By Ari Ezra Waldman
Though he said he never realized I was Jewish, a distant acquaintance from class freshman year was intrigued when he saw me walking to Shabbat services wearing a white yarmulke (skull cap). After a few pleasantries, he asked me point blank: “What is going on in Israel?” I said, after a moment of repose: “It’s like September 11, just every day.”
My inquisitor was shocked, needless to say. To me, though, it was a serious and even-handed assessment of how Israeli lives have been transformed since the beginning of Arafat’s intifada. I thank God every day that my family was unharmed as a result of the World Trade Center collapse; now I add a special prayer that my family and friends in Israel will not become the next victims of Arafat’s suicide bombers. From America, I explained to my friend, I can pray, raise money for desperately needed ambulances, urge my elected representatives to support Israel, and inform the uninformed masses about the truth of the suicide bombings and Arafat’s bloody complicity. I cannot, however, fight on the front lines.
Israel recently called up twenty thousand reservists—out of the yeshivot, the colleges, the markets, the offices—to do what it has been forced to do since 1948: defend its right to exist through war. No one likes war, least of all the men and women who would rather be studying or otherwise living their lives but have, with determination and zeal, answered the call of their country and their people. They stand at post, risking their lives to preserve not just their own state, not just the idea of Jewish national identity, but also the very right of the Jewish people to exist. Meanwhile, I sit in the Ivory Tower afforded me by distance, an elite education, and the historical accident of my own national origin.
The brave men and women serving in the Israeli Defense Forces are paradigms of heroism. In true republican fashion, they constitute a citizen militia gathered to defend the state and their way of life from foreign armies or, as in this case, Arab terrorists. There is no draft dodging in Israel; few can with clean conscience pass on this responsibility to their neighbors. The cause in which Israel is presently engaged transcends the cause of nationalism and statehood. Israelis fight not only for the territorial integrity of their state, but also for the survival of the Jew as religious and cultural identity.
Jews in France are under attack by homegrown anti-Semites. Throughout liberal Europe, cries against supposed Israeli brutality point wagging fingers at Ariel Sharon and the Jews that support him. The Muslim world cannot come together and even explicitly, unqualifiedly recognize the right of Israel to exist. These eyes of hatred are glaring beyond the Jewish State—an entity they see as a temporary thorn—and staring deep into the heart of the Jewish people. Anti-Semities and Arab terrorists have come to this one profound and accurate conclusion: the way to destroy the Jews is to destroy their State.
We cannot exist without Israel, without the iron defense provided by those men and women called into service for their fellow Jews. They constitute a Jewish army, not just an Israeli army, fighting for their religious and cultural brethren and their right to live, work, prosper, and pray in peace. I lament that I cannot join in thier fight, and I am desolate when my fellow American Jews criticize or ridicule them. Beyond whatever monetary support I can contribute to the Zionist cause, my project is clear: I will not rest until all Jews realize that to be a Jew is to be a Zionist.