May 18, 2024
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May 18, 2024
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An Important Reality Check: Which Story Will We Tell?

Boyan Chasidim bringing cholent, kugel and zemirot to base
on Thursday evening.

Baruch Hashem, as I find myself back in miluim (reserves) for round two, sitting once again on the Lebanon border, life outside and inside the army, for better or for worse, has resumed relatively back to normal. The question on everyone’s mind right now, especially in serving with non religious Jews, is whether the Chareidim should be forced to draft. One particular line that struck me through these discussions was when someone said that if the Chareidim don’t draft and do their part for the country, he does not consider them his brothers and doesn’t feel the need to protect them—a sentiment agreed upon by many advocating for them to draft. I asked if the same is true of Jews in Chutz LaAretz, who express support for Israel and take advantage of many things it has to offer, but mostly do not draft as well. The response across the board was that while this is true, they’re allegiance is to America in practice, their home country, so they don’t see a reason they should be expected to contribute.

This discussion was a disappointing reality check of our relationship between Israelis and the Diaspora, which frankly is one sided. Despite the overwhelming love and support Diaspora Jews express for Israel and the importance of a Jewish presence there, Jews in Israel, especially from a non religious standpoint, can not reciprocate the feeling. So when frustrated soldiers label Chareidim as “not their brothers” for not drafting, it at least underscores a desire to have brotherhood and mutual responsibility with them in the first place that is just unfulfilled for now. But it shows something deeper, which is how much further we are as Diaspora Jews from truly being seen as brothers by Israelis, given this consideration isn’t even in their minds in the first place!

This feeling isn’t new, as my Israeli friends have always told me that despite efforts to contribute from abroad, they can’t fully comprehend what Israelis go through. This echoes the Gemara (Brachot 32b) which teaches that fasting, or afflicting one’s self, is greater than charity, because “one is with one’s body, while one is with one’s money.” Money is easy. Sitting in the field away from your normal life and sending off loved ones to war, is not.

The afflictions especially nowadays are familiar to us as Jews, and an integral part of the story we pass down every Pesach. Our greatest testament to the endurance of the Jewish nation is the fact that we have passed down the story, parent to child, since we left Egypt. Thus, we are taught that “in each and every generation a person must view himself as though he personally left Egypt.” (Pesachim 10:5) Meaning we must recount the story to our children as if it was a personal account, so they in turn can do the same.

But of course, our story did not end with Yetziat Mitzrayim. At the end of the Seder, after we have thoroughly remembered our past, we say ״,לשנה הבאה בירושלים הבנויה!״ “Next year in the built-up Jerusalem!”—looking towards the future we’ve been yearning for since our exile began. As we find ourselves in these historical times, the footsteps of Mashiach, the end of days, or however you want to look at it, we have a choice to make about our future. The same choice each individual from Bnei Yisrael had to make before Hashem finally took us out of slavery from Egypt.

Rashi teaches us that Hashem brought the plague of darkness upon Egypt “because there were wicked people amongst the Israelites of that generation who had no desire to leave Egypt, and these died during the three days of darkness…” (Shemot 10:22). Even after witnessing eight miraculous plagues and Moshe’s unwavering determination to take them out, there were still those who preferred and chose the familiarity and comfort of slavery in Egypt, over trusting Hashem for the journey ahead. Ultimately, their reluctance led to their premature end, and they were forgotten forever (literally) into the darkness.

When I look at the situation in the Diaspora today, I struggle to see anything but this same choice presented to us. We learn that “Along the path a person wishes to proceed, Hashem leads and directs him along that path.” (Makkot 10b) The path we choose ultimately leads to which story we are going to pass down to our children. If we want to proceed along the path where we find meaning in countering Palestinian protests, activating for legislation and signing petitions against antisemitism, and relying on foreign authorities to protect us, we will indeed be led down that path to many more opportunities to pursue these pleasures. We will then be proud to pass down the story that during the war, we successfully reposted on our Instagram stories and took a picture with a soldier, all while prioritizing our regular lives back at home. We will be able to say that like the wicked generation who preferred to stay in Egypt, we let the story of the Jewish people be felt and fulfilled by everyone else, while we were forgotten in the darkness of exile.

On the other hand, if we proceed along the path of teshuva, opening up our eyes to the Divine intervention experienced in Israel, and the miracles accompanying that, we will be like the generation that left Egypt “with a High Hand” (Shemot 14:8). We will be a real part of the generation that continues the story of the Jewish people, passes it down to our children, and is able to say “for the sake of this, Hashem took me out of Egypt” (Pesach Haggadah). Personally, in just a few years here I’ve witnessed and can portray our resilience during difficult times like corona, the Meron tragedy, and horrible terror attacks. I can articulate the political tension and key moments that have shaped how the country looks today. I can capture the unique atmosphere of every chag, when the essence of Israel really comes out. And, most importantly, I can share the story of my own journey—from the initial learning and experiencing of Israel, to my contributions to the army and the war, and now to the Torah and guidance I am able to impart to students in my yeshiva, and the feelings and emotions accompanying me. Not to mention the constant struggles I’ve overcome and continue to face, and the many times I’ve seen Hashem’s direct intervention guiding me through them and in the best path.

We’ve reached a point where we need to stop lying to ourselves that the Jewish story continues outside of Israel. As Americans, our calls that only now we need to “do more for Israel,” “step up,” and that “Israel needs our support” have correlated our love and support for Israel only with others’ hate, whether from terrorists in Gaza or some lowlives waving Palestinian flags, and not because Hashem gave us a perfect country to be our home. We’ve allowed the ones who hate us to control the narrative, letting them write the story on their terms and not ours, while letting our role in the real story of the Jewish people slip away.

We’ve reached a point where we have to realize that in the Diaspora, we are like a frog slowly heating in water, not realizing the slowly rising danger until it’s too late. The surge in hatred towards Jews, right outside of our homes and in front of our kids, was unheard of before the war. But it has steadily and gradually become common and accepted with each passing week. By ignoring the reality that our actions to simply “counter antisemitism” are futile, we are effectively sweeping the underlying issue under the rug, paving the path to our downfall.

Something that is hard to understand from the outside, in that as much as we feel a connection to Israel and the people from the outside, the Israeli people do not feel a connection to the Diaspora. They don’t expect or request of them to take on responsibilities towards the country because even though they may view Israel as an emergency shelter, at the end of the day it is not their home. Which I really think is a sad reality that is not talked about enough in our communities.

However, this gives us the beautiful opportunity as Jews from the outside to truly commit, not just with our money but with our physical bodies. I can attest firsthand that Israelis have a special admiration for olim, who willingly take part in the challenging journey, and “left the land of your birth and came to a people you had not known before.” (Rut 2:11) We have a unique role to inspire and reunite with our brothers and sisters in Israel, contributing in a meaningful and purposeful way, with motivation and emunah that we can in fact make it and thrive in Israel.

The story of Am Yisrael is only continued by the ones who were there, passing it down and continuing the mission of the ones who came before them. It’s time for us to demonstrate to Am Yisrael our genuine dedication to Israel and fully immerse ourselves as a part of our own story—a story that will endure and be talked about for generations to come. Let’s embody the spirit of the bnei chorin, the liberated people from Egypt that Hashem intended us to be, and wholeheartedly declare, l’shana haba b’Yerushalayim!

Brian Racer is originally from Teaneck. He served as a lone soldier in the IDF and is currently a madrich at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah in Ramat Beit Shemesh. He can be reached at [email protected].

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