Dear Rabbis, Lay Leaders and Colleagues: I was at two warm and wonderful Jewish community celebrations in late October. One, for a charitable organization that funds projects in Israel, had about 200 people in attendance. The second event, sponsored by a local congregation, had about 300 attendees.
Both the organization and the congregation accomplish outstanding things for our people. Both events featured heart-felt speeches from rabbis, organization officials and honorees.
As spirited as these two events were, each was missing an essential element: There was not a single word about the current dangers to Israel’s existence, or the fate of the more than 6 million Jews — and others — who live and travel there.
This is a critical moment in history for the Jewish people both in Israel and the Diaspora. Silence abets our enemies.
• Credible experts have stated that Iran may be less than one month away from having enough enriched uranium to facilitate nuclear weapons. Of course, Iranian leaders have said very publicly and in a variety of ways that they desire to obliterate Israel. The fact that the Iranian regime would possess a nuclear weapon is a game-changer;
• The Israeli government is being forced to release Palestinian-Arab terrorists who’ve committed murder, placing back on the streets those willing to take the Israeli lives. This demand made by the Palestinian-Arabs seated across the negotiating table from Israelis reveals — yet again — that they have zero regard for Jewish lives. Meanwhile, other Palestinian-Arabs are once again firing rockets from Gaza into Israeli communities;
• The rest of the Middle East is in chaos, making Israel’s borders with Egypt and Syria unpredictable, while the fate of King Abdullah’s regime in neighboring Jordan is far from certain.
The possibly dire consequences that could result from each of these situations is backed by solid evidence.
While no one wants to dampen the mood that comes from communal celebrations, I was reminded of the Finzi-Continis through much of the film that bears their name: enjoying life while oblivious to an ever-darkening environment for their co-religionists, until it was too late.
Dare life imitate art?
Leaders of our community are responsible for making sure our community is aware of what our fellow Jews and our beloved Israel face today. We must not waste these opportunities when large numbers of Jews gather, by neglecting this obligation. As Jews, we have each vowed: “Never again!” So much more so for we who are leaders. This message need not be political. In fact, it should not be political in a partisan sense.
In addition to informing them, we should encourage those in audiences before us to contact their lawmakers, the White House and the media to sound the alarm. There are other actions that should be considered as well. It was not all that long ago that there was a massive gathering of Jews in Washington, D.C., to help our brothers and sisters trapped in the Soviet Union. Why not convene again with millions of lives in the balance should Iran achieve nuclear weapons capability — especially since many of those we struggled to free from the USSR are now living in Israel!
I urge every rabbi and communal leader to use the opportunity of a significant gathering of Jews — and frankly, all people of good will — to make it a point to inform the audience of the real dangers threatening Israel today. Even if it is only one sentence, we must not be shy about speaking up about these existential threats. For some in the audience, it will be a reminder. For others, it will be a wake-up call — especially when it comes from someone they respect or admire.
No one among us should be able to say about these existential threats: “I did not know” or “Why didn’t anybody warn us?”
Time is short. Let’s learn from our recent past. Please, let us be: “Silent no more!”
Steve Feldman is executive director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Greater Philadelphia District.