Answering the Terrorists

I spoke recently at a number of Jewish summer camps. A young counselor spoke before me at Camp Ramah in Nyack, New York. She had just returned from the funeral of her boyfriend, 25-year-old Benjamin Blutstein from Pennsylvania, who she had met at Pardes in Jerusalem, and who was killed sitting in the cafeteria at Hebrew University.

That attack hit us all particularly hard. I had an intern all summer, a young woman who lives around the corner from me ,who was attending SUNY Albany. She was working in my house on Friday, left for Israel the following Monday, and walked out of the Hebrew University cafeteria just a half hour before it exploded.

I am a political scientist and I stay out of matters of theology, but, if I were a rabbi, I would announce on Yom Kippur that for the next year every Jew should stand for the Kaddish because members of our family in Israel have been taken from us and they deserve all of our prayers.

Now I’m getting ready to begin a round of lectures on college campuses. I spoke at 15 colleges last semester and I can tell you the situation is pretty bleak. But I think that many people don’t recognize the crisis that we’re facing. Too many people think the problem is anti-Israel sentiment on the campus. That’s not the main problem. The truth is that what happens at places such as Berkeley and San Francisco State are the exceptions, not the rule.

The real crisis is that our young people don’t know the history of Israel. They don’t identify with Israel. So when they get into a situation like those at Berkeley and San Francisco State they’re not equipped to handle them. I’m part of a new coalition led by groups like Hillel and AIPAC that is working hard to address the problems on the nation’s campuses, but the reality is that by the time Jews get to college it is late, not too late, but very late to educate them.

The test for Hebrew schools and day schools is whether the graduates know what to say when they hear that Israelis are aggressors who have savagely invaded, occupied, and oppressed the Palestinians, that Israel has destroyed their cities, towns, and homes, and desecrated their holy places.

This fall Jewish students are going to hear how the Israeli army massacred 500 innocent people in Jenin, prevented ambulances from taking care of the injured, and buried bodies to cover up their atrocities. They are going to have to fight off divestment campaigns by those who claim that Israel is an apartheid state that discriminates against Arabs and is committing crimes that can be compared to the Nazis.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations asked a few weeks ago: “Is it possible that Israel is right and the whole world is wrong?”

My mission is to teach young Jews that Israel is right and the whole world is wrong! They need to have the facts so that they will know in their heads that Israel is just, and they have to have the love of Israel to know it in their hearts.

Our children need to understand that no Israeli wants to worry about riding a bus, eating in a pizzeria, dancing at a disco, or attending a university. Israel is the home of the Jewish people and no one will drive us from our homes.

The best response to the terrorists came the day after my speech at Camp Ramah, when I awoke to the sound of Israeli music, and hundreds of Jewish children dancing and singing, immersed in Jewish life. It came also from my intern and the other Hebrew University students who decided to stay in Israel and continue their studies.

I understand that this is a time of great frustration and sorrow, but we are a people of hope, not despair. I am reminded of the lyrics of a song:

In the Jewish heart
A Jewish spirit still sings
And the eyes look east toward Zion
Our hope is not lost
Our hope of two thousand years,
To be a free nation in our land,
In the land of Zion and Israel.

Perhaps some of you recognize those lyrics. It is appropriately titled, “The Hope.” It is better known as Hatikvah, the national anthem of Israel. Let us keep this hope alive in the new year.