Wednesday, August 22, 2001

A Living Ideal

A Living Ideal
August 22, 2001
Earlier this month I hosted two American tourists in my home. We spoke for over an hour and a half, with my two guests peppering me with questions. They weren't asking just for the sake of asking. They really wanted to know and understand. The truth is that there is much that is indeed incomprehensible, which I also tried to convey.

One of the questions that perturbed them was: How do we justify so many soldiers needed to provide defense for so few people in Hevron?

I answered the question on three different levels:

First, we are not responsible for the fact that there are so few people here. If we were allowed to build on property we legally own, there would be hundreds, and possibly even thousands, more Jews living in Hevron today. However, due to the unrelenting restrictions decreed upon us, obtaining building permits can take years.

Second, the policy of the government of Israel has always been to protect Jews, wherever they may be, at whatever cost. Anyone traveling up north, near the border with Lebanon and Syria, will find thousands of Israeli troops stationed there, defending such cites as Kiryat Shmona and Metulla, as well as kibbutzim and moshavim. Without that strong military presence on the border, our northern enemies would constantly attack those areas. Just as people in Kiryat Shmona are deserving of whatever security measures are necessary for their full safety, so too must Hevron's Jewish residents be provided with whatever is militarily essential for our well-being.

However, the most important reason I left for last: The real question that must be faced concerns how we view our existence in the Land of Israel. Is our existence here for our own personal good, for our own personal comfort? Or are we here for other, more significant reasons? If our living in Israel is simply for personal comfort, then, of course, why should anyone risk their lives for a few people? After all, what difference do a few strangers make to anyone's life? If we live in Eretz Yisrael because the land is a means to an end, that end being personal, material benefit, then it would indeed be difficult to justify spending so much money, risking so many lives, for such a few others.

On the other hand, if our priorities are not self-centered, if our main motivation is ideological, than a few lives may be worth more than words can express. If living in Israel is not a means to an end, rather it is an end in and of itself, if our being here is for the good of the entire people, not only for this moment, but for the long run, the picture looks a little different. Then we must examine what we do in a different perspective, a perspective of eternity.

One of our problems today is that people see only as far as their own nose, but not any further. Those who resettled Eretz Yisrael in the late eighteen hundreds, the early nineteen hundreds and following World War II did not work, sweat, and die for a fleeting pleasure. Many of them had the ability to look ahead, to realize that rebuilding Israel is achievement of a dream which had united, and to a great degree kept alive, the Jewish people for two thousand years. Our modern founding fathers were living ideals. Their personal comforts, their personal lives were not primary, or even secondary. What was important was the good of the whole. That was the way the State of Israel came into existence in the twentieth century.

Today, in many circles, that ideal has been lost. But not by all.

That ideal is what motivated a group of seven families to live in caravan homes in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hevron, the original, Biblical Hevron. Their living conditions are beyond description. The walls of their homes are paper-thin. They have been targeted by Arafat's armed forces for over 10 months and their houses are frequently hit by terrorist gunfire. The bullets penetrate the walls and literally fly from room to room, before finally stopping. Only miracle after miracle has prevented casualties and tragedy. Yet those families live there, not for themselves, not for any material reward, but because they too are living an ideal, living in the shadow of Abraham and Sarah, in the shadow of King David, in the shadow of Jews who lived in this neighborhood for hundreds and thousands of years.

Earlier this month, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected claims by Hevron Arabs and Israeli left-wing activists aimed at preventing construction of permanent housing for Tel Rumeida's residents. Hopefully, in the near future, the Tel Rumeida neighborhood will consist not of seven families, but of 70 families, living not in paper-thin caravans, but in full-fledged homes. Then, learning from the Tel Rumeida example, living and fulfilling ideals even at the cost of personal comfort and safety, no one will want or need to ask, "Why must Israeli soldiers risk their lives for so few people?"

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