How do we connect with our homeland as a source of spiritual sustenance, rootedness and cultural pride while continuing to build vibrant Jewish communities around the world?
Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin
Beth Avraham Yoseph Congregation, Toronto
Rabbi Lisa Grushcow
Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, Montreal
Rabbi Korobkin: I write this from my hotel room in Jerusalem, on our shul’s annual Israel mission. We visited the Theodor Herzl museum and were reminded of the events that spurred Herzl, who was a completely secular Jew, to become the father of modern Zionism.
As a journalist in Vienna, Herzl was sent to France in 1894 to cover the Dreyfus affair, where a French officer of Jewish descent was accused and eventually convicted of treason. What Herzl discovered were demonstrations in the streets of Paris calling for “Death to the Jews!” This was Herzl’s moment of epiphany, when he realized that in order for the Jewish People to be safe, they needed a homeland.
I couldn’t help noting the irony of the events of the last few weeks, where demonstrations were once again being held in France with similar epithets against Jews, this time by France’s large Islamic population. The accusation that Israel is somehow to blame for Islamic violence rang hollow.
Rabbi Grushcow: The lessons of the Dreyfus affair are sobering indeed. For the vast majority of our history, though, there have been significant Jewish diasporas. There have been incredibly dark moments, and hopeful ones as well, and in our experience in North America in particular, we have flourished.
Do we need a Jewish homeland to be safe in the world? Maybe so, but God willing, we will not always be in need of refuge. To me, the questions are as follows: how can we who live outside Israel help support it as the modern-day miracle that it is, recognizing both its realities and its ideals? How can we connect with it as a source of spiritual sustenance, historical rootedness and cultural pride? And how can we continue to build vibrant Jewish communities in the Diaspora, connecting with others and contributing to the societies in which we live?
Rabbi Korobkin: The Kabbalists tell us that in every Diaspora locale throughout history, the Jewish people glean “holy sparks” that are indigenous to those places and make them a part of our people. But the lesson of the Dreyfus Affair is that anti-Semitism needs no reason to rear its ugly head.
Those who suggest that “if only Israel would do this or that, they would hate us less,” are deluding themselves. While we glean our holy sparks and share the light of Judaism with the rest of the world, we have every reason to stand tall and be proud of our homeland, Israel, and ignore the voices of hate that will continue no matter what we do or don’t do.
Rabbi Grushcow: As we write this exchange, there has been more anti-Semitic violence: the shooting at a synagogue in Copenhagen and the desecration of hundreds of graves in France. You’re right. People who are anti-Semitic will find any reason to justify unjustifiable acts. There have always been, and will always be, people who hate others in this world.
It seems to me that what is more important to talk about is how people can come together against all kinds of hatred. Of course these events affect us as Jews, but we are not the only ones. There are many old hatreds in this world, and each one of them affects everyone, not just the targeted group. Perhaps even more important, each one can only be effectively opposed by people coming together.
In that spirit, let me share the words of Father John Walsh, a colleague and friend here in Montreal. Sending an email to Jewish friends after these most recent attacks, he wrote: “The recent desecration of 300 graves in France and a gun attack on a synagogue in Denmark warrants a united voice that will in a strong and forthright manner condemn such acts as anti-Semitic and are not to be tolerated. The Jewish community does not stand alone in condemning such acts and your sisters and brothers of the Catholic faith feel the pain that is an inevitable consequence of terror. You are assured of our thoughts and prayers that these shameless acts cease now and into the future. May God bless and protect your communities throughout the world.”
Amen to that.