How Can One Rejoice?

When do people learn, and how long is a lesson retained? We comprehend a situation far greater when we are directly affected. When the water, electric or gas bill goes up; a hefty ticket for not stopping for pedestrians at a crosswalk; when one’s son or daughter at college “suddenly” discovers everyone is anti-Israel and the son or daughter is unequipped, unable and afraid to speak; or when “this could never happen here” turns into World War II right at the very center of culture, sophistication and intellect.

Retention is directly proportional to the cost: the higher the penalty, the longer the memory lingers. Thus, we tend to stop when approaching a photo-enforced intersection with a $500 fine. On a completely different scale, Israel once vowed never to forget the surprise attack on her holiest of days, although three and a half decades later she has become quite lax. Memories of the battle for Israel’s creation is fading just half a century later and many Israelis are fatigued. The perception she may not last to reach the century mark has become pronounced. What is worse is that seven decades after the Holocaust, the voices of those claiming it never happened grow stronger daily.

Some years ago my sister and I were invited for Shabbat dinner at a home in a private gated community in Bel Air. I do not remember if it was before or after the dinner that the men were sitting outside, in a heated terrace of the mansion, and I was describing Gaza and its dangers to Israel. The days saw constant rocket launches at population centers, but Israel still had to endure another eight such years, thousands of rockets, a kidnapped soldier, Operation Cast Lead and the subsequent Goldstone Report.

Apparently, that evening was later described as follows: “Ari was the only one talking, and he should not be expressing his ‘extremist views’ on Erev (the eve of) Shabbat.”

Some years passed, and I was not invited again for Shabbat dinner with this family, but my sister remained very good friends with our hostess. She met her just days ago. “She became even more extremist than you,” my sister reported. I clearly took it as a great compliment. My sister’s friend is a philanthropist and one of the better human beings I have been privileged to meet.

My sister is accustomed to my “extremism.” Simply put, it is an unwavering love of Israel, which embodies for me the meaning of being a Jew. Israel is a unique connection with the Almighty, one that is inseparable from our very being. From the divine crafting of our Bible to G-d’s covenant with the Jewish People designed to last for a thousand generations; from disunity that brought about the Destruction of the Temple to the modern day ingenuity and creativity that advances society without neglecting humanity; from being the wonder of the world to the boundless horizons given each and every one of us to pursue.

Labels become meaningless when a rocket explodes or a homicide bomber detonates oneself. Does it really matter if one is on the “right” or on the “left” if our body parts are spread hundreds of feet, our blood as red? When a roused anti-Israel crowd is led by an Israel-basher and hater, does it really matter if I side with a “one” or “two-state solution?” Our enemies will not stop until our very elimination. They do not draw Israel on their maps nor do they profess any intention save the annihilation of the Jewish State.

To our enemies we are indistinguishable. We are all one, religious and secular, “center-right” or “center-left” politically, Israeli-or foreign-born, rich or poor, well educated and those without a formal education. Indeed, this is one of the very many strengths of the Israel Defense Forces that takes everyone who has reached the 18th birthday and through a melting pot makes him and her into responsible members of Israeli society.

When Judge Goldstone pronounced his verdict of “Guilty!” against Israel, did anyone differentiate between the Gideon Levis of Ha’aretz, prominent writers in one of Israel’s leading print media who routinely accuse Israel of imagined wrongdoings never committed and interpret any action systematically in a negative light against Israel, and the rest of Israelis they relentlessly accuse? All were found equally guilty. At the day of reckoning, no one will remember nor assign any credit to those who brought about the destruction. Their fate will be the same as those they stubbed and attacked.

Another major Israeli paper just published a report highlighting Judge Goldstone’s colorful past, which included rendering decisions under the Apartheid regime of South Africa, condemning many men of color to their deaths. Is this a man of credible character and will it be too little, too late after his lies contribute to Israel’s execution? Does anyone even care now, once the verdict has been pronounced and Israel – once again – has been found of crimes against humanity?

Like papers from the World Trade Center floating in the air during the collapse of the two towers, as bodies evaporated from this world and soon from our collective memories, so will those differentiating labels between those in the Jewish community who support Israel and those who do everything to undermine her existence remain for future generations to research and investigate how did we come along to this point of self destruction.

Constant accusations like “Israel is an Apartheid Country,” “Israelis thirst the Palestinians” or “Israelis harvest the organs of Palestinians males” appear valid when written or spoken and do great harm to Israel. The end result will be harmful to the accusers, many of who are Israelis and Jews, including their family members, friends, colleagues and neighbors.

After the explosions at a restaurant, disco or theater, who will discern between “Settlers” and “Ha’artez readers?” When a leading journalist from Ha’aretz claims that the “settlers” are setting Palestinian families on fire, will anyone care to differentiate he is not one of those New Nazis? When an Israeli Professor at UCLA states “it is legitimate to kidnap Israeli soldiers (like Gilad Shalit),” will the terrorists know to stop at those unrelated to this Professor? When another Israeli Professor, the head of a Poli-Sci Department at Ben Gurion University of the Negev calls to divest from Israel and boycott her institutions, should he be surprised that his own university stops receiving funding to pay his and his colleagues’ salaries? When the head of a non-profit in Jerusalem fights for Palestinian rights for Jerusalem via a just struggle that includes homicide bombing, should he lament his daughter who is murdered at a local eatery or in the bus on the way to an after-school activity?

If we say, “we told you so!” what use will it be to the mourning family members, to the larger community of Beit (the House of) Israel? Thus we do not rejoice in a time of mourning when vindication carries a most horrible price, seeing the downfall of the Jewish People, the Destruction of the State of Israel.

I am now joined by an increasing number of others as the circle of “extremists” grows and thickens. Once, I was the only “extremist” among a crowd of rich and powerful Jewish men on a terrace at a mansion. Years have passed, and today they are joining our ranks, as their sons and daughters attend colleges and universities, ill equipped to deal with the hatred aimed at us all.

It is indeed sad that our hostess of years ago is today “even more extremist” than I, as I never thought myself an extremist or even an alarmist. This signals a trend I never wished to see. All I wanted was for the Jewish Community outside of Israel to be vibrant and strong, know who we are, what defines us and what drives our actions. All I ever wanted was for Israel to continue on the path our Zionist grandparents and great-grandparents fought to establish. All I still want is for all of us to understand that today is the most dangerous time for the continued survival for our people. That unification is the only way to defeat our enemies.

We sing, “As long as in our hearts inside, a Jewish soul still vibrates, and to the doorsteps of East forward, eye to Zion looks.” This song uttered from our lips lifts our spirits, unites us as A People, and brings hope. “Our hope is not yet lost, the hope of two thousand years, to be a free people in our homeland, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”

In the series “Postcards from Israel,” Ari Bussel and Norma Zager invite readers throughout the world to join them as they present reports from Israel as seen by two sets of eyes: Bussel’s on the ground, Zager’s counter-point from home. Israel and the United States are inter-related – the two countries we hold dearest to our hearts – and so is this “point – counter-point” presentation that has, since 2008, become part of our lives.