Now almost 9 months in duration (a pregnant analogy if there ever was one) the gestating protests across Israel have reached a fever pitch as the first steps have been taken to strip Israel’s Supreme Court of its power to reign in extremist forces that have been empowered in Knesset by a Prime Minister desperate to hold on to power, even to the point of selling his soul and pawning his moral compass. A m majority of Israel’s 7 million citizens have taken to the streets. And until recently, the US’s 7 million Jews have stood on the sidelines.
With the Prime Minister’s visit to the US to attend the UN GA, the protests, originally organized in large measure by Israelis living in the US have brought out a growing throng of American Jews who have woken up to the dangers that might come if Israel loses its democratic structure – not just for all those who live in Israel, but to all who see the possible destruction of the only true and viable democracy in the Middle East.
My friend and colleague, Rabbi Angela Buchdahl created a major stir when she preached about this on Erev Rosh HaShana, with a YouTube video of her sermon reaching over 30,000 views in the past few days since it was first posted. She, like me, and many of my treasured colleagues, felt that we couldn’t speak about the situation in Israel during the High Holidays – that Israel and Israelis had to work out the contours of their democracy and an American “paternalistic” commentary was unnecessary and inappropriate. Yet, our silence, and our detachment, puts us all in danger. What would our Jewish world be like if Israel destroyed itself? Can we imagine our world without Israel – a place of refuge, a place of hope? And if we need further warning, history is a great teacher.
Historian and a member of the Shalom Hartman Institute, Dr. Micah Goodman, warns us of the Curse of the 8th decade. Only three times in world history have Jews had complete sovereignty over themselves. The first was the kingdom established by King David and the second time was during the Hasmonean Dynasty. In both of those instances, in the 8th decade of its existence, internal strife weakened the State, and precipitated its downfall to outside forces. The third time began in 1948 – and do the math… we are in its 8th decade, and civil war among Israelis grows in possibility with every passing moment.
We can’t sit on the sidelines; we have a stake in the ongoing experiment of the State of Israel – and our sisters and brothers who gather in the streets of Israel’s cities fighting to preserve democracy need to know that they are not alone. As American Jews we know that our on-going protections in this country depend on a healthy democracy, and a turn to a radicalized nationalism threatens our very existence here as Jews. We know what those in the streets are protesting – the possible imposition of a radicalized nationalism that would erase the democratic character of Israel’s body politic. Now is the time for turning – Shabbat Shuva – the sabbath of turning. Perhaps we should turn to the other half of the world’s Jewish population who reside in the east, and as they march in the streets, let them know that we stand with them. Democracy is the only political institution that has given safety and succor to minorities like the Jewish people. We know how precious it is to us here, we should consider ways to support those who fight for Democracy in the State of Israel and turn back the curse of the 8th decade. As we say in the Prayer for the State of Israel, using the words of the great Hebrew poet S. Y. Agnon, Israel is “raysheet tzemeechat geulataynu” the first flowering of our redemption. Israel’s healthy existence is essential to our redemption – the redemption of those who choose to live in the land, and every other Jew as well. Now is the time for turning.