The nightmare is here. Over 700 Jews, slaughtered in one day. Over 100 hostages. We are at war.
The time for argument has ended. There is no room any longer for armchair debates in Teaneck or the Five Towns about the rights of Palestinians or judicial reform. Our enemy has declared, loudly and clearly, that they are Amalekites hell bent on slaughtering every last Jewish man, woman and child. More Jews were murdered on Shabbat than on any day since the Holocaust. Let that sink in.
What does this mean for diaspora Jews?
In recent years, most Jews visit Israel with an agenda that can be described as spiritual tourism. We visit Israel to be inspired, to pray at the Kotel, to spend Sukkot in Jerusalem in a beautiful Jewish environment. We tour the country, visit the bullet factory and do woodworking workshops with our kids, and then enjoy a beautiful dinner at the Inbal. The endless number of kosher restaurants only add to the experience.
There is nothing technically wrong with all of this. It helps the Israeli economy. Jews should enjoy themselves. And of course, Jews should yearn for to pray at the Kotel.
But there is also something deeply broken about all of this, something incredibly selfish. Israel does not exist to serve as our spiritual playground. Why do people visiting Israel never think about what they can do to help our people? Why do American tourists not visit the families of terror victims? Why haven’t we seen any mission to Israel over the last 20 years?
Israel was not established with the blood of thousands of our people to be the ideal Jewish vacation destination. It is our homeland – and it is a land that we must fight for, every day of our lives.
This is true, certainly, of the seven million Jews who call the holy land their home, many of whom have made the ultimate sacrifice for Israel. But it is also true of every Jewish man and woman in this world, no matter where we might live. As Rabbi Dr. Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff wrote last year, “According to Jewish law, no Jew in the world, no one in Teaneck or Lakewood, is exempt from the army; every Jew must come and fight. It’s a milchemet mitzvah, an obligatory mitzvah to fight to defend our people.”
Though this is true in a literal sense (and I will forever be ashamed that I did not serve in the IDF), I believe it also true in a broader sense. Every Jew has an obligation to fight for our people, to stand up and act. Every one of us, in our own way, must ask ourselves: what am I doing for my people?
Israel is suffering in a way many of us have never experienced in our lifetimes. Israel desperately needs us to stand up and rally. Israel must destroy Hamas, completely. But it is only a matter of time – likely a few days – before the US and EU begin pressuring Israel to declare a ceasefire, which would be a disaster. Will diaspora Jewry stand up and scream? Will American Jews flood the streets of Washington, DC, and declare Israel’s right to finish the job?
American Jewry is at a crossroads. Will we reject the passivity and defeatism that has plagued our community for decades? Will we stand up – not for one day or one week, but for the months and years to come – and fight for our nation and our people? Or will our rabbis and Jewish organizations simply send another lazy email to the community asking everybody to recite Tehillim, so we can soothe our conscience and say that we did something?
Enough with excuses. Enough with saying “what can we do besides daven?” Call activists like Moshe Glick in West Orange and Jason Suss in Teaneck and ask them how you can help. Attend rallies. Go online and raise hell about the Jews who have been taken hostage. Take the initiative.
It’s time to enlist in God’s army.
Elie Mischel is the Director of Education at Israel365