, its focus, its simple yet unambiguous statement… is a statement that few Jews can turn away from or forget. The gift we have been given is the gift of time – money comes, money goes, our days are moments as part of an eternity that we are only blessed to know for a very short time. 

There is a story about two women at a resort in upper New York State and being Jewish complaints are not far from each conversation, and one woman says to her friend, “You know the food here is really terrible”, and her friend responds, “And they give you such small portions”. Woody Allen equated this conversation to his feelings about life. Life can often be difficult but it’s never a good time to be the guest of honor at a funeral .It will come soon enough and we will never be ready for it. But the reality is I’ve never read an obituary that ended with a bank statement. 

Today we are a blessed generation to live at a time when our people’s dream of 2000 years has become a reality. Am Yisroal Chai… the people of Israel live in a Jewish State of Israel that is the most exceptional country on the planet. Is it perfect? Close… and there are a few things that I’d change when I become the Prime Minister. Yet  since my return to the tribe in my last 25 years, I’ve realized one very important truth about our  homeland and the world it is a part of. The world, filled with evil and depravity hasn’t changed much from the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, and in that unfortunate reality, Israel shines ever bright as a Light unto the Nations. Israel has become not just a land of milk and honey – Jews always have focused on food, just remember the tumult in the desert for 40 years and you’ll be reminded that whenever there was a problem with Moses it usually had to do with food – but the land of Israel has become the land of the micro chip, medical marvels and Nobel Prize winners. Soon it will become the land of alternative energy sources and water regeneration, but it is also the land of Jewish education and Jewish culture – a land creating Jewish history connecting Jews to our 4000 year past as a foundation for our 4000 year future. A land of Jewish pride and determination. The average age of a Jew in Israel is 27 and dropping, while the average age of a Jew in America is 46 and rising. The birthrate in Israel now averages 3.2 children per family and rising, while the birthrate of Jews in America is 1.6 and falling. In Israel, young rabbis speak with love and devotion in the reclaimed Jewish State… while in America too often non-Orthodox rabbis speak with disdain and criticism of the Jewish State. This too is part of … “Who shall live and who shall die…” 

Yet there are other realities that are less well known as Turkey – who seems to have an issue with flotillas and diplomacy continues to be Israel’s third largest trading partner and France, who refused to trade military equipment with Israel after the Six Day War of 1967, is now back purchasing the best avionics in the world and the United States is having Israeli – not Saudi, Egyptian, French or British – but Israeli pilots test and suggest in the development of the next generation of fighter jets, as the F-35’s goes into final development. In spite of academic boycotts by the pathethically deranged of academia, dozens of Israelis win Nobel Prizes and recognition all over the world. Look up to see how many Nobel Prizes the glorious state of Achmadinejad’s Iran has won in the last 32 years since the fall of the Shah – none, unless you think that a Peace Prize given to a woman who worked for the Shah  and escaped from Iran to save her life is worthy of a peace prize. Voted for “the third year in a row as one of six of the best finance ministers in the world by the U.S. publication Global Finance” was the Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer. While the rest of the world is having severe financial problems, Israel has had few real problems as its brain powered economy pushes forward and its  housing market continues  expanding rapidly as Jewish babies  are born at record rates in all segments of the Israeli population.  

The one blip for Israel seems to be its relations with the mythological Arabs who of recent identity theft now call themselves Palestinians. The real Palestinians, if one bothers to read history, and I know how anathema that may be to some, were the Jews of the pre-1948 Mandate Period with institutions called the Palestine Post, aka the Jerusalem Post, the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, now the Israeli Symphony Orchestra, etc., etc.  One only needs to read a pre-1948 phone book and reality jumps out. It was His Royal Highness Prince Hassan of Jordan, uncle to the current King Abdallah II who was quoted during an interview with Stephen Sackur of the BBC in April of 2008, “… we come from a byzantine civilization from centuries of dissimulation. I mean we Middle Easterners are professional liars…” and there is the truth that every once in a while sneaks out. We may not know the ways of G-d, but as it is written in our Torah, He will never abandon His beloved, but all too often ungrateful Jewish people…

“Fear not for I am with thee: I will bring your seed from the east and gather them from the west: I will say to the north, Give them up, and to the south, keep them not back. Bring My sons from far and My daughters from the end of the Earth…” (Isaiah 43:5-6) And so He has with eternal love – and will continue to do forevermore. 

And yet jumping out at my happy reality leading up to these Days of Awe was a line in an otherwise informative commentary by no less a writer than Bret Stephens writing in the Wall Street Journal of September 13, 2011 (an ominous date if there ever was one since the Oslo Accords was signed on September 13, 1993) under the heading “Israel’s Predicament” – where he posts the canard of  “…  the long term demographic threat…” which has been a lie that too many Jews buy into without a moment of research to back it up. 

A bit of history leading to  reality:  “In March 1898, the world renowned Jewish historian and demographer, Shimon Dubnov, submitted to Theodore Herzl a projection which was aimed to defeat the idea of reconstituting the Jewish Commonwealth… The establishment of a substantial Jewish community in the land of Israel is a messianic dream… in 2000 there will only be 500,000 Jews in Palestine…” But in 2000 there were over 5 million Jews west of the Jordan River.  A messianic dream times ten. 

“During the 1940’s Professor Roberto Bacchi, the founder of the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics flooded David Ben Gurion with projections that Jews would be a minority by 1966 (this prior to the 1967 War)… Under the most optimistic scenario only 2.3 million Jews, constituting a 34% minority would live between the river and the sea”, but again by 2000  with over 5 million Jews and a 60% majority …so much for the experts. 

“In 1967, Prime Minister Levy Eshkol was advised by Israel’s demographic establishment that if he did not relinquish the West Bank, there would be an Arab majority by 1987…” This didn’t happen; Israel maintained almost a 65% majority by 1987. Professor Bacchi and his followers (along with the writers at Haaretz) dismissed the possibility for a wave of aliyah from the USSR… yet in the early 1990’s over one million Russian Jews came to Israel and “in defiance of fatalistic projections and irrespective of the absence of demographic policy, by 2009 there was a robust 72% Jewish majority west of the Jordan River now excluding Gaza…” It is projected that by 2020 at the current Jewish birthrates and the declining Arab birthrates there will be “an 80% Jewish majority in Judea, Samara and pre-1967 Israel…”  (The Debacle of Demographic Fatalism, Yoram Ettinger, 3-23-2009). 

By 2020 it is projected that over 500,000 Jews will be living in our Biblical homeland. However, Bret Stephens was correct when he wrote of  a  “demographic threat” which many anti-Israel groups and individuals have been shrieking about when it comes to the concept of a two state solution… the demographic threat is that it is now almost impossible to envision a  two state solution. The reality now, much to the dismay of the anti-Israel crowd, must be a one state solution of Jews from the river to the sea. The demographic threat has, in truth, been nothing more than a  hoax by Arab sympathizers. Adding to the reality a headline from the far left Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz of June 23, 2009 reads “77% of Israeli Arabs would rather live in Israel than any other country in the world”. As Ben Gurion once said, “A Jew who does not believe in miracles is not a realist”. Of this there is no better example. 

There is a story told by the comedian Jack Benny that he was once approached by a robber who stopped him and demanded – “Your money or your life”… and Benny paused and again the robber demanded… “What’s your answer?!”… And Benny replied “Wait a minute… I’m thinking about it.” 

In these days of thought and reflection, when we repeat with trepidation, “who shall live and who shall die…” we might reflect on the words of that  Jewish sage of the Borscht Belt Jack Benny – we are part of an incredible and wonderous heritage of magnificent traditions of a very special people with a unique relationship to the Creator of the Universe. You are standing today, all of you (for all generations) and for your children and grandchildren… you are part of an eternal covenant… He has placed life and death, the blessing and the curse before you… He has commanded you to choose life so that you and your children shall live and prosper… to live in the land (or at least visit it once in a while) and to be grateful for all that He has bestowed upon you… These  are indeed the best of times and the worst of times, an age of wisdom and an age of foolishness, it is the season of light and the season of darkness but in the coming year of 5772  Am Yisroal Chai –may  the people of Israel continue to live and to thrive as a Light Unto the Nations. The question today for American Jews is… “Your money or your life”.


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Jack Berger is a Member of the Board of Directors of the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies.