By: David Waren, Director, Education Division, ADL National
I was in Jerusalem this week as the first missiles landed in the area – lecturing at an extraordinary conference hosted by ADL’s partners at Yad Vashem. In reflecting on my experiences there, I’m reminded of Yossi Klein Halevi’s description in his recent book, Like Dreamers, of Israel in the summer of 1967, immediately after the war. He writes:
That summer Israel was possessed by messianic dreams of wholeness. There were those who believed that peace had finally come, and with it the end of the Jews’ exile from humanity (perhaps only Jews could conceive of a normal national life in messianic terms.) There were those whose longing for wholeness was soothed by reunification of the divided land and the divided city, which some saw as precursor of the imminence of the messianic era, ending the fragmentation of humanity itself.
He then talks about his father, a Holocaust survivor, for whom “the dream of wholeness was fulfilled by Jewish unity….when we were united, he reassured me, no enemy could destroy us.”
Halevi goes on to explicate the fragmentation in Israeli society following the Six Day War. It was and remains intense – so distant from messianic aspirations of elevation, unity and peace.
And yet, precisely in the midst of Hamas’ latest ferocious visitation of terrorism, there was a palpable wholeness amongst Israelis virtually united in support of Israel’s military response and in unbridled determination to carry on daily life with a degree of normalcy that would be deemed anything but normal in any other country. Workplaces remained open, roads, shops and cafés in Jerusalem were bustling. That determination was infectious – manifest even by the vigorous participation of hundreds of educators and scholars from around the world at the Yad Yashem International Conference on Holocaust Education. Despite the threat of rockets, virtually no one canceled or left early.
Wholeness was manifest as well in compassion – stepping aside to make sure others reached shelters first, opening homes and businesses to anyone needing protection, hanging on to every word about the latest developments – not necessarily because of potential personal impact, but because brothers might be in harm’s way.
Israelis, virtually all, have experienced a degree of trauma this past month that most of us won’t experience in a decade or even a lifetime. The kidnapping of three yeshiva students united the country in prayer and hope. Their murder united Israelis in grief –as if it was their sons that were laid to rest. The subsequent murder of a Palestinian boy at the hands of Jews united Israel in revulsion, condemnation and introspection.
And now Israel is experiencing unity in the face of unremitting terror. During World War Two, Britain’s famous slogan was “Carry On.” Well, Israelis are carrying on – in extraordinary fashion. But, I believe it’s not just a coping mechanism. Its goes to the very essence of Jewish peoplehood and a belief, grounded in Jewish history and articulated by Yossi Klein Halevi’s father, that as long as we are united, no enemy will destroy us.