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The S. Word
Experience Jerusalem
by Judy Lash Balint
August 9, 2002

Safety and security--that's what's on the minds of American Jews these days. Jewish newspapers are replete with stories of stepped up security patrols at Jewish institutions and of sky rocketing insurance bills for synagogues, schools and JCCs because of the perceived security threat.

But the fear about security in the US pales when compared to fear expressed about traveling to Israel or sending kids off to Israel. During a trip to the States, I've had conversations which begin: "Well, of course we won't be going this year..." as if it's a given that anyone who would even consider visiting Israel now is certifiably insane. Others with teenagers who insist on attending the one year post-high school yeshiva/seminary programs in Israel that have become a rite of passage in the orthodox community, drill into their kids that they "have to stay away from dangerous places." As if anyone these days can predict what place the next Hamas lunatic will determine is an acceptable target.

It's the rare person who accepts the danger for what it is and instills the message that in difficult times, you stand with your people. To paraphrase Dennis Prager--Jewish life is not about safety. There has never been a time when Jews have been entirely safe.

Indeed, it seems that my baby-boomer generation is an aberration. We HAVE experienced one of the few fifty year periods of quiet and relative security during past centuries of Jewish history. Perhaps that's what's made us so soft. Our parents and grandparents experienced the Holocaust and world wars. Many of them fled the countries of their birth. Our great grandparents lived through pogroms and economic devastation, often at the whim of despotic rulers.

What have we endured, which evils have we directly encountered? We experienced Israel's wars from afar. Some of us fought in or avoided Vietnam. We watched the courageous refuseniks of the former Soviet Union from across the oceans of time and space. In fact, it seems that until the onset of the violence against Jews in Israel as well as September 11, my generation was lulled into a false sense of security. But now, all of a sudden, the curtain has been pulled back, and we see the stage set as it has always been for Jews. Many of us have been taken by surprise at the drama in which we find ourselves cast. It's hard to fathom that our children will not experience the same carefree existence that we had as teenagers and college students. Most baby-boomers never experienced the anti-Semitism rife on college campuses today, nor watched synagogues or Jewish cemeteries desecrated by anti-Semites.

Now confronted with the ugliness, we're totally unprepared. American Jews have lost the instincts that Jews in the FSU and Israel have always possessed in order to defend themselves. When American Jews tell me that they're afraid to come to Israel even for a one week visit, I can't help feeling as if they think we're two different brands of Jew. How could it be that it's fine for me and 5 million other Jews to live in Israel, but not for them to join us? As Rabbi Avi Weiss has noted: When your mother is sick you run to her, not away from her.

Americans today live in a society that is far from secure. Take the news in Seattle this week: Sen. Maria Cantwell called for an additional 40-60 FBI agents to be assigned to the state to fight the threat from local terror cells. Three attempted child abductions took place in one day. A Moslem taxi driver allegedly abducted and raped a female passenger. Then, we find Jews here willingly engaged in all kinds of potentially dangerous recreational pursuits, from white water rafting to mountain climbing to biking.

I won't tell anyone that it's safe to come to Israel--it's not. But that's not the point. It's dangerous everywhere, so come anyway and put yourself in our shoes for just a week. You'll inspire and be inspired.