With 5783 still fresh and new, Avi Abelow, on his programme Pulse of Israel, after an interview with election candidate Itamar ben-Gvir under the strategically-placed watchful gaze of Menachem Begin, threw down the following gauntlet:
We need powerful, good voices to stand up for a strong Jewish identity, and again, think to yourself: how are you listening and how are you reading those articles that are delegitimising a proud Jew [Itamar Ben-Gvir, a rather unsubtle allusion to Begin]. You might disagree with him on some things – totally fine – but he’s a proud Jew who wants to defend all of humanity, as well as Israel and Israeli Arabs. You were silent when we had a Muslim Brotherhood party as a partner in the Israeli government, and we have terror-supporting Arab Israeli Knesset members in Israel’s parliament, but yet you’re being told to be upset about a proud Jew who wants to represent and make Israel a strong, safe place for all Israeli citizens. Think about that.
The abandonment and delegitimisation of Jewish pride only intensified as the year progressed, near the end delivering such gems as “Itamar Ben-Gvir and his fascist ilk inadvertently advance the apartheid discourse,” by anti-Semitic Jewish writer Jonathan Ofir in Mondoweiss. The vacuousness of the assorted non-entities throwing tantrums all over Israel’s major public spaces, made it hard to keep track of the bewildering shifting backdrops, such as one of Tel Aviv’s busiest traffic junctions overnight acquiring the appellation “Democracy Square”. I guess that was the closest the anarchic mobs heaving beneath the new sign were ever going to get to that hallowed Western cultural achievement.
As we approach the close of what can only be described as a tumultuous 5783, we are left with a dissonance of low notes and high notes. We were reminded, in this closing month of Elul, that twenty-two years ago, nineteen Muslims killed 3,000 in the cause of Allah and were killed, exactly as they are commanded in 9:111. We were also reminded, in this closing month of Elul, that thirty years ago, the Kings of Israel visited a grave injustice upon their subjects, when they knowingly bargained their souls for naught in a one-sided accord with Faust, from which their subjects bleed to this day, while still no reckoning is done.
But perhaps I am mistaken. The year was into its second month when the people from the heartland spoke, and their simple marks in boxes on pieces of paper alarmed the Council of the Night. When they learnt whom the people had elected, they loosed upon the land seven plagues: the first plague was of children, some 17, others 70, storming in their thousands onto the paths and ways so none could pass their stranglehold; the second plague was of the most delinquent among them surrounding the elected and putting deadly fear into their families; the third plague was of the guard caused not to guard; the fourth of the soldiers caused not to soldier; the fifth of strangers beseeched to debase the coin of the realm; the sixth of praises sung to enemies allowed to bathe in milk; and the seventh plague was of Israel's judges presiding over perfidy. These plagues, in turn, had caused the word ‘enough’ to be heard, and scabbards to be hung by sides. The electors had resolved that the heartland, along with all who dwell within it, shall assume its rightful place at the heart of the affairs of the land. Perhaps a great reckoning is finally at hand. And there matters stand, two days before the close of Elul 5783.
And what about me, what about my personal growth over the last year? I am reminded that in this closing month of Elul one year ago, a great man, Gershon Simcha Weiss ז״ל, whom I have encountered but briefly, yet long enough to set me upon this journey, left this life. To him I owe that, despite everything, this has been a year of inspiration and discovery. I was introduced to the concepts of hadar and tikkun olem, and to the Song of Songs, all of which moved me deeply. I engaged with the thoughts, humanity and lives of Eliezer ben-Yehuda, Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin and all their strengths and weaknesses, and with the thoughts and works of contemporary scholars such as Prof. Aryeh Eldad, Prof. Daniel Gordis, Dr Mordechai Kedar and Prof. Elisha Haas. I was welcomed into Professors for a Strong Israel and now share my writing with the members.
Further, in this month of Elul, I became aware of Israeli Arab Muslims shedding their customary equivocation towards their Israeli citizenship by abandoning Islam and adopting Judaism. I have always seen Israel's Muslim Arabs abandoning Islam as the unattainable of the two possible ways in which permanent peace can be secured in Israel, the other being iron wall plus iron fist. To learn of this casting off of the yoke of Islam was hugely encouraging. For some time now, I have been anticipating mass, open apostasy from Islam, especially in Israel, but it had never crossed my mind that Israeli Muslims might leave Islam for Judaism. A more profound rejection of Islam there cannot be, given the antithetical relationship between Islam and Judaism, and hence between Muslims and Jews. It prompted some major shifts in my perspective. It's nice to know that I am sometimes not optimistic enough.
I learnt of great heroism and of cowardice no less great, of trust and betrayal, of truthfulness and deceit, of stagnation and renewal, and of acceptance and denial, all in the saga that is the last two centuries of Jewry. I have at last, in this month of Elul, resumed learning Hebrew, after a long and unavoidable interruption. As the month of Elul and the year 5783 were drawing to a close, I was beginning to despair of ever finding, by Yom Kippur, a particular rabbi I had been on a quest for. Happily, I finally tracked her down in Kraków just a week or so ago. Kraków is one of the cities where Gershon Weiss ז״ל blew the shofar. It seems a fitting way of acknowledging him, of saying ‘Thank you’ and of remembering him always. The rabbi has not yet agreed to teach me, and I hope she might do so before Yom Kippur. To answer your question, my six-year journey out of Islam started on Yom Kippur 1973, fifty years ago, and yes, the war had everything to do with it. I would say that this is not a bad full circle to have come.
Finally, dear reader, I wish you and your loved ones Shanah Tovah שנה טובה.
Amir Terkel (עמיר טרקל), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=129286485
Vince Musi / The White House - gpo.gov - Archived here. Site with better credit info here., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7273344
Lyle Owerko - https://ia802808.us.archive.org/13/items/nistfoia10202/NIST_FOIA_10-202/Hard_Drive_From_NIST_FOIA_10-202/CumulusPhotos/Lyle%20Owerko/Fuji%2035mm%20B-1%2C%20B-2/WONDER-R1-E008.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=126674372