Ten Days of Introspection

By Dow Marmur

Jerusalem (April 24, 2017) – The international community commemorates the Holocaust in January, on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. The Jewish world commemorates the Holocaust in April, on the anniversary of the Uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto.

The international commemoration implicitly celebrates the Allied forces’ defeat of the Nazis; Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army. The Jewish equivalent (Yom Hasho’a) speaks also of heroism – Jewish heroism. It falls some ten days before Israel Independence Day (Yom Ha’atsmaut) that marks Jewish heroism that came to re-direct not only Jewish history but the history of the Middle East and more: Jews have moved from the margin of history to its centre.

I never tire of saying this: Had there been no State of Israel, Jews today would be quaint remnants of a people living in enclaves in very few places in the world – something like the Amish – and Judaism would be confined to museums, history books and archeology. You can be as critical as you want of Israeli government policies, but if you deny Israel’s right to exist, you implicitly wish for the demise of the Jewish people, even if you describe yourself as Jewish.

There’s much to suggest that some of today’s passionate defenders of Israel ominously resemble Jewish zealots of the distant past.

My criticism of Israelis has in mind ostensible patriots and seemingly ardent upholders of Jewish law and lore who in their zeal appear to threaten the very existence of Israel. There’s much to suggest that some of today’s passionate defenders of Israel ominously resemble Jewish zealots of the distant past who squandered Jewish sovereignty by purportedly defending Jewish honour instead of making it possible for Jews to live honourably.

Yossi Klein, the Ha’aretz columnist, did indeed use inappropriate and offensive language in his description of today’s so-called religious nationalists that badly damaged his case, but he did have a case, as other prominent Israelis have pointed out since. Ostensible piety and love of the land manifest in excess sent us into exile a couple of millennia ago. It may do so again, except that there’s no exile to go to nowadays, as Syrian, Libyan and other refugees have discovered.

Accommodation to the needs of the Palestinians, whether or not all of them are justified, coupled with continued military superiority and expedient alliances with states we don’t even find congenial may not be as glorious as seeking to annex the West Bank or ignore the strictures of the international community. Yet far-reaching concessions to Palestinians instead of unwarranted bravado may be necessary to secure the survival of the people and the land of Israel.

The ten days between Yom Hasho’a and Yom Ha’atsmaut are reminiscent of the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Indeed, some describe the period in which we now are as Israel’s second (secular) High Holy Days. Whatever other similarities there may be between the two ten-day periods, introspection should be one of them.

Whereas the time between Rosh Hashanah and Day of Atonement is a time for individual introspection and repentance, so the ten days between Holocaust Memorial Day and Israel Independence Day should become a period of collective introspection and – yes – repentance.

We aren’t there yet. Praying hard and acting prudently may help us to get there.

Rabbi Dow Marmur is Rabbi Emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He lives in Jerusalem.

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