From Where I Sit
From Where I Sit

The Views and Personal Opinions of Joel Block

Yesterday (May 23, 2004), Israel’s 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 don’t 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 Hillel’s 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

Reprinted by permission.