Thursday, May 08, 2008

Thanking God - An Analogy

Guest Post by Rabbi Bill Kanter

One sunny spring day Dan and Sarah Gold, Orthodox Jews, decided to take a hike in the mountains near their home. They brought along their 15-year-old son Avi and their 10-year-old daughter Rachel. While hiking they noticed a shallow cave along the path and they decided to enter. Soon after they got into the cave they heard a rumbling noise and turned to see that an avalanche of rocks had fallen down the mountain and blocked up the entrance to the cave except for a small crack at the top where air and light could come in. At first the family tried to move the heavy boulders in order to escape but soon realized that this was not possible. Then they tried to use their cell phones to call for help but none of their phones had any signal. Then they tried screaming for help, hoping that some other hiker would come along and call for help.

As the day went on and they realized that it was getting darker outside they began to pray because they realized that they were running short on their limited supply of granola bars and bottled water. However, no matter how much they worried and however much they prayed to God, no one was coming to rescue them. As night fell and it began to get cold in the cave the Gold family huddled together and tried to go to sleep.

Early the next morning Avi gold woke his father and began crying and shaking hysterically. He told his father that he was going to die in this cave and all of his dreams for a future life and family would be lost. His father tried to reassure him that everything would be all right but soon his father realized that this was probably not true and that the family was indeed going to die in this cave.

Then they heard a voice outside knocking on the rocks and asking if anyone was in the cave. The Gold family screamed for joy because they knew they were saved. When the trucks had removed the boulders from the cave they came out and saw their savior. The man said his name was Bob Jenks and that he was a real estate developer who was in the area considering a new construction site. The Gold family thanked Mr. Jenks profusely and went on their way.

Mr. Gold became increasingly curious as to exactly who this Mr. Jenks was because he wanted to properly show his appreciation. He found out that Jenks was a secular Jew and an extremely wealthy man. He also found out that Bob Jenks’s birthday was coming up in a few weeks and that every year he hosts a big birthday celebration at his estate.

So on his birthday, the Gold family went to the party to say happy birthday to Mr. Jenks. The birthday celebration was a hedonistic affair with all types of non- kosher food, women in immodest dress and loud music. The Gold family found Mr. Jenks in the midst of a crowd of some of his cronies. They wished him a happy birthday but he paid little attention to them. They left the party in a hurry, happy to be out of there.

Over the next few months Mr. Gold did some more research as to exactly who this man was. He found out that he was a totally assimilated Jew who had married a non-Jewish woman. He also was a big real estate developer who supported many charitable causes. However some of these causes were missionary churches while others were the local Jewish Federation and some famous Yeshivot and seminaries. One of Mr. Jenks's projects was a retirement home with mostly Jewish residents wherein he provided kosher food. The home was in a bad neighborhood and when anti-Semitic gangs started bothering the residents, Mr. Jenks hired his own security company to patrol the area.

However, Mr. Jenks was a ruthless businessman. As a landlord he would immediately evict any tenant who was late with their payments. Over the years he had evicted many Jews from their homes. On the other hand, Mr. Jenks’ company gave a major donation to a local soup kitchen where Jews and non-Jews could find food and shelter.

So on the one hand Mr. Jenks was an assimilated Jew, intermarried, a rather debased person, who evicted people from their homes and who supported anti-Jewish missionary work. On the other hand he built up a Jewish community, provided security for them, supported Yeshivot and federations and soup kitchens. Basically, Mr. Jenks was a secular Jew, a shrewd businessman, and a charitable person.

As the next birthday for Mr. Jenks rolled around, Mr. Gold announced to his family that they would be taking what would now become their annual trip to the big Jenks birthday bash. Their son Avi stated in no uncertain terms that he would not be going. Mr. Gold reminded Avi that they owed a great debt of gratitude to Mr. Jenks and that they should go. However Avi argued that because Mr. Jenks had evicted Jews from their homes, supported anti-Jewish missionaries and was married to a non-Jewish woman, he did not feel he should go and celebrate Jenks’ birthday. To this, Mr. Gold responded that on the other hand Mr. Jenks also had some very positive qualities, like supporting Yeshivot and seminaries, building Jewish communities and supporting federations etc. etc.

To this Avi responded with a repeat of some of the negatives and anti-Jewish behavior of Mr. Jenks and he said he would not go celebrate the birthday of such a secular Jew. To this Mr. Gold, remembering the cave, became very emotional and responded to his son as follows. “My son, a year ago early in the morning in the cave you came crying and shaking and screaming to me that you had no future AND that you were going to die, YOU HAD LOST ALL HOPE. This man saved your life and I don't care how irreligious he is or how depraved you might think he is, this family and all of our descendents will celebrate his birthday as a way of thanking God that we are alive."

Now some facts:

1) After the establishment of the State of Israel the country accepted more than 650,000 refugees who were in DP camps from World War II (I wonder if any of them lost hope like the Golds in the cave?).

2) In 1949-1951, 130,000 Sephardic Jews were airlifted to Israel from Iraq during Operation Ezra and Nechemia. These Jews escaped persecution, rape, torture imprisonment and death. (I wonder if any of them lost hope like the Golds in the cave?).

3) Over one Million Russian Jews have been resettled in the State of Israel as part of Operation Exodus. (I wonder if any of them lost hope like the Golds in the cave?).

4) Over 300,000 Ethiopian Jews have been resettled in the State of Israel including approximately 20,000 who were airlifted from Ethiopia by the Israeli Defense force during operation Moses. (I wonder if any of them lost hope like the Golds in the cave?).

5) In a March 13, 2008 article Time magazine quoted an IDF soldier as saying "If I gave my men so much as a 15 minute break from their duties, there would be a bomb leaving Nablus on its way to Tel Aviv." The article went on to say that “the IDF says that at the Nablus checkpoints last year, soldiers discovered 31 bombs, four guns and six grenades. And the Israelis claim that they destroyed 14 explosives labs in Nablus alone last year. One of them, hidden in the catacombs beneath the Casbah, was also used to make short-range rockets.”

For 60 years the state of Israel has been absorbing Jews, constructing roads, building plumbing systems, hospitals, schools, water desalination plants, bus stations, etc. And for 60 years the Israeli Defense Force has made it possible for the people of Israel to live in relative security and choose to spend their Friday nights in the Bet Midrash learning Torah or in a disco.

Yes, the State of Israel is secular. It does not operate under Halacha (However the laws of “personal status” ie, Marriage and divorce, are under the Bet Din). They have evicted Jews from their homes and they support anti-religious behavior. But of what concern is all of that to the Jews throughout the world, especially those who have merited to be in Israel, who are the beneficiaries of the great gift that Hashem gave us 60 years ago.

There are many who do not celebrate the birthday of the State of Israel. As a simple matter of gratitude to God aren't we all obligated to do so?

Originally published in the Chicago Rabbinical Council’s Drashot for the 60th Anniversary of the State of Israel.