A friend of mine, a Baptist pastor, tells me I need to chill out when it comes to Israel.
“Relax, brother,” he tries to assure me. “Nothing bad is going to happen to Israel because the Lord won’t let it.”
He then proceeds to tell me about all the times in the past — from ancient days to the present — when enemies to the Jews attempted and failed at destroying my ancestors. His words, I have to admit, are somewhat convincing. He cites a laundry list of such efforts by the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Amaleks, the Babylonians, the Persian Empire, Crusaders, the Nazis and so on; and I try my hardest to believe that maybe it’s true, that Divine providence will always be our protector.
I don’t totally dismiss the possibility; but still, when it comes to faith and war, I generally subscribe to the old WWII slogan, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.” Praying wouldn’t hurt, I’m certain, but stocking up on anti-aircraft missiles wouldn’t be such a bad idea either.
We all know that Israel has a Herculean struggle on its hands. At AIPAC, with whom I’m active, we work tirelessly to make the case for U.S. support, which is never an easy job. We know that despite our efforts, Israel’s enemies, even with all their missteps and infighting, are still getting stronger and brasher. There are now hundreds of thousands of missiles pointed at Israel, many with longer-range capabilities than ever before. “Terror tunnels” continue to be dug, funded by humanitarian aid diverted by Hamas leadership. Random stabbings and shootings are all-too-common, and the possibility that one day the ultimate threat — a nuclear capability in the wrong hands — will become a reality cannot be denied. The rhetoric coming from Israel’s enemies continues to be way over the top (last month, senior Hamas official Fathi Hammad announced that “by 2022, we will cleanse Palestine of the filth of the Jews”).
We Jews are bombarded with daunting news, just like we always have been. But with a combination of smarts, cunning, determination and yes, faith, we have figured out a way to not only survive, but indeed thrive. We evolve, somehow, some way.
Re-evaluating The Future
So, as our new year, 5779, is about to kick off, it seems like a good time to once again re-evaluate how to face tomorrow’s challenges. If you’re a pro-Israel advocate, then this is the time to identify what you can do to help Israel in the coming year. This is the time for your 5779 pro-Israel New Year’s resolution.
Mine came to me just recently, as I sat at a Temple Israel service and heard the words of teenagers who had just returned from a Teen Mission to Israel. In the most glowing and sweetest way, they described the depth of emotions they experienced on the trip. They professed their love for Israel and the people they met, especially the Israeli teens with whom they had become instant friends. They spoke of their “new homeland” with words that were passionate, heartfelt and pure.
And all I could think was — I hope they can maintain this passion in a few years when they go to college and experience the wave of anti-Israel rhetoric they will surely encounter on America’s college campuses. How will they fare when they inevitably face other students — some of whom will be Jewish — who will tell them that their love for Israel is misplaced and that the nation is, in reality, an evil apartheid state, no better than South Africa was at one time?
Will they waver when they walk by a BDS rally and hear chants about Israel’s violating international law or denying the right of return for Palestinian refugees or occupying Palestine? Have we armed these kids with the knowledge and skills they’ll need to counter these arguments, or have we spent too much time just trying to get them to like Israel and enjoy their trip? We need them to become effective advocates for Israel, but what if they can’t articulate and defend the historical and logical reasons for its existence? What if all they can say is that it’s a cool start-up nation with beautiful beaches, great food, a great night life and friendly people?
I flashed back to being in Israel last spring and talking to a group of 16-year-olds. They were just a few years away from joining the IDF, and as they spoke of their impending service, they showed no signs of fear or hesitation whatsoever. To the contrary, they were eager, mature, serious, proud and excited to serve their country. They spoke of the obvious dangers, but weren’t the least bit deterred by the mission ahead of them. They were ready — emotionally, spiritually and intellectually — to be the next guardians of Israel. My group marveled at them all, our eyes getting teary as we watched their steel courage and hugged them good-bye, well aware of the odds they would soon face.
Our kids here in America won’t be joining the IDF. They won’t be firing rifles or leaning how to operate an Iron Dome anti-missile system. But they’ll, nevertheless, be desperately needed to rise to a gargantuan and noble challenge: to serve as future leaders among the diaspora, to be knowledgeable, to teach, to become advocates, and speak out, write, protest, inspire and display the courage to do all this in the face of an increasingly hostile wave of anti-Semitism on college campuses and beyond.
They will have their work cut out for them, and they will need our help. Fortunately, there are places for them to go to seek information, support and resources, which include:
- The Academic Engagement Network. The AEN was created by a group of college professors, including Kenneth Waltzer, one of my professors at James Madison College at Michigan State University. The organization’s mission is to oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and to stand for academic freedom and education and robust conversations about Israel.
Waltzer, the group’s executive director, has stated that the organization’s intent is to “promote a sane middle ground of support for a two-state solution and embrace uncompromising support for human rights for Arabs, Jews and others.” To do this, the group, now at more than 100 campuses across America, holds conferences, organizes programming, advises campus presidents, deans and professors, mentors students, publishes newsletters, makes media appearances and a host of other activities.
- Hillel. Founded almost 100 years ago, Hillel is known as the “Foundation of Jewish Life on Campus.” Hillel has long been the central campus organization for Jewish students, including training students to become future leaders within their communities. In recent years, the organization has become quite involved in arming students with information to combat the spread of anti-Israel sentiment on campus.
- StandWithUs. An Israel nonprofit group dedicated to educating people about Israel and combating anti-Semitism and extremism, StandWithUs is now extensively involved in providing educational services to Jewish college students. It offers fellowship programs that recruit, train, educate and inspire pro-Israel college students to assume leadership positions. It holds symposiums, writes articles and offers training seminars and the chance to intern at StandWithUs’ Jerusalem office.
Each of these organizations relies on community support to sustain its mission and, not surprisingly, the lion’s share of it comes from Jewish donors. In 5779, I will support each of them and other youth-focused, pro-Israel groups, and I will encourage others to do so. They are performing a vital service to the Jewish people: preparing our kids to be tomorrow’s defenders of Israel. That’s a holy mission, worthy of our unbridled support.
That is my 5779 Pro-Israel New Year Resolution. I hope you will join me.
Mark Jacobs is the AIPAC Michigan director for African American Outreach, a co-director of the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity, a board member of the Jewish Community Relations Council-AJC and the director of Jewish Family Service’s Legal Referral Committee.