Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1963 Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C., during which he delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, calling for an end to racism, Aug. 28 1963. Photo: Rowland Scherman/National Archives at College Park via Wikimedia Commons.
From the focus on the family unit to the welcoming of all religions to live and pray in one house, the State of Israel is the only true democracy left.
Hayim Leiter is a rabbi, mohel, wedding officiant and member of a private beit din in Israel. He founded Magen HaBrit, an organization committed to protecting the ceremony of brit milah and the children who undergo it. He made aliyah in 2009, and lives in Efrat with his wife and four children.
(December 11, 2023 / JNS)
I loved growing up in America. Prior to my first year learning in Israel, I believed that there was no better country in the world. I felt that my values were American values, and I never dreamed of living anywhere else. Now, having called Israel my home for more than 15 years, the United States seems completely foreign to me.
My youth was no different than any other Gen Xer. I grew up on a healthy dose of television and skateboarding. But as far as the values I imbued, the focus of my education was on the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The moral compass that led me to be the rabbi I am today stemmed from his teachings and leadership. As far as I was concerned, there was no one better to emulate and no better leader to provide the basis for the philosophical underpinnings of the nation.
But America has changed and not for the better. The values of free speech and merit-based accomplishments seem like distant memories.
Focusing on race as one’s defining characteristic as opposed to treating everyone as equals has set the culture ablaze. The stories I see in the news leave me flabbergasted, and most of them of late are connected to Israel.
Just last week, the congressional hearings investigating antisemitism at elite U.S. universities were the most deplorable displays to date. The fact that the presidents of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania could not condemn calls for the genocide of the Jewish people exposed the antisemitic rot that pervades college campuses.
Perhaps not by chance, two days after these hearings were held, a black woman attempted to burn down King’s house. This attempted arson is a metaphor for what’s happening in America. The democratic values that King both cherished and utilized to bring the country to moments of enlightenment during the civil-rights movement are being trashed in the name of something sinister. The oppressor/oppressed matrix that dictates the radical left’s agenda spits in the face of all that came before it and all that made the United States so precious.
Israel is the last bastion of such values. Living here feels like a throwback to older times. From the focus on the family unit to the welcoming of all religions to live and pray in one house, the State of Israel is the only true democracy left. Here, what still matters is not the color of your skin but the content of your character. And it is because of the focus on these values that so many, from so many different walks of life, have found a home here. I’m proud to be one of them.
This is not to say that Israel is perfect. And it’s not to say that all is lost in my native land. In the past two months since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks, American Jewry’s actions have been inspiring. So many have raised their voices against the evils of antisemitism. Both Jew and gentile alike deserve praise, for it’s not hard to imagine an opposite reality.
If assimilated Jews had remained silent, no one would have been the wiser. Many of their acquaintances would never have known their religious identity. But these Jews, who before Oct. 7 had never posted a picture of themselves lighting Chanukah candles or making challah for Shabbat, have posted and reposted so many messages of Jewish pride. It gives me hope for a brighter future in the Diaspora.
In the most heartwarming turn of events, the outside world is starting to listen. Liz Magill, the president of Pennsylvania University, due to her damning testimony in the congressional hearings last week and the subsequent public outcry, has resigned from her position.
To the Jews and our allies throughout the world, I say: Do not stop! Continue to make your voices heard. The world needs to hear our message—that Jews, just like any other ethnic group, cannot, should not, and will not be singled out for discrimination.
Just as the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said to the world at the march on Washington, I, too, have a dream. I dream that one day men and women will once again not be judged by the color of their skin nor their religious affiliation, but by the content of their character. The future of the free world depends on a recommitment to these values.