and Personal Opinions of Joel Block
Yesterday (May 23, 2004), Israels Justice Minister, Yosef
(Tommy) Lapid, himself a Holocaust survivor, caused a stir when
he said that when he saw pictures of an elderly Arab woman searching
for her medicine in the rubble of her home in Rafiah, he thought
of his own grandmother in Europe. Even if he did not mean to, he
made an analogy that could only be harmful to Israel. I said to
myself, How can we ever expect to succeed in our PR efforts
when we keep shooting ourselves in the foot? Why do we find among
Israelis today this great Jewish empathy for others, when we dont
always empathize with our fellow Jews? Then all of a sudden,
the saying of one our greatest sages, Hillel came into my mind:
If am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only
for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?
Suddenly, it dawned on me:
If am not for myself who will be for me?
Rabbi Hillel was saying that if you cannot or will not stand up
for yourself, then you should not expect others to stand up for
you. Unfortunately, 2000 years of living in the Diaspora got us
used to living (or not) under the protection of others without standing
up for ourselves. Apparently, after only 56 of renewed independence,
we are still uncomfortable with being able to stand up for ourselves.
And if I am only for myself, what am I?
Hillel teaches us that a person who cares only for himself and
does not care for others is not a person; one must also care for
the other. 2000 years of mistreatment at the hands of others has
taught the Jews to be sympathetic to the plight of others. However,
many Israelis on the left have taken Hillels dictum to an
absurd extreme they empathize so much with the plight of
others that they totally ignore the plight of there fellow Jews.
This is the only possible explanation for an Israeli Left that remains
silent when the Palestinians commit atrocities against
Israelis, while protesting when Israel combats Palestinian terrorism.
And if not now when?
The sooner we start being for ourselves again and empathize with
the other while keeping in mind the plight of our own, the better.
© Joel Block, 2004
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Joel Block is a long-time friend of Rabbi Cassorla and has lived
in Israel since 1968