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Saturday, April 18, 2015

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Israel and the Diaspora: a two-way street

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Norma Baumel Joseph

This has been a strange and difficult summer. While most normal summer activities took place, kids went to camp, families vacationed, some of us even worked, the situation in Israel has stumped us. Some had to cancel trips to Israel, others purposefully took trips there. Some of us have family there, many with soldiers. And while we know that living in Israel has been difficult for them, it has also proved challenging for us in the Diaspora.

The ups and downs of a war that is not a war can wreak havoc with any sense of calm. We have been bombarded with news criticizing the Israel Defence Forces and the Israeli government, while we hear from our own sources of the trauma and terror experienced by our people. At every turn, there is confusion and disarray. Hamas terrorizes and the West forgives. What can we do?

I remember an occasion when my eight-year-old son took ill. We happened to be in Toronto, far from our own medical sources at home in Montreal. He was writhing on the floor in pain and we did not know what to do. He shouted at us, “Don’t just stand there – do something!”

And that’s how I have felt this summer. I worry and yet have this feeling of standing still not doing anything effective. What can we do to help?

This feeling of immobilizing fear, of inadequacy in a time of crisis is overpowering. And useless. We must do something – but what?

Many have found different outlets for their need to help. Some hold vigils or prayer services. Various synagogues have mounted all forms of creative services with pictures of the fallen soldiers, naming those dead and those on the lines. All types of memorial are encountered. But honestly, while I don’t mean to denigrate prayer at all, these help us more than they help the dead or their families.

Protest vigils are often good to get the community involved, and they present a front to the rest of the world, or at least the part that is listening. But is it all doing any good? Can we counter the lousy media coverage or are we just talking to ourselves.

Let us be honest to begin with: many of these activities emanate out of our need. Often we do not know if the actions correlate with real, needed help. Do Israelis want or need our help? Many do not like thinking about any type of dependence on outsiders. Even though we raise funds frequently to help, there are those who claim they don’t need our dollars. Wait! Don’t yell at me. I am not suggesting that we cease our massive donations to Israel. Most institutions do depend heavily on our generosity. So don’t stop giving.

But because it has been such a seriously confusing summer of conflict, we may need to rethink our relationships. First, are we family or outsiders? If family, what are our responsibilities in times of crisis? Just financial, or more? Are we the rich cousins who give to the poor or are we partners who share?

And let’s not forget how much Israel does for us. It has been a critical element in our identity as Jews. It has been a basic element of our educational programs and even of our social ones. And most importantly, Israel has been our political centre, focusing our concerns and activities.

Thus, our desire to help and to give is part of a two-way street. We must continue to follow through for our entire people and even for our individual existence.

How can we help? I will continue to pray and pay. But more is needed. What? Open a dialogue with friends and family, with Israelis, get creative, do more. Israel does need us, and we need Israel. 

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