Israel & the Jews

Friday, 14 July, 2023 - 6:55 am

Whether it’s judicial reform, America’s relationship with Israel or the threat from a nuclear Iran, unique and perhaps odd relationship between Jews and Israel is always making headlines. 

I know many Americans who are concerned about the challenges in Sudan, Syria, India, Ukraine, and many other places. For some reason the deep feelings that Jews have toward Israel stands in a league of its own.  Many Jews who profess no involvement in Judaism are adamant about their support and affection of Israel.

My parents, grandparents and great-grandparents have not lived in Israel. In fact, for most American Jews – we have not lived in Israel for centuries. Yet the attachment that Jews have to Israel is pronounced.

Take an Italian out of Italy and within three or four generations, the extent of her grandchildren’s connection to the “homeland” may be some family photos.  But a Jew’s relationship to Israel is altogether different.  Without any nostalgia, a Jew feels “at home” in Israel.

In fact, I am only two generations removed from Austria, where my grandmother was born. Yet my feelings for and association with Austria is virtually limited to the knowledge that my “Oma” was born there.

What makes me feel this invincible bond to Israel? You might argue that it’s the people (and it certainly is part of it), but – amazingly – many Jews feel an affection for Israel that supersedes their love toward Jews and Jewish communities throughout the globe. Some explain it to be tied with the survival of the Jewish people – Israel being our (only) hope of enduring in a sometimes hostile world.  But recent events – and the overall stance of Israel’s neighbors – make that argument increasingly difficult to swallow.


In this week’s (double) Parsha of Matot-Masei, we read of G-d’s instruction to Moshe about dividing up the land of Israel.  The Jewish people had not yet entered the land. But – presumptuously – we are already dividing it up!

Ironically, the secret of the intrinsic Jewish bond to the land lies in the fact that the Jewish nation wasn’t born in its land, but by a small mountain in the Sinai desert, forty years before entering Israel.  In all, as a nation, Jews have spent more time outside of Israel than in it.

In contrast to every other nation, Jews don’t need a land to be a people. The French nation is a product of its land. Living in that climate, geography and topography drives people to behave in a particular fashion that forms the culture of France. Take away France and there can be no French. The same is true of the British, Germans, Irish and Russians. They all depend on their land to form their nation.

This is precisely why an Irish family that leaves Ireland can expect its Irish attachment to fade over time.

Jews are different, because the Jewish nation is – uniquely – not predicated on a land or even a culture. Jewish peoplehood came into effect the moment we received the Torah. If the Torah constitutes the foundation of the Jewish nation, it is not dependent on a land.

You might be asking the obvious at this point: If we are a people prior to having a land, then why do we possess so profound a link to the land?

But it is precisely because we are a people independent of the land, that it means so much to us.  If the Scottish are a product of their land (which gives way to Scottish culture), then the connection will fade when a new land (and culture) replaces it.

Conversely, Jews don’t belong to Israel. Israel belongs to the Jews. Since we were already a people who were gifted a land, leaving the land does not diminish our regard toward it. We take that present with us wherever we happen to be.

Today, let us pray and do more – for our people and our land.

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