עם אין אני לי, מי לי?
Im Ein Ani Li, Mi Li?
If I am not for myself, who will be?
For so long, we Jews have focused not on the first line of this saying, but the second line:
וכשאיני לעצמי, מה לי?
Ooch-she’Eini l’Atzmi, Ma Ani?
If I am only for myself, WHAT am I?
The Jewish people stand for justice — we are the people who bring to the world the very concept of justice, as we learn from our Torah. We take the moniker “Light Unto the Nations” seriously, and we have been at the forefront of advocacy for every group under the sun.
Let’s stand up for ourselves!
But NOW is the time for us to concentrate on the first line, we must advocate first and foremost for ourselves – for you, for me, for the hostages in Gaza, the soldiers who are putting their lives at risk, for Jews here in New York and for those around the world. For we have witnessed over this past month how rapidly the world opinion has turned from sympathy for ISrael — to outright demonization of Jews, and turns blind eye to the calls for our murder.
It’s startling to see the same people with whom we have been allied convince themselves that WE JEWS are the problem here.
It’s REVOLTING to find out that those you may have trusted will not condemn the murder of your people….or to hear 1000s of college students gleefully chant the slogans of a genocidal death cult.
And it is maddening to watch those who hate us and wish violence upon us fashion themselves as victims—even heroes.
ועם ל עכשיו, אימתי?
V’Im Lo Achsav, Eimatai?
And if not now, when??
Maybe some of our friends will come around, maybe they will not. But we cannot wait for someone else to stand up and protect us. For someone else to stand on our behalf.
So what is our task? For one, we must take Israel’s example. I was there in Israel on Oct 7, and what I saw there informs my thought and my action.
By 9 am on Simchat Torah we began to get the news that Israel was at war. And then we heard the missiles …and the BOOMS of the Iron Dome intercepts. When the siren went off at my son’s shul — right in the middle of Zot HaBracha reading– the rabbi – already dressed in HIS combat fatigues – led the whole congregation and the sefer Torahs into the safe room.
There, we did not cry, we did not cower. We sang! Loudly, joyfully! All squeezed together, we kept up the ruach of beautiful holiday, though we knew already then this Simchat Torah was going to be anything but typical. When it was safe to come out, we continued the Torah reading with confidence.. and we DANCED!
We danced right past the great sadness that we knew was to come.
And the sadness came. We watched over the rest of that Shabbat and the following day, as scores of soldiers left their homes for war. We blessed them as they left, feeling love for each one. Immediately everybody got busy doing what we do best — cooking, gathering supplies, visiting and comforting – doing whatever we could for the soldiers, for the suddenly single mothers, and for the traumatized survivors from the south.
There was and continues to be a massive outpouring of love and generosity.
I returned here to America, to find that people here were struggling to find meaningful ways to help. We all felt so far away.
But now, a month later, we know that the fight is not limited to Israel – all of the world’s Jews are targets. All the world’s Jews are blamed. We must depend upon each other.
YOU and I and everyone here MUST speak out for Israel at whatever opportunity presents itself. You do not know when it will be YOUR MOMENT, but it will come, and when it does, you need to stand tall and stand proud. You are no less a soldier in this front than the chayalim who are risking their lives right now.
When I think about the unspeakable atrocities committed against our brothers, and about how a cold world now points the finger squarely at you and me — my heart rate goes up, my knees shake, I get chills down my spine. Maybe you feel this way, too.
Don’t let it the fear overtake you. This is what courage feels like. These are the physical symptoms of a moral compass. Embrace it.
Know this fact: It’s good to be unpopular with a mob whose worldview has done away with the concept of right and wrong.
In this new world of celebrating victimhood, no one is looking at us Jews as victims. Even if they were to offer me that familiar old identity, I refuse to accept it. I will not play the role of victim. I will not cower.
I am proud to be exactly who I am — a Jew and a Zionist.
In October, as I was waiting to board my plane at Ben Gurion, the sirens sounded. We all ran to the safe room — which was actually the bathroom. I hid in the men’s room with a crowd of other travelers, feeling the reverberations of the Iron Dome directly overhead.
It was a feeling of shame — to be in our beautiful homeland, and needing to hide for our lives — in foul-smelling place, no less.
When we emerged, we all went straight to our gates. Immediately, a single loud voice began to sing “Yitgadal V’Yitkadash Shemei Raba” – and every person in that crowd responded, without hesitation. With that highest praise of G-ds name, we ourselves restored our humanity.
It was a raw, visceral reminder that we are the Jews, chosen by G-d – and in that moment we all connected to this fellow Jew, to each other and to our Creator.
My son tells me, that now –a month later — new common sayings in Israel are:
לשנות את הקונספסיה
L’shanot et Ha’Koncepcia
Change your perspective.
and מהשהיה זה לא משיהיה
Ma She’Haya, Zeh Lo Mashe-yihiye
What WAS is not what WILL BE.
In Israel, this means that they can no longer take any peacetime for granted. And that they do not have the luxury to entertain a fantasy of a pretended peace with partners who outwardly want them dead.
And here in America we have our own message to convey. That we love our people, our country and we are proud to say it. And we must no longer worry about what people think of us. That’s a luxury that we also cannot afford.
What was — is NOT what will be.
The stakes of not standing upright and proud have never been higher than they are today.
The world will always have people who oppose what’s right and what’s good.
But we Jews do not pay obeisance to them. We will not kneel and we will not bow to such people and the ideas they promote.
As the prophets intone, חזק ואמץ!
Be strong and be courageous.
Now is our moment to take the stand for ourselves, for our country, for those fighting for us, and for the hostages and dead who cannot speak for themselves.
I should credit Batya Ungar-Sargon for the ideas and some of the words. Published in the Free Press Nov 8, 2023. It’s 90% mine, with a some phrases lifted from her article.