Rabbi Kass' Viewpoint: "We Live In A Bad Neighborhood"
Excerpts from Rabbi Kass' sermon of December 9, 2006.
During my recent trip to Israel, the group heard an address by the commander of the Israel National Police. In the course of his remarks, he asserted: “We live in a bad neighborhood.” By that he meant that geographically e Jewish State is situated in a region where she is encompassed by enemies on all sides including the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran whose president has publicly called for the eradication of Israel on many occasions. Although Israel is technically at peace with Jordan and Egypt, it is no secret that there are many people in those countries who would also welcome the destruction of the Jewish State.
The expression, “We live in a bad neighborhood,” certainly resonates among American Jews. Many of us grew up in bad neighborhoods or good neighborhoods that went bad. What did we do? We moved! However, you can’t move a country. You can’t physically lift a nation from its locale on the map and place it somewhere else! Of course, Jews in Israel could theoretically move to a different spot on the globe and establish a Jewish State there. From a practical standpoint I know of no country in the world which would be happy to have a Jewish State created in its midst, except perhaps Antarctica. Even there, I suspect we would probably run into some anti-Semitic penguins.
Actually soon after the establishment of the Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl was offered another country where Jews could create a homeland – Uganda. Uganda was located in a part of Africa with a temperate climate where Jews would feel comfortable. The Jews, however, refused to go there. Herzl, who was not raised as a traditional Jew, couldn’t understand the powerful opposition to this proposal. He was concerned only with a refuge where Jewish lives would be saved. The Jewish people, however, wanted only the country promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the place to which Moses brought the Israelites after a forty year trek through the wilderness, the domain over which David and Solomon had ruled.
Hence, Israel is stuck living in a bad neighborhood. The Jewish State can’t do what many of us did. But, even we in America who moved discovered that you can’t run away from your problems. People went to the suburbs to escape crime, drugs, and violence only to discover that all these problems followed them. What this has taught us is that you can’t flee from life’s challenges and adversities. The only satisfactory option is to deal with them. We have done that in New York City which is universally acclaimed the safest large city in the United States. Israel too will have to deal with its problems. To do that she will require prodigious quantities of strength, love, patience and the capacity for compromise. She has already manifested these in incredible abundance; but she will still need loads more.
Will peace ever come to the Middle East? No matter how discouraging the realities, we have to believe and act as if it will. To do otherwise is to set in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy of endless hatred and violence. The late Golda Meir actually knew when peace would come. In her view, the Middle East will become a good neighborhood when the Arabs love their own children more than they hate ours. May that day soon dawn!