No Right to Exhaustion

Dear Jay,

We don’t know each other, though I’ve known of you and your work for some time.  Like many others, I recently read your “How I’m Losing My Love For Israel” in the Forward.  Because you write so articulately, and because your column has attracted such widespread attention, I’m taking the liberty of responding.

The truth is, you and I agree about a lot.  We’re both worried about some of what’s happening to Israeli society.  We’re both tired of all the equivocating (though probably for different reasons).  We’d both love some real leadership around here.  We’d both like peace.  And we’re both exhausted.

That exhaustion is the first reason you give for that fact that your “love [for Israel] is starting to wane.”  But frankly, Jay, when you began to write about your exhaustion, I began to lose you.  For, I have to confess, I don’t see the connection between exhaustion and losing love, or between exhaustion and committing oneself to what’s right and just.

I suspect that the Partisans were pretty exhausted, and they might even have debated some of their own tactics; but those were the least of their problems.  Their main worry was that evil might triumph and transform their world into an uninhabitable hell, and their bone-aching fatigue notwithstanding, they committed their lives to making sure that human freedom survived those who wished to eradicate it.

The GI’s who slogged their way across Europe, up the cliffs of Normandy and across the frozen, bitter winters of that blood-soaked continent, were pretty exhausted, too, I’d imagine.  Yes, many of them were kids, following their orders.  And many of them were probably distraught that innocent Europeans were getting killed by the thousands in the process of saving the west.  But many, I would also like to believe, knew that what they were fighting to preserve was infinitely more important than their own personal exhaustion or the tragic innocent losses that war always entails.  Or even their own lives.

That clarity of purpose was, in the end, why we won, and why you and I live in democracies where we can write and say whatever we like.  Had the Partisans and those GI’s given in to their fatigue, would you and I have the very liberties we so easily take for granted? I doubt it.

So, yes, we’re exhausted.  And, if you’ll forgive me, I suspect that those of here are more exhausted than are those of you over there.  Life here is conducted under a pervasive cloud of exhaustion that my most of American friends simply don’t comprehend.  It’s the exhaustion that comes from coming home at the end of the day and finding on your door a diagram distributed by the Home Front Command showing you how many seconds you have to find shelter if a missile should be aimed your way.  What do you do with that information?  Ignore it?  Or put it on the fridge as the sign instructs you to, so you can live with the looming warning every time you go to get a glass of OJ?ScudWarningVLoRes

But that’s really the least of it.  The real exhaustion here comes from sending a smart but relatively naïve nineteen-year-old daughter off to the army (in Intelligence, in this case) and have her begin to learn things about Israel’s enemies that she will never be able to discuss.  The exhaustion comes from the hollow look of an unfathomable sadness in her eyes when she’s home, from her bewilderment at the evil of which human beings are capable – an awareness a young woman shouldn’t have at that age.  And you grow exhausted because you want to take care of her, to protect her.   But you can’t.

You can’t take care of your kid because this is Israel.  Because she can’t tell you what she knows.  She can’t talk to you about the human capacity for hatred that she now confronts every single day.  And because this is Israel, you can’t take of her – because here things are reversed.  She’s out there taking care of you.  So you get into bed each night knowing that you’ve sacrificed a part of her innocence and her youth on the altar of your beliefs and ideology, and you wonder, each and every day, if what you once thought was a noble life choice might have been the most unfair thing you ever did.  That, Jay, is more exhausting than I’d ever imagined it would be.

She’s out of the army now.  But her brother’s not.  And there are those days, only once every few months, when I’m either leaving the house in the morning to go to work or coming home at the end of the day, when on the sidewalk outside our building are two IDF officers, and it appears that they’re walking to our entrance.  Then comes that split second moment of breath-stopped horror, the fear that they’re coming to our house, bearing tidings that would be ­wholly unbearable.  It’s only happened three or four times, but it’s enough.  They walk past the building, Jay, barely even nodding to me because they’re in the middle of a conversation, unaware that I’ve even noticed them.  But I’m a mess.  Drenched with sweat.  Shaking slightly.  Knowing that the rest of the day or the evening is going to be a utter waste of time.

And at moments like that, you want to call your kid.  Not for anything in particular; just to tell him that you love him.  That you miss him.  That there really isn’t a moment when you’re not thinking about him, or praying that he’s OK.

But you can’t.  Because he can’t use his phone.  Because he’s busy.  Because he’s out there protecting his parents.  And his brother.  And his sister, who used to protect him.  Simply because when he was a very little boy, we decided we wanted to live here; and now he’s out there, doing this, year after relentless year.  Loving Israel is exhausting, Jay, you’re right.   But really, it’s way more exhausting here than it is over there.

So the real question isn’t whether or not we’re exhausted – lots of us are tired.  (I keep this picture ExhaustedSoldierson my desktop for those moments when I feel exhausted … to remind myself that no matter how tired I am, there are people out there (this is not my kid) who are way more exhausted than I am.)  The real question, I think, is not whether we’re exhausted, but rather what we do with our exhaustion.  What makes all the difference is not our fatigue, but what keeps us going when our tank feels empty, when it feels like all that’s left is fumes.

Like you, Jay, I know that I was raised on an image of Israel that doesn’t really exist.  Maybe it never did.  Like you, there were open fields in Jerusalem that I used to love (for you, it was Churshat Ha-Yaraeach) that are now filled by large apartment buildings.  But when we lived in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, our older neighbors used to reminisce about the days when our neighborhood had been all orange groves.  Did they stop loving America because fields got built on?  I didn’t sense that.  When we live in America and watch fields get built up, we sense progress.  But when it’s a field in the Israel of our youth that’s now gone, we feel betrayed.  What’s that about?  Maybe it’s time we all moved beyond puppy love and ventured into something more mature, a sort of love that knows that the object of our love cannot, and should not, remain unchanged year after year, decade after decade.

Like you, Jay, I am concerned about some of the injustices that Israel commits.  But unlike you, I could never be “more relaxed [in Berlin] than in Jerusalem.”  You wrote very compellingly that you felt relieved that though there was political baggage in Berlin, “none of it was mine.”

But you know what I love about this place, Jay?  I love that all the political baggage is mine.  The Palestinians.  The Israeli Arabs.  (Some of) the Haredim.  A collapsing educational system.  Murders on the streets with a constancy we never used to have.  A nation of roads and drivers that kills many more Israelis than our enemies do.  That’s all my baggage.

But living here, my baggage is also the sight of young secular and religious Israelis going from restaurant to restaurant, inspecting not their kashrut, but how they treat their workers, and depending on what they find, giving them a “social kashrut” certificate.  It’s the sight of many hundreds of people coming out to hear Rabbi Benny Lau on the Shabbat afternoon before Yom Kippur in a synagogue that couldn’t begin to accommodate them all, because, they knew, he would be the one guy in the city among all the derashot that afternoon who would tie whatever he was saying to a vision for a different kind of society, and call on them to do something about it.  Living here is about spending a morning on Sukkot, going to the Church in Kiryat Yearim and joining a capacity crowd of Jews and Christians, largely secular but also some people wearing kippot, listening to the choir perform Bach motets on precisely the spot where the Ark of the Covenant once rested.  It’s about the vision of people who, no matter what CNN will tell you, really can live with people who are different from them; it’s about a blending of the ancient past and the complicated present, of setting aside the equivocations of which you write so articulately for a beauty about which you say very little.  Living here is about feeling the pulse of people who still have hope, who desperately want to build something different here, and who would never dream of saying aloud that they’ve given up.

Which is why, Jay, I can’t imagine leaving this place, and angry as I sometimes get, I could never write about losing my love for what we’re building here.  Because I know that this is our last chance, and I know without a shred of doubt that the robust Jewish life that exists everywhere – in Manhattan as well as in Los Angeles, in London no less than in Johannesburg – exists because of Israel.  Two generations ago, Jewish life in America wasn’t the Jewish life that you and I were raised on.  It wasn’t nearly so secure after the war.  And though 1948 made a bit of a difference, the secure and self-confident American Jewish life that you and I take for granted really emerged in 1967, when Jews around the world finally stood tall because they were no longer the objects of history, but were now the shapers of their own destiny.

Would that 1967 war prove to have a very complicated aftermath?  Yes, it would – we’re still trying to figure it out.  But it changed everything, Jay, for me and for you.  For my neighbors and for yours.  I can’t imagine a world in which I’d want to be alive in which this country didn’t exist; which is why I’m constitutionally incapable of saying that I’m losing my love for it.

That’s the real difference between us, Jay, and it’s the reason that your exhaustion leads you where it leads you, and mine leads me to dig in my heels.  You write that as you notice your love starting to wane, you feel a “sadness that accompanies the end of any affair.”

That’s a fascinating metaphor.  Because at the end of an affair, most people put their lives back together by telling themselves that despite the pain of the moment, there will be someone else.  “A lot of fish in the ocean,” we told each other in college when relationships broke up, which was to say, “she’s not the only one out there, and she’s not the last one you’ll love.”

Which may have been true of our youthful relationships back then, but it’s not true of Israel.  This is the only one.  This is the last chance we get.  We lose this, and the Jewish people heads into dark, uncharted territory that I don’t think you or I can begin to imagine.  You yourself wrote that you “still awed by the tkuma, the resurrection and rebirth of my ancient people.”

You’re absolutely right.  This country is the very foundation of the resurrection and rebirth of our ancient people.  Given that, how dare we not love it, even with all its faults?  Is love Israel exhausting?  Of course it is.  Does it require lots of equivocation?  Yes, it does.  Is it very unpopular in lots of circles?  No question.

But it’s bigger than me.  And it’s bigger than you.  It matters more than all of us.  So given that, I don’t think we have a right to exhaustion.  Or, if exhaustion is inevitable, then the only thing I think we have a right to is a few hours of sleep, until we get up the next morning, roll up our sleeves and get to work again.

Because loving Israel isn’t like an affair.  It’s a totally different thing.  In a relationship, the person I love and I both matter – more or less equally, I guess.  But not here.  In this, I don’t matter.  You don’t matter.  Only justice matters.  Only the future matters.  Only the Jewish people’s survival matters.  And without this place, there is no future, no Jewish people.

Given that, what’s the alternative to a deep and abiding love?  I can’t think of one.  So tonight, I’m going to roll up my sleeves and head off to shul.  I’m going to put the news out of my mind, and for a few hours, I’m going to forget about the equivocation, about the fatigue.  I’m going to hold on to my son, the one kid still left at home – and when the singing starts, I’m going to dance.

Shabbat Shalom, Jay, and Chag Same’ach.

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About Daniel Gordis

Dr. Daniel Gordis is Senior Vice President and the Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. The author of numerous books on Jewish thought and currents in Israel, and a recent winner of the National Jewish Book Award, Dr. Gordis was the founding dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.

58 Comments on "No Right to Exhaustion"

  • Great. You translated my feelings into words.

  • Laura Sanderson says

    A magnificent essay…I will continue to refer to it. Thank you!

  • Fred says

    Thank you!

  • Kay Ohana says

    I bought your book, Saving Israel, was deeply impressed. If I were a younger woman I would go to Israel and do anything in my power to help. Please keep inspiring all of us, and the world. Please keep telling the truth about the conditions and what is happening in Israel.

  • I am speechless. This is a stunning column. I’m a olah chadasha, thick in the middle of making Israel my home, and now when people ask me why I moved here I will have a clearer vision of what to tell them.

  • Benji says

    One more thing I thought when reading his piece was “if your friends all think so horribly about Israel, maybe you need some new friends.”

    Chag sameach and Shabbat shalom,

  • Adrian Strizhak says

    Beautiful piece. I would add one more thing, does a parent, although even exhausted, stop loving his/her baby, whether a child, teenager or adult? Exhaustion is not a reason for losing love, mearly an excuse.

  • Janna says

    Brilliant!!! I agree with every word!

  • Rabbi Gershon Weissman says

    Awesome piece. Clear, articulate, inspiring, moral, takes into account the big picture and puts into perspective the real problems. Daniel: Please consider running for public office in Israel, or at least speaking to my synagogue!!

  • Jim Woldenberg (Chicago) says

    Reading this essay sent chills down my spine . . . it is magnificent. You continue to amaze your readers with your thoughtful insights into what it means to live in Israel. Thank you for putting it all out there and sharing.

  • Michelle Perris says

    As always – an inspiring essay.
    We (myself, my husband, and 22-year old son) moved to Israel a year ago. I am still amazed at those Jews who do not see the beauty of the life in Israel. Yes, it is exhausting at times. I notice that I often feel anxiety here – a feeling I did not know in the States. I am worried, anxious, smetimes frightened (our sone goes to the army in November). But the feeling of living in Israel – at home – is incomparable.

  • Jerry Alon says

    Hi, good afternoon. As always I loved your article. We spent the month of August in Israel. I love the country no matter what. I grew up there. I would like to hear your opinion on the lack of the pioneering spirit in todays Israel. We had it in the 40’s and 50’s. What happened to it?

  • Ilan says

    “In a relationship, the person I love and I both matter – more or less equally, I guess. But not here.”

    Daniel, I have a slightly different interpretation of the “affair” metaphor.

    Jay’s affair, like most affairs, was based on superficial qualities: “shuks, cafes, shtiebels and hiking trails; of family and friends; of my alma mater on Mount Scopus and my favorite field in Talbieh..”

    The reason affairs end is that the relationship isn’t real. There’s no real love here – and eventually, the things that the other person does that annoy you don’t seem worth it anymore.

    In a real relationship based on actual love, both parties do matter. Both parties support each other, and forgive each other’s shortcomings, and stand by each other in good times and bad. I think this accurately describes your relationship with Israel, and mine.

    Jay hasn’t lost his love for Israel. He never had any to begin with.

  • Beautiful (even if I don’t agree with everything you wrote). You are an eloquent spokesperson for our people!

  • Arn Pressner says

    Dear Dr. Gordis,

    Although I do not at present live in Israel, I pray that one day I may return to stay. I pray, too, that there will still be people like you there when I return. Thank you for expressing so eloquently what I feel and no longer have the right to say.


  • simcha freedman says

    Beautifully written. ” Devarim ha-yotzim min ha-lev.” Thank you for articulating so clearly what so very many of us feel so deeply.
    Am Yisroel Chai.
    This is not just an expression or words to a song. It is an injunction, a statement of purpose, a rallying cry and a declaration of our essence and our everlasting commitment to our people, past, present and forever.

  • Scott Gordon says

    This should be required reading for every Diaspora Jew. A masterfully written response that sent chills up my spine. Yasher Koach, Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach. Kadimah…

  • Bravo. You are always so articulate. Gut gezogt! Maybe Jay needs to grow up and mature before he mouths such infantile thoughts.
    We are blessed to have your wise commentaries. Thank you.

    Chag sameach.

  • Neil Robbins says

    Dear Daniel,
    As an American Jew in NY, who fought in ’67 on the ‘QT’ as I was still attached to the US Marine Corps.
    As an American Jew who is a loyal Patriot and born Citizen of The USA.
    As an American Jew who is a Father GrandFather,Brother, Cousin, Lover, Friend.
    As a JEW;THANK YOU, for the reminder and reaffirmation of who and what and where we are in this world! NEVER AGAIN!May God give us all guidance; allies AND enemies; to do what is right in ADONAI’S eyes. Respectfully and again with thanks, Neil Robbins

  • Jack Chomsky says

    It is Friday afternoon here in Columbus, Ohio. It is already Shabbat/Yom Tov where you are Danny — and I hope you are having the deep and joyous celebration you deserve.

    As you know, I have read all your e-mails and columns for the last few years with great interest — and not a few tears.

    I hadn’t read Jay Michaelson’s Forward piece — I glanced at it now, but I’ve seen (and occasionally argued with) his pieces before.

    You are right. He is articulate — and listened to by many. But you put your finger on one of the threads that runs through his writing that often pricks me the wrong way: He writes as an outsider. When he visited Auschwitz, he wrote about how nobody else really understood what happened there.

    Being part of the Jewish people — and in your case the state of Israel — means that you’re part of the problem and the solution no matter what. And that you can’t just look in from the outside.

    It’s such a blessing to be on the inside as you are — and as many of us try to be.

    I hope you had a good holiday. Thank you for enriching mine — as always.

    Jack Chomsky

  • Romo says

    An excellent and awe-inspiring piece Mr. Gordis. You mirror exactly what I feel. I, unfortunately, cannot live in Israel at present but hope to do so shortly. My family are, however, there and I miss Israel daily. Living in the UK will never give me the thrill of knowing how unique and special Israel is. Whatever trials and tribulations are inherent in living in Israel, nothing compares to its way of being a part of the soul. Chag samaech.

  • WEINRAUCH, AL says


  • Marc says

    Dear Daniel, thank you for your passionate and clear voice. I have enjoyed 3 of your books over the last 6 months. I grew up in that San Ferenando Valley you speak of, from Brooklyn, and have lived in Australia the last 12 years. After visiting Israel last year for the 1st time I fell in love with the country and would like to be able to move my family there. Even with all you say and describe i sometimes still have difficulty buying your perspective in that: 1) that the ‘robust’ Jewish life in the diaspora exists because of the State of Isreal; and 2) that our love of the land of Israel and our Zionist ideology is more important than our childs safety, education, sanity. Obviously this is my dilemma and not yours; as you have made your choice. And please forgive my ingnorance or any disrepect. Why do we buy into that the US or Australia, for instance, built on rule of law and religious freedom, would cave in on Jewish people if the state of Israel, G-d forbid, ceased to exist in its present form? Why is the land of Israel, more important than G-d’s people of Israel, our children, who live in every corner of this Earth? I honour your choice. I lived a life for over 4 1/2 decades, as a Jew, that i felt extremely blessed to live, without really considering much about Israel’s existence. I took this beautiful country forgranted, as i imagine many Jewish people still do. After visiting i cant do this anymore. But, can i pretend all of a sudden that Jews cant live robust Jewish lives in Melbourne or Milan or Perth or Brooklyn without the State of Israel? So many Israelis are moving into Los Angeles, Australia, at least where we spend our time, it is unbelievable. Most of these Israeli’s that i meet, have fought for the State of Israel. And yet, even with their expressed love for Israel, they just want and choose to live somewhere else for a good job, and relative ‘peace and quiet’. Can I blame them for wanting what i have had my whole life? In any case, i thank you for your beautiful and emotional writing and look forward to much more from you in the future. Chag Sameach

  • David Stolow says

    As always a wonderful, inspiring essay but I do have a bone to pick. In your essay you list, among Israel’s problems, “Palestinian, Israeli Arabs and (some of) the Haredim. Despite their best efforts to the contrary, you clearly view Haredim as individuals some of whom may create problems but others of whom do not. And yet the Arabs are just an undifferentiated group. When Israel’s intellectual and political leaders can use the same nuance when talking about Arabs as you use when talking about the Haredim we’ll have more progress and less angst.

  • Harry Brand says

    My wife and immigrated to Israel from S.Africa in 1962. We have had the good fortune to participate in the Jewish Renaissance, my wife as a teacher and I as an architect. We are invigorated by the results of our work and that of many other pioneers over the generations.

  • youcancallmemeyer says

    I’m an Australian father who feels lucky to live in a country that no other country wants to be gone from the world map.

    Our children have fought many wars (all in foreign lands)and many of our children have died. We honour them as Anzacs and their parents mourn them more than all others.

    But unlike Israel, my country is not threatened on a daily basis, over decades, with death and destruction – and I wonder how I would react if placed in your position.

    To me, what is most moving about your essay is how you react to your love of country and the love for your children.

    A cold sweat came over me when I read :

    “Then comes that split second moment of breath-stopped horror, the fear that they’re coming to our house, bearing tidings that would be ­wholly unbearable.”

    How one can give in to exhaustion when their country or children are at risk is beyond me too.

    A very moving essay.

  • Carolyn Levine says

    Kol hacavod Daniel, Your response to Jay is clear, moving, and above all articulate. I am proud to say that my husband is acshav on a ‘guys’ trip to Israel. I continue to study Hebrew via a fabulous website from Israel with the dream of becoming fluent in Hebrew. So, may the New Year be a healthy, happy one for you and your family and for Israel. Continue your great work and support of h’aretz. B’shalom

  • Carolyn Levine says

    Kol hacavod Daniel, Your response to Jay is clear, moving, and above all articulate. I am proud to say that my husband is acshav on a ‘guys’ trip to Israel. I continue to study Hebrew via a fabulous website from Israel with the dream of becoming fluent in Hebrew. So, may the New Year be a healthy, happy one for you and your family and for Israel. Continue your great work and support of h’aretz. B’shalom

  • Jack says

    I’m Jack, the admin of Haveil Havalim, the weekly blog carnival of the Jewish/Israeli blogosphere.

    This post will be included in the next edition which will be coming out Sunday October 11.

  • Sashland says

    Great article. Interesting comments here but quite an argument over at the Forward’s comment section with the original article.

    What occurs to me:

    Jay is exhibiting conditional love. His angst is triggered by peer pressure more than a deep evaluation of the conflict. He is certainly free to criticize Israeli policies and actions, but he seems to do so from a position of assuming the worst rather that keeping a disciplined and skeptical mind to evaluate the “facts”. Instead he seems to be accepting the framing narrative of the palestinian “victims”. I am curious how he reconciles his growing silence and lack of will to engage Israel bashers in light of the growing anti-semitism from the alliance of the hard-left with islamists who want to destroy Israel.

    He is a warning flag of the danger of losing the propaganda war. He is not recognizing that his “friends” are parroting and supporting those who seek not to reform Israel, but to destroy it.

    I agree with Weinrouch, Al that many Israelis and the State need to change their treatment of non-violent Arabs to maximum humanity. Check-points are for security and should be used for that, not harassment. That only builds resentment, not against Hamas / Fatah, but against Israel. Treat the innocent with loving kindness and there is the possibility of separating the rational from the violently ideological. There is no good reason for gratuitous hostility , and it is counterproductive both locally and internationally.

    Israel should hold itself to a higher standard, but never accept the veiled assertion of its critics that Israel, unlike other nations, does not have the right to exist if it makes any mistakes.

    Sure Jay, I don’t like a lot of things that Israel does, but why would that mean I should abandon it to attackers who do much, much worse, or be silent in the face of false and libelous attacks? You may have seen a few things personally while in Israel but I think you need to go to a deeper level of study of the actions of the enemies of Israel. Do not be their unwitting dupe.

  • I was just wondering that since Kiryat Yearim was mention, if Daniel had been out at Shiloh where the Taberancle rested, for 369 years, see Zevachim 118). We even had a two-day festival there last week, as we did at Pesach in Aprile and in years past.

  • Brynn Olenberg Sugarman says

    I suppose I’d feel rather silly if I were Jay, claiming that I’m “exhausted” after reading your article and seeing the photo which defines the word: the exhaustion felt by true soldiers rather than mere academics. When one is self-righteous and pampered, one’s definitions become slurred and exaggerated to the point of being facile and meaningless.

    Hopefully Jay does not reflect the average American Jew: I trust most are savvy and sensitive enough to appeciate the meaning of sacrifice and the benefits Jews worldwide reap from Israel’s hard work, dedication, and commitment.


    Brynn Sugarman
    Ra’anana, Israel

  • Brynn Olenberg Sugarman says

    I’d like to add that I wholeheartedly agree with Daniel Gordis, reserving the right of parents of soldiers to feel exhausted along with their children: this is very different than the “exhaustion” felt by a mere theorist living 7,000 miles away. My son enters the IDF next summer and I am not naive as to how that will affect myself, my husband and our entire family.


    Brynn Sugarman
    Ra’anana, Israel



  • Baila says

    I felt exhausted and depressed after reading the Forward article, knowing that this is becoming such a prevalent attitude in chu”l. Your article expressed very well how many of us over here feel, and brought me to tears with its eloquence.

    Thank you.

  • Jeff Derden says

    Thank you Dr. Gordis for putting into words what many of us American olim feel but are unable to articulate.

  • Claire Berke says

    Thank you Dr.Gordis for this great article. We need more people like you who cannot be swayed by propaganda and hearsay about Israel. Today I watched a man speaking about the billions which are gone from Lehman Bros.I was horrified to hear him say that they went to Israel(,and the nonsense that Congressman Brad Sherman, a Jew, said so in the Congress. Itwas all twisted as he never said the money went to Israel instead don’t vote to accept another loan, a big difference.
    Thank you so much, you make a difference. Claire Berke

  • Paul Venze says

    Greatly looking forward to thank you at Y.I Nov 6-7.

  • Thanks, Dr. Gordis for such a powerful and moving reply to Jay Michaelson’s essay! FYI, I commented on Michaelson on my blog,here:

  • Linda Cohn says

    To Jay Michaelson:
    You poor pathetic thing, Jay. You ignore the two elephants in the room: 1)there would be no ‘occupation’ if the Palestinian Authority lived up to its commitments at Oslo. It is the PA responsibility to stop the violence against Israelis, not the Israel gov’t’s. When the PA fails to do that, Israel builds a wall – the least lethal method of responding to human explosive devices. When the PA fails to do that, Israel staffs the checkpoints. These are PA responsibilities, not Israel’s. Too bad for them, if they are not doing their job, that they don’t like the way we are doing it for them. 2)The other elephant in the room is the racism of Arab nations in not allowing a single Jew to live among them, of casting all Jews out as they did in Egypt, Libya and many other places (see, as well as in Gaza.
    Yes, it is tiring to have dialog with liberal friends who are really close-minded fascists, who cast you out of their circle if you don’t agree with them – and they know nothing of the geography or history of Israel whom they condemn with empty headed platitudes. I know, I too, have been cast out by former friends who call themselves liberal but who by their personal behavior towards me, and by whom they support internationally are truly fascists. You poor, pathetic thing who would rather keep your party time going (never mind with whom), while Israelis are struggling for the right to live their lives without being exploded. Poor, poor, cuckolded thing. Pathetic.

  • I found my way here because Jay posted links to a few responses to his article, one of which was yours. The line which gives me pause is this:

    And without this place, there is no future, no Jewish people.

    I’m not sure I agree with that assertion. I think there’s something essential in the Jewish people, something deep and fundamental to who we are, which is not tied to any piece of land — even a piece of land as beloved as the modern-day state of Israel. Our wealth of texts and teachings, our wisdom, our mysticism, our ways of relating to the world and to God: all of these are portable. We carry them with us wherever we may be planted, from Texas to Timbuktu. From where I sit, that’s what’s quintessential.

    Of course, “where I sit” is in the Diaspora, so I’m obviously coming at this question from a different place than you are. Take my response with the proverbial grain of salt, but I wanted this view to be mentioned here.

  • Yitzchak says

    Dear Rabbi Gordis,
    I have been waiting for someone to respond to Jay’s pathetic comments. Your answer to his column was magnificent and warmed my heart. May the new year 5770 bring you, your dear family, Medinat Israel, and world Jewry good health, accomplishment, and above all…HaShem willing, Shalom!

  • Both this piece and your latest book articulate in a way I never could why I live in Israel, why I couldn’t live anywhere else, and why I would never want to live in a world where there is no Israel.

  • reuven says

    Your statement:”And without this place, there is no future, no Jewish people” can be interpreted in a number of ways and needs clairification. When in the not-so-distant past the Jewish People (Am Yisrael) lived in dispersion outside its homeland there was no question of what the primary national identity was of a member of the Jewish People: a Jew (regardless of where in the world he/she lived. But nowadays being a Jew in the national/people sense has very much eroded outside of Israel. Once a jew’s PRIMARY national identity becomes American, he/she becomes a jewish AMERICAN and no longer an american JEW. And becoming a jewish AMERICAN (regardless of religious affiliation with Judaism) means – unlike being an american JEW – exiting the Jewish People/Nation. A blunt way of describing this marginalization of jewish national identity outside of Israel is to say: “without the state of Israel], jews by-an-large no longer identify nationally as part of the Jewish Nation and so the only future for the Jewish People/nation is “this place” – Israel. Is this what you meant?

  • reuven says

    The last sentences should have read:
    A blunt way of describing this marginalization of jewish national identity outside of Israel is to say: “outside the state of Israel], jews by-an-large no longer identify nationally as part of the Jewish Nation and so the only future for the Jewish People/nation is “this place” – Israel. Is this what you meant?

  • Philip Rothman says


  • Marilyn says

    Thank you for one of the best descriptions I have read of what it means to love Israel in today’s world. The end of your article brought to mind the following quote from Genesis, “When the Holy One created the first man, He took him and led him around all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him: Behold My works, how beautiful, how splendid they are. All that I have created, I created for your sake. Take care that you do not abuse or desolate My world. For if you abuse or desolate it, there is no one to repair it after you.”
    To me, this is the obligation we owe Israel.

  • Allan Levine says

    Danny Gordis’ profound, insightful, factual perspective on Israel and life in it and its centrality in Jewish life resonates with wisdom, historical essentials, and a personal-emotional and familial framework which warrants both careful reading and reflection, both by those who love Israel, are zionists and strongly identifying Jews and friends as well as questioners, alienated, and critics, both within and outside the Israel setting, Jews and non-Jews alike. Despite benefits of instant news and free journalistic and investigative reportage including rumor mongers and all-too-frequent one-sided and double-standard criticism, there is a greater set of realities which Danny Gordis describes so well.

    Yes, awaking each day wondering what it will bring both in terms of challenges, opportunities and potentially life-threatening dangers is exhausting for those facing it. Ignorance, along with these makes it a much more daunting task. Yet, if one can bring to the day’s roll-call the determination and convictions that this is also “my job, my people, and I need to try to do my part for progress”, the satisfaction at the end of the day or week that some progress has been accomplished and being able to see and feel it first-hand, may make it all seem worthwhile.

    Having been very close to those serving in the IDF and having lived and worked in Israel on many occasions, those elements of life on a daily basis rarely, if ever, are widely and seriously articulated in the press and media, something Dr. Gordis’ writing often conveys so well to those willing to take the time to read carefully.
    Whatever criticisms may be directed at Jay Michaelson and the essay he wrote in Forward, I won’t make assumptions about his “relationship” until now with Israel, but instead recommend he read Yoram Hazony’s The Jewish State: Struggle for Israel’s Soul, Moshe Dayan’s book about the
    Six Day War and its aftermath, Ariel Sharon’s autobiography, Alexander Singer’s Alex: Building a Life, and Self-Portrait of a Hero: From Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu, for insight into Israel, its people, its challenges and its some of its accomplishments, despite 62 years of war and existential threat, for a small piece of the larger picture.

    Despite so much change and so many problems since Israel’s modern founding, there is much to commend it. Yes, there even still is much “pioneering” and spirit of idealism in daily life, although its taken new forms today, in place of some of the sweat it took to go out and form new villages and towns and kibbutzim, build new factories, plant new farms and agriculture, start new schools.
    It also includes the many volunteers who provide help for many in need of it in Israeli life, from education, tutoring and help for both new immigrants, former immigrants and long-time residents, to soup-kitchens and distribution of food and clothing and furnishings for many by many Israelis, to a can do spirit and optimism in daily work and scientific research endeavors, to medical and technical innovations that help to sustain life and produce progress in health sciences and, yes, despite some with responsibility who neglect the threats and dangers to the environment, there are many dedicated to improving these conditions.
    Israel, with its limitations, is still rightly termed “miracle on the Mediterranean”. Halevai that its neighbors could envision a competition with it in these areas in which it has so-well demonstrated progress on behalf of both its own people, its neighbors and humanity elsewhere. Alongside or in place of exhaustion, in these areas, those of us who love Israel and pray and hope it continues to thrive, can take great pride and celebrate with great joy!

  • Tal H says

    This time I’ll rewrite in English, my apologies for the mess…

    I think you’ve missed a valid point in your essay, which is: Israel is the home of the Jewish people, a home – a place where you can stay safely.

    Two thousand years of exile around the globe taught me that you can’t trust the other nations, because it doesn’t take a lot for them to turn a convicting finger your way and condemn you, or worse. Not because you’ve done anything, just because you are Jewish. This fear is tattooed into our hearts, as Jews, and maybe it’s mostly unjustified but it’s there, pinching and reminding to everyone who doesn’t live in Israel that he lives on borrowed time – until the next antisemitic occurrence.

    Maybe it’s a paranoid side in me, but in a world where the Jews are presented as a problem again, be it said loudly or behind closed doors, the safest place is home.

  • sybil ginsburg, m.d. says

    Bravo to Daniel Gordis for his article on Jay Michaelson’s “losing my love” article in the Forward. I read the latter with dismay and sadness and am in resonance with Dan’s comments. Perhaps Jay will grow beyond his disillusionment and refind his love as he becomes strong enough to accept the flaws in those (people or Israel) who are central to our existence.

  • Morty Miller says


    Dear Rabbi Gordis:

    Your response, “No Right to Exhaustion,” to Jay Michaelson’s recent column, “How I’m Losing My Love For Israel,” prompts me to contact you again.

    First, some background: I had found certain of Rabbi Robert Gordis’ writings meaningful, and so you can imagine my pleasure when Rabbi Daniel Wolpe recommended from the bimah your book, If A Place Can Make You Cry: Dispatches From An Anxious State, which led me to follow your further periodic internet dispatches. I contacted you when Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev (before we learned of their murders) and Gilad Shalit were captured, and Gilad’s welfare and, baruch hashem, safe return to his family are in my prayers and my thoughts.

    The issues you and Jay Michaelson are engaging are important ones; I think that the attached op-ed piece by Daniel Sokatch, “Support for Israel comes in a multitude of voices,” is a thoughtful contribution to this discussion.


    Morty Miller
    Kissimmee, Florida

    Op-Ed: Support for Israel comes in a multitude of voices
    By Daniel Sokatch • October 15, 2009
    SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — The upcoming J Street conference will bring a thousand American and Israeli progressive thinkers and activists to Washington. Titled “Driving Change, Securing Peace,” the conference comes at a critical moment because dramatic as it may sound, we are in a battle for the future and soul of Israel. And despite the concerns of some in our community, Israel is strong enough to withstand free and fair debate about its most significant issues. Indeed, it is only through such debate that these issues will be resolved.
    The J Street conference offers an opportunity to discuss the serious issues affecting Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship, to air out the controversies and to have the conversations that are avoided too frequently by mainstream Jewish organizations. It also will facilitate the building of connections and synergies among the disparate pro-Israel, pro-peace and pro-democracy groups in Israel and the American Jewish community.
    The timing is critical. President Obama’s commitment to restarting the peace process, and his understanding that Israel must change its de facto support for the settlement enterprise, has changed the political dynamic between Washington and Jerusalem.
    Despite the overwhelming support of the majority of the American Jewish community for this approach and for President Obama in general, most Israelis do not trust this administration to advance Israel’s interests. The growing rift between the two communities does not bode well for Israel and its relationships here.
    The pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy camp can serve as a bridge between the American Jewish and Israeli communities at a time when such a bridge is sorely needed.
    As incoming CEO of the New Israel Fund, the leading organization committed to equality and democracy for all Israelis, I am alarmed not only by this rift but also by leaders in Israel and the American Jewish community who seem determined to repel all criticism or even thoughtful debate about the deepening tension between security and human rights imperatives in Israel.
    Initiatives launched by the current Israeli government — including legislation that would require a McCarthyesque loyalty oath of all Israelis, and attempts to discredit and delegitimize the country’s human rights groups (of which we are a leading funder) — seem designed to erode civil society and further marginalize Israel’s Arab citizens.
    Add to this the continuing Orthodox monopoly on religious practice and personal status issues, and the growing economic and educational gap between the haves and have-nots in Israeli society, and you have a recipe for potential disaster that should be of great concern to all of us who love and treasure Israel.
    J Street, which has added an important new voice to the Washington policy equation on peace issues, understands that the “internal” Israeli issues that NIF works on are anything but. Israel’s record on social justice has a profound impact on its international standing. Countries that deny equality to their indigenous minorities sacrifice their moral standing in the eyes of the world and their own citizens.
    A foreign minister who heads a party that consistently narrows the definition of citizenship and equal rights is properly regarded with suspicion by the leaders of other democracies, American and European. And a quasi-theocracy that uses one fervently Orthodox standard to define Jewishness – when Jewish identity is the raison d’etre for the state – raises hackles among the overwhelming majority of Americans and others who believe in the separation of religion and state.
    Social justice and human rights issues in Israel also are crucially relevant here at home. The growing indifference of many American Jews, particularly young Jews, to Israel is directly related to their concerns over the occupation and the seeming indifference of some Israeli governments to basic democratic values.A Jewish community that voted overwhelmingly for President Obama; a community that proudly takes leadership positions in American progressive institutions and causes; a community whose record of concern for social justice and civil rights in the United States is second to none – this is not a community that will turn a blind eye to ultranationalism, extremism and intolerance in Israel.
    Simply put, if American Jews cannot find a way to love Israel and help fix its flaws, if there is no role for the millions of Jews who want Israel to live up to the dreams of its founders, the American Jewish support that Israel depends upon economically and politically will continue to wane.
    The New Israel Fund and the other progressive groups that will meet at the J Street conference are unabashedly pro-Israel, and we provide the means for American Jews to support Israel in ways consistent with their progressive values. We know there are too many voices on the left, both in the United States and worldwide, that are unquestionably hostile to Israel no matter what it does. We are the most obvious rebuke to the notion that support for Israel is a right-wing phenomenon, exemplified in the U.S. by evangelicals and neo-cons.
    We are the bridge between a largely progressive American Jewish community and millions of Israelis seeking a way out of political stalemate and moral quandary. The quest for a humane, just and equitable Israel is the most pro-Israel act imaginable, and as we partner with J Street and other progressive organizations to amplify our voices, we expect that more and more, our voices will be heard.
    (Daniel Sokatch, founding executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, takes over as CEO of the New Israel Fund on Oct. 19.)

  • Daniel Farber says

    Dr. Gordis,
    I just got to reading this now. A superb piece and although I am reading it a few months later, this type of work remains relevant for generations.
    Kol hakavod!
    Thank you

  • Very moving and well written. Thank you!!!

  • Suri Ordman says

    From an exhausted olah of 30 years, a mother of 4 sons (now reserve soldiers), a grandmother of 7 no doubt future defenders of the State of Israel, I salute and thank you for putting into words what I, and so many of us, feel deeply in our hearts and souls. The motivation behind our Aliyah from England was, ‘how can I sit comfortably at home whilst other mothers send their children off to fight for the continued existence of Israel, which we all then depend on and benefit from?’ The expression, ‘the buck stops here’, resonated until there was no choice but to listen to the voice within that stated clearly there was only one way to live with our consciences. We may have had reason to momentarily question our decision over the years, but we have never regretted it.
    For all those who seek a bigger meaning to life, a feeling of belonging to and mattering to a part of the history of our people, then this is it.
    Rabbi Gordis, please continue speaking so clearly for us.


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