By Doron Krakow
Artzenu | ארצנו | Our Homeland | עשה שלום
I made my first visit to Israel in the summer of 1979, a 14-year-old on a six-week summer program. My older brother, Dan, had been living there since 1974—fulfilling the highest aspiration for a young Zionist. He’d served in the IDF as a tank commander, married, and that summer awaited the arrival of the first of his three children, Talia, who today is the mother of three of his seven Israeli grandchildren. For me, getting there was a dream come true, growing up with Israel and the story of our people as a kind of soundtrack of my life.
That was perhaps 150 trips ago, and during the past 43 years, I’ve visited Israel in times of war and peace. I’ve run for cover at the sound of the Tzeva Adom (Red Alert), and I’ve chased after my sons as they crisscrossed the country on family vacations and magical adventures as each celebrated his b’nai mitzvah. I’ve lived and worked with extraordinary Israelis who’ve devoted their lives and talents to pursuits with a profound impact on the country and its people.
My own professional life has been bound up with the idea that every Jew should revel in our people’s achievements and unprecedented prosperity since the destruction of the Second Temple and our dispersion to the four corners of the globe. That prosperity is anchored in the fulfillment of the Zionist dream—the restoration of an ancient people to its historic homeland.
With all Israel has achieved, political calm has never come easy. Fiercely divided on ideological grounds, the state’s early years were dominated by the Labor Party and the country’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion. An electoral revolution in 1977 brought Menachem Begin and the right-wing Likud Party to power, for the first time representative of Israel’s diverse ethnic make-up. Peace with Egypt followed, along with endless debate about how to pursue a broader and more comprehensive rapprochement with the Arab world and greater harmony with Arabs living within the country’s post-1967 boundaries. The Oslo Process. A new, market-driven economy that gave rise to the Start-Up Nation. Peace with Jordan. Withdrawal from Gaza. The Abraham Accords.
Against a backdrop of raucous debates over policy at nearly every step, the country has faced a seemingly endless battle with those bent on its destruction, placing an unimaginable burden on its soldiers, among them my son, Aaron, who made aliyah in 2018 and is an active IDF combat reservist. They are charged with safeguarding citizens of every background and affiliation against missiles, suicide bombers, attack tunnels, booby-trapped balloons, kidnappings, and all manner of warfare and terror. The price of our freedom is paid not only by the maimed and the dead—but by their families, their communities, their country and by Jews everywhere. An endless trauma.
Through tragedy and triumph, Israel’s character has been defined by its greater sense of self, its readiness to rise above struggle and strife, to overcome every challenge. It hasn’t always been easy, but in the most tenuous moments, Israel’s finest leaders seem to shine the brightest.
Since 1992, I have been privileged to serve in Jewish leadership positions, and I take great pride in my efforts to strengthen ties with Israel and interpret events of the day for colleagues, partners, campers, lay leaders, community members, and friends. It was unsettling, then, to find myself wondering how to communicate what I saw and experienced this week as part of the annual mission of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which I attended together with David Wax, JCC Association’s board chair; Gary Jacobs, immediate past chair of the board; and more than 60 other American Jewish leaders. Even as we heard about a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) indicating that Iran’s uranium enrichment has reached 84%, a mere 6% below breakout for a nuclear weapon, the country mourned the latest victims of indiscriminate Palestinian terror, and the IDF waged a house-to-house firefight with terrorists in Shechem (Nablus), it was neither unity nor shared resolve that were most in evidence. Rather, it was discord, division, and an exchange of ugliness across the political divide.
The source of the disharmony is a package of fast-track judicial reforms from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s new religious-right coalition. Arrayed against it is a phalanx of opponents that has swelled beyond the ranks of politicians to include countless members of the civic, cultural, security, and intellectual elite, alongside Israelis of every background. Fundamental changes to the balance of power between the judiciary and legislative branches of government are at issue. While there appears to be broad consensus about the need for some reform, the proposed changes appear to be, for most Israelis, a bridge too far, and many fear the very character of the state may hang in the balance.
We heard from coalition and opposition leaders, journalists, security analysts, and legal scholars. We sat with members of Knesset, current and former ministers, and shared a remarkable hour with Israel’s president, the Honorable Isaac Herzog, who is working with both sides to broker a commitment to dialogue and negotiation. The opposition has thus far refused to take part unless the government agrees to suspend the legislative process—and the government has been unwilling to make any such accommodation.
Public and peaceful demonstrations, a powerful reflection of vibrant democracy, appear to be increasing in frequency and intensity—with demonstrators on both sides wrapping themselves in the flag. But there are signs of something less noble, less constructive, as the rhetoric itself—from both sides, at demonstrations and from the rostrums of Knesset committee hearings and plenary sessions—rises to a fever pitch that, beyond attacks on ideas and policies, includes hateful allegations and calls that could be interpreted as incitement to violence.
I’m not a legal expert and have no sophistication in the legislative process. I do, however, have misgivings about elements of the proposed reforms—though not about the need for dialogue. I have real concerns about risks to the future character of Israel’s democracy, but not about its leaders’ responsibility to engage in civil discourse and deliberation. It is my fervent hope that the voices of both the coalition and the opposition will be increasingly measured, that their overriding responsibilities to the citizens of Israel and to the wider Jewish world will compel them to come together and negotiate a path to judicial reform, and that they will recognize the inherent dangers of irresponsible voices.
What I believed to be true that day in 1979 when I first stepped onto Israeli soil, I still believe today. We are privileged to live in a time of Jewish sovereignty. We inherited this moment in our long history from generations of forebears at constant risk of discrimination, assault, and worse because their world lacked what we so often take for granted. The Jewish future we will bequeath to the generations that follow ours will, to a large degree, depend upon the one and only Jewish state—what it is and what it will yet become.
Lean in. Take part. For North American Jews—this is a time for more, not less. More engagement. More attachment and more determined participation with Israel and with Israelis. Let your voices be heard. Lend them to the call to Israel’s leaders to rise above the din and discord and fulfill their responsibilities, first and foremost, to the country and its people.
- In the words of Naomi Shemer:
And if suddenly from the dark should shine,
The light of a star on our faces,
All that we ask for, let it be.
ואם פתאום יזרח מאופל
על ראשנו אור כוכב
כל שנבקש לו יהי
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America
On February 24, 1948, the JTA Daily News Bulletin included this article:
1948 U.J.A. Campaign for $250,000,000 Launched with Ten-Day Drive for $50,000,000
The 1948 United Jewish Appeal campaign for $250,000,000 for overseas relief and Palestine needs was launched here this week-end with the announcement of a special drive for $50,000,000 within the next ten days. The greatest philanthropic campaign to be launched by the U.J.A. or any private agency in the world was opened at a two-day national conference of hundreds of Jewish communal leaders.
The raising of a cash emergency fund of $50,000,000 was revealed to the U.J.A. parley by Henry Morgenthau, Jr., general chairman. A minimum of $5,000,000 will be Collected daily from today until March 2, this period to be known as the “Ten Days of Decision,” he stated.
Speaking on behalf of President Truman, Attorney General Tom C. Clark said that the President regarded the U.J.A. campaign as “one of the most important undertakings that any group ever embarked upon,” Clark characterized the support for the Building of Palestine as “an investment in the peace of the world of tomorrow” and suppressed the view that “the troubles that now beset this new Jewish state set up through the United Nations will soon he overcome.”
The Attorney General compared the difficulties of the Jewish settlers in Palestine with those of early American pioneers. “Just as there were many things that beset those pioneers who suffered here in our country 160 years ago,” said Clark, so I know that those who now suffer in Palestine shall come through in just the lease way that those Americans did. I feel certain that all thinking people and those who believe in and practice brotherhood will see to it that this young state receives the assistance that it needs in order that it might carry out its destiny.”
And that’s the way it was…