About Me

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Essay in Today's Jewish Exponent

Not Just a Spectator, but a Part of History

May 14, 2009


Adam Levick

It was March 2006, my first time in Israel. Shabbat had just arrived and, with a gentle breeze at my back, I tentatively approached the Western Wall. I had recently taken the first steps toward observance, and though I was anticipating a journey filled with joy and meaning, my life till then hadn't prepared me for the emotion that took hold of me then.

I attempted to pray on that mild March evening not to open my heart to the arrival of Shabbat, but to avoid having to take that final step toward the wall, which would require me to align myself with the struggles and aspirations of the Jewish people.

My mind was racing. The wall was much larger than I had imagined. I looked away, and saw intense davening everywhere. I wanted to join in, but the words wouldn't come.

My decision to make aliyah was forged that day -- one that will come to fruition in a few days when I board an El Al plane for Tel Aviv -- but the seeds of that epiphany and, indeed, my initial identification with Zionist activism, was a reaction to Israel's many enemies.

The bright-eyed, idealistic and progressive man I was in college and early adulthood was confronted with a stunning cognitive dissonance -- that many of my political allies, those committed to freedom, equality and individual rights, were turning away from their traditional identification with Israel.

That these Western values -- enlightenment values -- were, in fact, part of the Zionist vision since the days of Herzl, and were embodied and upheld in the modern Jewish state, mattered less, in many circles, than the new narrative being forged on college campuses, and among the intellectual elite, which saw Israel through the distorted lens of colonialism and imperialism.

That the boundaries of Israel were not drawn, as they have been with most nation states, by the edge of a sword, but by an act of the United Nations, didn't matter. That Israel was a democracy with progressive attitudes towards women, gays and religious minorities didn't matter.

What seemed to matter most was advancing a narrative of Israeli oppression, a caricature of a grotesque and manipulative Goliath that delights in inflicted pain and suffering -- a defamation hauntingly similar to the historical caricature of the dirty, hook-nosed, money hungry, plotting villain we know all too well -- Israel as the Jew writ large. The 19th-century German social democrat, August Bebel, accurately called anti-Semitism the "socialism of fools," and this clumsy anti-Zionism was and is nothing less than the anti-imperialism of fools.

My decision to wage war against these calumnies evolved slowly, but during my long rumination, a clearer sense of purpose took shape. As my late father enlisted in the U.S. Army at the start of World War II, possessing no doubt that that war -- against Nazism and in defense of the Western values -- was his war, I, too, knew that this war -- against Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, the totalitarianism of our age, their political fellow travelers and intellectual enablers -- was my war.

I'm setting out to defend Israel, but also to join the 4,000-year journey of the Jewish people, to be an actor in Jewish history and not merely a spectator.

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I took the final step and gradually lifted my arm. I moved my hand forward and touched the wall.

With a gentle breeze at my back, I opened my eyes. And I prayed.

Adam Levick has worked for the Anti-Defamation League in Philadelphia.

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