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From Splitting Seas to Entebbe, from Soothsayers to UN Councils

From Splitting Seas to Entebbe, from Soothsayers to UN Councils

Behold a people! These are a people unlike any other and their military victories are unparalleled. They will not be spoken of in military academies for years to come; they will confound military academies forever. So spoke he who hates Jews three millennia ago, so (dares not) speak the one who hates Jews today. 

Six days in June, their air force flew less than fifteen feet above the sea, without radio communication. Were they a few inches too low they would have sunk. Were they a few inches too high, the radar would have picked them up. All the planes made it. They came unto the airfields where the pharaohs once ruled; had they come moments earlier or moments later the sun would not have blinded the watchtower’s eyes.  But the sun was just so, and they destroyed Egypt within minutes.

They analyzed through satellite the desert that bears the name of the mountain that gave them their destiny, and there they found in the Sinai a strip of terrain just firm enough and just wide enough to cross the desert with their heavy tanks.   Now all they needed was a tank battle. To displace tanks it takes a minimum of three to one ration in favor of the attacker. But the children of Israel had the ratio of three to one against them. Mathematicians out there! what were the odds against the Jews? But they won.

And less than ten years later again, only this time it is my memory, not only my fascination, that leads my quest to delve into the eye of G-d Himself. I was twelve that summer and in New York. Shopping either in the Lower East Side or Boro Park, I do not know. I had just devoured an orange and vanilla ice cream popsicle, my fourth of the day. They were a quarter or less and I kept on getting change from my father as he sat in the parked car reading while my mother shopped – as he always did. 

It came through on a radio playing by an open shop on that hot day; a plane was hijacked with loads of Israelis. Air France Flight 139 on route to Paris. And a day or two later, in my grandparents Besonhurst home, a call from Nashville came. One of the ladies in shul, Elise Rosenberg --my friend Ari’s mother – had a sister on that flight. I don’t know her sister’s name but as I got older and went to Morocco and returned to share my two-years of memories with Elise, I got a fuller picture of this woman. Born in Fez, to the prestigious and ancient Assouline family, she like many North African Jews had lived in both Israel and France and had family in both countries and traveled between them. 

Elsie was fasting every day and saying Tehillim for her sister. By the time my parents hung up the phone with her, I went from being worried the way a boy is worried when he hears disturbing news to being obsessed the way only a boy can be. We went into Shabbos with the question: will the government of Israel negotiate or not? There were hot opinions around the table, my father, my grandfather, and everyone else. And then Motzei Shabbos leaving my grandfather’s Avenue O Jewish Center, where O meets Bay Parkway, we heard the radio again and rushed home to hear the full reports. They were saved!! And I still remember my mother punching both fists in the air like a boxer who won the championship. I have since devoured every morsel of information I could get on that story. It was an unprecedented maneuver and in the three-decades plus since, it remains unparalleled.

The next morning of course was the Bicentennial and I had been waiting for this since we arrived in New York. We got a good spot under the Verrazano to watch the big ships from across the world pay homage to the Red White and Blue. A man was hawking commemoration issue booklets for $2.00: “they’ll be worth a lot a hundred years from now!” The fire-ships let out jets of water in celebration and the Italians (seemingly everyone there except us) roared when the red white and green passed under the bridge. The next day you could board the ships. The Israeli ship was packed: old ladies were crying and young men were reverently fingering the flag and an old lady admonished a strapping young sailor not to stand too close to the edge of the ship: ”you could fall in!” and he smiled, glad to know his grandmother had sent her sisterhood to look after him. 

And the Rebbe spoke of this miracle:

Within a week the UN of course was meeting to. . .what else than condemn Israel for invading a sovereign country.. . .

Behold a people, these people are unlike any other and their military victories are unparalleled. From where do they draw their strength, asked this figure in the Bible? And those who knew the Rebbe at the time had a surprisingly nuanced answer: he has not military might at all, do not try to defeat him with force for he has none. He gains his power from his speech (interestingly, he had a speech defect) so you too must vanquish him with speech. Back then they hired soothsayers; since no one knows where to find a good one, they hire ad agencies and think tanks instead. And they curse the Jewish people; sometimes for cash, sometimes for accolades -- an oftentimes more effective means of purchase. . .

And this soothsayers curses turn into blessings. Beautiful, poetic blessings, stirring and heartwarming. 

I see them from the hilltops. . a nation that dwells alone . . .

. . . who can count the infants of Jacob? . . .

. . . (The Almighty)  observes no evil in Jacob, no transgression in Israel. . .

. . . a people that arise like an awesome lion and does not lie down til he eats his prey.

So it was and so it is. As they curse us our blessings flourish, as they hate us we become beloved.

How goodly your tents O Jacob, like gardens by the river, cedars by the water.

And the op-ed page continues speaking of the future: 

. . .a star will shoot forth from Jacob, a staff shall arise from Israel. . .

The people who invented history , invested history, will outlive it. 

We live in trying times – just like our grandparents did – just as our grandparents’ grandparents did – only we thought we wouldn’t have to. Now they curse the Jew by calling him a Nazi, books are written claiming the Jewish people do not exist. And other books are written claiming that if they do exist they are responsible for all that is horrible. The spoken word, the written word, the Jews weapon, turned upon him.

Miracles in biblical proportion defy nature, seas split, clefts reform to squash hiding soldiers, and the sun stands still. The spoken word in that epoch too has a power outside of our frame of reference. Soothsayers curse. But now military miracles can be assessed (if not understood) with conventional lexicon, and the power of the pen and the passion of the poet is inherent in every revolution known to man. Our miracles then, are more earth-bound, they stretch the elasticity of nature without rupturing it. But when you take in the whole picture of our people’s existence – just within the time span of my life! –you are overwhelmed by the miracle called Jews. Did I mention the first Gulf War? (Thirty-nine scuds destroyed thousands of homes that were filled with people and no casualties!?! Had I claimed that would happen one month before it happened, I would have been locked up in the fully farm.) Jewish toddlers gather at the Kremlin to sing Shma?!?

From curses come our greatest blessings. We are grateful O L-rd.  But frankly we are also tired. That thing about a star shooting forth from Jacob? . . . could you speed that up a little bit? Please? And until then, those boys we have to send out to make those logic-defying military victories possible, can you please make sure they come home to their mothers? 

I meant to pay homage to the land I was born in, the land that gives bigotry no sanction, the land with an ethos unprecedented in history, the land that I love with a love born in gratitude. But I realize now I can only take care of this country by taking care of the Jews.

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