Selected Sermon/Article
2001-09-27 Yom Kippur Drasha - Yizkor by Rav Ze'ev Smason
Israel: Last Year, and in the Year Ahead
I'd like to begin my remarks today by sharing with you a story that I heard from a rabbinic colleague of mine -- Rabbi Motty Berger. Rabbi Berger related that a number of years ago, he became friends with a young man who had just emigrated from China to study in an American university. This Chinese student who I'll call Wong, was a brilliant young man, but had a very poor command of English. Wong dedicated himself with great fervor to mastering English, and used American newspapers as his primary resource to gain fluency in the language.

One day, Wong told Rabbi Berger that something was bothering him. Over the previous several months of reading the Washington Post and New York Times, he had noticed that three countries constantly occupied the news on the front page; one was the United States, the second, the former Soviet Union, and the third, Wong said, 'some country named Israel.' Being from China, Wong was well familiar with Russia, and of course knew of America. He was puzzled though, in not recognizing the country that the news was constantly discussing called 'Israel.' He had never heard (Wong said) of this 'Israel' in China, and couldn't even find it on a map. Wong asked Rabbi Berger if 'Canada' was really another name for 'Israel,' since Canada is a very large country by size, and it must be (Wong reasoned) that a country discussed as often as this 'Israel' must be enormous in geographical size!

At that point, Rabbi Berger took his friend Wong to a globe, and showed him where this 'Israel' actually was located. Tucked off to the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea, this country was so small that it didn't even have enough room for it's name or principal cities to be written on it's land mass -- but had to be written in the 'blue' area of the Sea!

Wong was incredulous, and said, 'you mean to tell me that this little country is the one that is always on the front pages of the newspapers? How many people live in Israel?" Rabbi Berger said that there were about 5 million people in Israel.

Wong said, "5 million people? In my country, they recently had a census, and found that China has a population of one billion people, plus or minus 50 million. Do you realize," Wong told Rabbi Berger, "that 10 times as many people are lost in China, then exist in the entire country of Israel -- but this little Israel is always on the front pages of the newspaper?"

The events of September 11, 2001, have understandably taken Israel off the front pages of the world news. Although we've been preoccupied with America's tragedy, I feel that it's imperative to maintain focus on what has taken place in Israel over the past year, and the issues that confront us vis a vis Israel as we enter 5762.

Ladies and gentlemen, we dare not neglect the fact that there is a war that is going on in Israel as we sit here today in shul on Yom Kippur. Israel is in the midst of a war of survival, a difficult war of survival, a terrorist war of survival. There's barely a day that goes by without someone being murdered, and the campaign of violence that the Palestinians are waging against Israel seems to be constantly escalating.

I'd like to raise three issues with you today regarding Israel, with the hope that we'll remain vigilant regarding our beloved homeland and beloved brethren, and know how to respond appropriately to the crisis.

Issue number one: The national airwaves and local media have been filled with suggestions that if only America hadn't been supportive of Israel, the devastating tragedies in New York and Washington would not have taken place. Was the relationship between the United States and Israel the cause of the September 11 attacks? Perhaps some of you have encountered questions along these lines from neighbors and coworkers, suggesting that, once again, it's 'all Israel's fault.' How are we to respond to such accusations?

Although Islamic hatred of the West is certainly based on a number of factors, I believe that it is misleading and disingenuous to claim that the September atrocities are not connected to Israel.

In an interview printed in Esquire Magazine in February 1999, none other than Osama bin Laden had this to say about the relationship of America and Israel:

"The American imposes himself on everyone. Americans accuse our children in Palestine of being terrorists..... At the same time, Americans defend a country, the state of the Jews, that has a policy to destroy the future of these children.

"We are sure of our victory against the Americans and the Jews as promised by the Prophet: Judgment Day shall not come until the Muslim fights the Jew, where the Jew will hide behind trees and stones, and the tree and the stone will speak and say, Muslim, behind me is a Jew. Come and kill him.' "

It is as clear as day that September 11 was in very large part due to American support of Israel, and American support of Jewish values. What are we supposed to say, then, when people say 'it's all Israel's fault.' I'll share with you how I respond to such a statement.

I ask my questioner if he supported the deployment of American troops to Bosnia several years ago -- "surely you remember," I tell him, "the 'ethnic cleansing' and 'genocide' perpetrated by the Serbians." In most likelihood, he'll say "yes, I supported American involvement." I then tell him that his support reflected the feelings of mainstream America. We don't necessarily see the role of our country as the 'World's Policeman' ; most Americans do feel, however, that the abundance of material blessings God has granted this country morally obligates America to be the defender and protector of the poor and downtrodden who can't protect themselves from international bullies.

Israel is not simply a strategic ally that shares common Democratic values with America; Israel is a small country surrounded by 150 million hostile enemies who deny it's right to exist and would be tickled pink to see it disappear. Mainstream America supports lending a helping hand to protect the Bosnias and Israels of the world. US foreign policy should not -- and will not -- be determined by narrow minded isolations, bigots and anti-Semites. Israel was not the 'cause' of what happened on September 11; rather, it was America's commitment to righteousness and ethics that made it the target of that devastating attack.

A second contemporary issue on the agenda this year is the following question; Is all terrorism equally reprehensible, or does there exist such a thing as 'good terrorism,' and such a thing as 'bad terrorism'? Why has the American government identified 15 terrorist organizations who will be subject to a financial crackdown, but has left the 'Hamas', a Palestinian group that has committed many suicide bombings in Israel, off the list? Good terrorists, and bad terrorists?

A related question is the following; We've heard a much in the past two weeks how 'mainstream Islam decries suicide bombing. 'While many or most of Muslim countries and American Muslims have decried the September 11 terror attacks, not a word has been said in condemnation of the suicide bombings that have ravaged Israel over the past year. The silence of those who claim that Islam is a peace loving religion is deafening when it comes to protesting the same tactics that have been used against Israel. We should be aware of the this hypocrisy, and be prepared to point it out in discussion. Are there bad suicide bombers, and good suicide bombers?

Finally, our response to the situation in Israel demands action, which can be broken into three segments.

When asked for his reaction to the enormous decline in tourism and in visits from American Jews to Israel this past summer, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat said "If Israel is like Disneyland, then you only go when there is good weather. If Israel is a motherland, then you go when your mother is in trouble." Israel needs our words of support, and Israel needs us there. Most of you know about the recent trip that 90 year old I.E. Millstone took to Israel as a show of support and solidarity. Those 91 years of age and older are exempt. The rest of us should seriously consider a trip to Israel in the coming year.

The second segment of the response we need to make is to pray that in this New Year, Israelis may be able to get on a bus or go buy a pizza without fear of danger. 'HaKol kol Yaakov' -- the voice of the Jew, in prayer, is our secret weapon. We believe that prayer works. We know that prayer works, and that many times our prayers have been answered. Are we davening for the safety and welfare of 'Achaynu Beis Yisrael' each and every day? If not, why not? Our prayers are necessary, and crucial. We have to keep Israel in our mind, thoughts and prayers each and every day

Third and last, we have to open our checkbooks. I believe that an excellent way to show support for Israel in this time of need is Israel Bonds. Over the past 50 years Israel Bonds has become one of the most important investment vehicles in the development and growth of the State of Israel.

Roads, water projects, airports, harbors, power plants and new immigrant absorption are all examples of the vital work carried out with the help of Israel Bonds. By purchasing a bond, you become a partner in building the state of Israel. And at this time in particular, your support sends a unified message of support to Israelis, and to Jews throughout the world. Please give generously to our Yom Kippur Israel Bonds appeal.

In conclusion, Israel is a very small piece of real estate that occupies a very large part of our minds and hearts on this day of Yom Kippur. May it be the Almighty's Will that the coming year bring security and peace to the world, an end to the struggles and suffering of our brethren in Israel, and may we merit to see the coming of the messiah speedily, in our days.