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OpinionIsrael at War

The Israel we knew is gone, today’s Israel needs us more than ever

Don’t just give until it hurts, give until it feels joyously good.

A billboard in Tel Aviv. Credit: Courtesy.
A billboard in Tel Aviv. Credit: Courtesy.
Dan Elbaum
Dan Elbaum is head of North America at the Jewish Agency for Israel and the president and CEO of Jewish Agency International Development.

“The Israel you know is gone. Today, Israel is a different country.”

Those words, which I recently heard from a colleague of mine in Israel, hit me particularly hard.

I am not sure why they have haunted me when, like you, I have heard so much about death, torture and kidnapping. Perhaps it is because, for me, feeling helpless away from Israel, what struck home was the reality that the country I took for granted no longer existed.

For those who have visited Israel many times, it was easy to fool ourselves into thinking that it was a regular country. It was the “start-up nation” with beautiful people in Tel Aviv and amazing new restaurants. But that normalcy rested on one thing—the Israeli army and security forces. Now, that sense of normalcy has been profoundly shattered.

President Joe Biden met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York at the U.N. General Assembly just one month ago, but it feels like an eternity. If you remember, the big news at the time, which now feels so small, was that Biden said he would invite Netanyahu to the White House sometime soon. Less noticed was an offhand remark that the president made: “Without Israel, there’s not a Jew in the world who is secure.”

It was a curious thing for the president of the U.S. to say. After all, the U.S. has the second-largest Jewish population in the world. But in effect, Biden was merely restating the ideals of Zionism.

Yet the reality is that on Oct. 7, there was no place where it was less safe to be a Jew than in the Jewish state. This fragility is what Israelis are grappling with at the moment—and it is precisely why the Israel we knew is gone.

For 2,000 years, the Jewish people relied on the pity and protection of others. We know how that story ended. This a war, in a very real way, for Israel’s survival. Israel cannot afford to fight to a draw. Israel lives in a neighborhood that respects strength. It does not only have a right to respond forcefully, it has a sacred obligation.

If there is one thing that has kept me sane over the last few weeks, it is this: I know exactly what I need to do. We need to give to Israel until it hurts. Or rather, as Golda Meir said when asking for support for the new Jewish state in 1948, “Don’t give until it hurts, give until it feels good, joyously good.”

Golda was asking for support for the Jewish Agency for Israel, of which she was head of the political department. Today, the Jewish Agency provides a powerful opportunity for American Jews to make a difference in an Israeli’s life.

Nearly 20 years ago, The Jewish Agency established the Fund for the Victims of Terror, which ensures that every single Israeli victim receives $1,200 in direct financial relief within 48 hours of a terrorist attack. For most of the victims, this is their first but not last interaction with the Jewish Agency. We stay with them to determine the mental health and trauma support they might need. We help them as they navigate Israel’s complicated legal and social system. They are eligible to receive up to NIS 25,000 ($6,150) for long-term rehabilitative care. They are now part of our family, and there is nothing we would not do for them.

But here is something amazing: Many recipients of this assistance do not remember the amount of money they received. They remember what the Jewish Agency worker or volunteer told them at that moment, which was something along the lines of: “This is not just from the Jewish Agency for Israel. This is from Jews in New York, Chicago, Sao Paolo, Sydney and Johannesburg who are standing with you right now. We are one people and we mourn with you. Together, we will make it through this.”

In this way, the Fund for the Victims of Terror demonstrates that while the Israel we knew is gone, all of the Jewish people are more responsible than ever for helping make their brothers and sisters in Israel whole.

The Israel we knew might be gone, but I believe with every fiber in my being that it is coming back. Watch the Israeli people. Watch the YouTube videos of couples getting married with the bride in uniform. Watch a father watching his son’s brit milah on a smartphone.

A staggering 125% of the reserves for some IDF units reported for duty. Isn’t that mathematically impossible? What it means is that more soldiers are coming than the army is asking for. They are declaring “hineni”—“I’m ready. Here I am.”

Israel is going to win the war, specifically because it has no choice but to do so. Fifty years ago, Golda Meir took aside a young Delaware senator—now President Biden—to tell him that the Jewish people have a secret weapon in their fight against the Arabs: They have no place else to go.

Israel will be back and maybe, just maybe, it will have a stronger relationship with Jews around the world. Just maybe we have learned not to take what we had for granted. Maybe American Jews and Israelis will really understand and feel this reality that we need each other more than we ever did.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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