Wednesday, October 23, 2013

When you don’t 'see', you are left behind

Our Sages make an interesting observation about an incident in this past week’s Torah reading, Va-Yeah-rah. You might want to remember the observation.

At the beginning of the story of Ah-kei-dat Yitzchak (the Binding of Isaac, B’reisheet  22:1-19), Abraham travels with three companions to a place we call today the Temple Mount. Those companions, our Sages teach, were Abraham’s sons Isaac and Yishmael, plus Abraham’s learned slave, Eliezer (for a description of Eliezer, see Tractate Yoma, 28b). As the group of four approaches the Mount, called Har HaMoriah, “Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place from afar” (ibid, 22:4). As presented in the ArtScroll Stone Edition, The Chumash, (see commentary on 22:4) the midrashic Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (80-118CE) relates that, as Abraham lifted his eyes to the Mount, he saw a cloud hovering there. That cloud was the Presence of G-d.

Abraham asked Isaac, ‘do you see what I see?’  Isaac responded, ‘yes.’ Abraham then asked the same question to Yishmael and Eliezer. Both said, ‘no.’

Therefore, the commentary relates, Abraham told Yishmael and Eliezer, ‘stay here’ (ibid 22:5). He left them behind  specifically because they did not ‘see’ what they were looking at. Both Yishmael and the learned Eliezer didn’t understand the significance of what they saw.

Could the same happen today to Jews in exile? Well, in a single twelve-day news cycle (October 10-21, 2013), some stories and opinion-pieces have appeared that paint a stark picture for Jews in exile. Will those Jews understand what they read?

On October 10, Hen Mazzig wrote in The Times of Israel of anti-Israel bigotry and hostility on American college campuses. At one BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) event in Portland, a professor from a Seattle university told the assembled crowd that the Jews of Israel have no national rights and should be forced out of the country. When Mazzig (who was travelling to talk about Israel) asked, “Where do you want them to go?” she replied, “I don’t care. I don’t care if they don’t have any place to go.” On another occasion, a professor asked Mazzig if he knew how many Palestinians have been raped by IDF (Israel Defence Force) soldiers (Mazzig had served in the IDF). He answered that, so far as he knew, none. She then triumphantly responded that he was right, because, she said, ‘You IDF soldiers don’t rape Palestinians because Israelis are so racist and disgusted by them you won’t touch them!’

On October 14, Caroline Glick wrote in the Jerusalem Post about the Washington, DC, Jewish Community Center (DCJCC) and its in-house Theater J. It seems that, for its Spring 2014 season, Theatre J will present a play entitled, ‘The Admission.’ This play presents a story about a so-called massacre of Arabs by Jews (in the 1947-8 War of Independence) that never occurred. Israeli courts have ruled that the original story—it was part of a Masters Thesis at Haifa University—was a fabrication. Nevertheless, the play portrays Jews as murderers and aggressors in the 1947-8 War. According to Glick, the play’s design is to defame Israel and romanticize its enemies. She argues that this is a blood libel that depicts Israeli soldiers – and the society that supports them – as mass murderers. It represents, she contends, the beginning of an conversation regarding whether or not Israel is a criminal state born in war crimes—and it is being promoted by the Jewish community.

On October 18, The Times of Israel reported that 40 per cent of French Jews, 49 per cent of Swedish Jews and 36 per cent of Belgian Jews are afraid to wear Jewish symbols for fear of attack. In addition, 91 per cent of Hungarian Jews, 88 per cent of French Jews, 87 per cent of Belgian Jews and 80 per cent of Swedish Jews say that anti-Semitism has increased over the last five years.

On October 21, Richard L Cravatts wrote on Arutz Sheva that the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the largest and most significant organization of academic faculty members in the United States, with over 47,000 members, has traditionally not supported boycotts. But now, he reports, the organization has dedicated an entire issue of their online Journal of Academic Freedom to examine the feasibility of an academic boycott of Israel.

These four stories, appearing in a single ten-day period, represent a warning call to Jews in exile. As European Jews have clearly discovered, the anti-Israel Movement is not just a philosophic enterprise.  They see now that the more Israel is demonized, the stronger anti-Semitism becomes.

The Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac looking up at the Temple Mount is today’s story. It is the story of, ‘do you see’?

It’s a reminder. It reminds us that, if we don’t understand what we see, we will be ‘left behind’—and whatever ‘left behind’ means, it’s not good.

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