How Czech President Zeman Told the Entire Story of History With One Word
One surprising and exhilarating expression uttered last week by a President of a small European country defines a watershed moment in history.
On Monday Czech President Milos Zeman addressed the annual AIPAC conference in Washington DC, expressing his unprecedented support of Israel. If you haven’t heard his speech make sure to listen to it.
It is startling to hear a European leader — in glaring contrast to other European and world leaders — stand in unwavering solidarity with Israel and Jews with such pride and lack of apologetics. Simply extraordinary — an act that will go down in history when future generations look back at this time.
But there was one word that he used in his passionate support that takes his commitment to an entirely other level: That word was “yehudi.” “I am a Jew. Ani Yehudi.
Here are his words in context:
There is a growing wave of so-called international terrorism, but I always say: Islamic terrorism. And that’s why we need… to fight against this growing wave. The first phase is of course expression of solidarity.
You know the famous slogan: Ich bin ein Berliner. Now we all must say ‘I am a Jew.’
To these words the 16,000 plus crowd in attendance rose to their feet and gave him a rousing ovation.
As they sat down, President Zeman continued:
Ani Yehudi (“I am a Jew” in Hebrew).
Beyond President Zeman’s unabashed courage, I don’t know if he was aware the profound significance of the word he chose: Yehudi. And it’s special connection to last week’s holiday of Purim.
Throughout the Purim Megillah — the scroll we read on Purim, relating the entire story — Jews are referred to with the unusual name Yehudim (in plural), or Yehudi — Mordechai HaYehudi (in singular). The usual name for Jews in the Torah is Yisroel, Bnei Yisroel, the children of Israel or Bnei Yaakov, the children of Jacob, and other similar names.
Asks the Talmud (Megillah 13a) why is Mordechai called Yehudi (when he didn’t come from the tribe of Yehuda, Judah)?And it answers: Because he repudiated idolatry. And anyone who repudiates idolatry is called yehudi.
The word yehudi (from the root ho’daah) means one who acknowledges, referring to one who accepts and believes in G-d, and thereby refutes anything that is un-G-dly.
Even as “all the king’s servants at the king’s gate kneeled and bowed before Haman… Mordechai would not kneel or bow” (Esther 3:2). This infuriated Haman to the point that he plotted and successfully convinced the king to annihilate all the Jews in his empire, which means all the Jews on earth!
“There is one nation,” argued Haman to Persian King Achashveirosh, “scattered and dispersed among the nations throughout the provinces of your kingdom, whose laws are unlike those of any other nation and who do not obey the laws of the King. It is not in the King’s interest to tolerate them” (Esther 3:8).
Haman was absolutely right; he hit the nail on the head: Jews — yehudim — live in this world and refuse to bow and worship any man or man-made entity. They acknowledge and accept the one and only G-d — the One Higher Reality that created us all.
And that is precisely what disturbed Haman so: The fact that there is a nation that will not conform and bend to society’s “norm.” Hitler voiced similar sentiments in his Mein Kampf.
And that is exactly what troubled anti-Semites throughout history, and today.
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proudly affirmed in his powerful — and notorious — speech before Congress later last week:
We’re an ancient people. In our nearly 4,000 years of history, many have tried repeatedly to destroy the Jewish people. Tomorrow night, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, we’ll read the Book of Esther. We’ll read of a powerful Persian viceroy named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people some 2,500 years ago. But a courageous Jewish woman, Queen Esther, exposed the plot and gave for the Jewish people the right to defend themselves against their enemies.
The plot was foiled. Our people were saved.
Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews the oldest hatred, the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology. He tweets that Israel must be annihilated — he tweets. You know, in Iran, there isn’t exactly free Internet. But he tweets in English that Israel must be destroyed.
And he concluded his remarks by saying:
You stand with Israel, because you know that the story of Israel is not only the story of the Jewish people but of the human spirit that refuses again and again to succumb to history’s horrors.
Facing me right up there in the gallery, overlooking all of us in this august chamber is the image of Moses. Moses led our people from slavery to the gates of the Promised Land.
And before the people of Israel entered the land of Israel, Moses gave us a message that has steeled our resolve for thousands of years. I leave you with his message today: Chizku ve’imtzu, al tiru ve’al te’artzu m’pneihem, “Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them” (Deuteronomy 36:6).
My friends, may Israel and America always stand together, strong and resolute. May we neither fear nor dread the challenges ahead. May we face the future with confidence, strength and hope.
May God bless the state of Israel and may God bless the United States of America.
The Prime Minister didn’t cite the end of the verse, ki Adonay Eloheycha hu haholech imach lo yarpecha velo ya’azveka (because G-d your Lord is the One who is going with you, and He will not fail you or forsake you), and didn’t make the obvious connection between the opening and the conclusion of his speech: That as yehudim in the time of Purim, our strength came not from replying on man-made security, but on the divine, so too today our strength and resolve stems from our being yehudim.
But Czech President Milos Zeman did (knowingly or unknowingly) make the connection: Ani Yehudi. The power to overcome any challenge is the yehudi — acknowledging the Divine and rejecting the human gods.
As President Zeman pointed out “our society is too hedonistic, too consumption oriented, and there is cowardice and appeasement.” In other words — our society is busy worshiping “Haman” and other man-made idols.
Ani Yehudi — I am a Jew — declared the President of a non-Jewish republic. I too am acknowledging the One G-d and repudiating the hedonistic idols of our times.
We may never know why the President of the Czech Republic is so different than other leaders and nations in our time, standing out in its public and steadfast support of Israel and Jews. But the Ani Yehudi declaration will go down in history as a moment when the modern world committed to the power of Yehudi.
Moreover: Ani Yehudi is not only an affirmation of Mordechai’s behavior in the times of Purim, and of the behavior of Jews throughout the millennia, but it adds a new dimension: that even the nations of the world embrace the Yehudi principle.
Even the biggest lie has some truth to it. For centuries anti-Semites have been accusing Jews of conspiracies to conquer the world. In 1903 the Protocols of the Elders of Zion were published as an antisemitic hoax purporting to describe a Jewish plan for global domination. Despite having been exposed as fraudulent by The Times of London in 1921, the Protocols continued to be accepted as fact, and were translated into multiple languages, and disseminated internationally in the early part of the 20th century. Henry Ford funded printing of 500,000 copies that were distributed throughout the US in the 1920s. Hitler was a major proponent. It was studied, as if factual, in German classrooms after the Nazis came to power in 1933.
While all these conspiracy theories are latently false, there is a kernel of truth which lies behind them all: The Jews indeed have always had a plan to conquer the world. But this plan is neither malicious or insidious; neither manipulative or secretive. It is quite open for all to see. Just look into the Bible: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the world and conquer it.”
The “Jewish plot” is to transform an initially narcissistic world into a selfless one; crass materialism and hedonism into soulfulness and generosity. To turn takers into givers.
Over the millennia Jews had to struggle with a hostile world. They had to contend with a selfish society that was offended by Mordechai not “bowing and prostrating” himself. The world did everything it could to extinguish the flame of Yehudi — one who acknowledged only G-d and denies all other forms of worship But as the years rolled on, slowly slowly, the “plot” began to succeed. The world has indeed become a kinder, gentler place.
And now, with the words of President Zeman, ani Yehudi, provoked by the recent rise of European antisemitism — he showed us all, that Purim is not just a victory for the Jews (Yehudim) against their adversaries. Indeed, it demonstrates how Purim has changed the very face of this earth. Ani Yehudi: Not just Jews, but a non-Jewish President of a Republic declares ani Yehudi — I too am a force that acknowledged the Divine, and denies the hedonistic world of self-interest.
One single word tells the entire story of history. When President Zeman made an interesting choice of words — Ani Yehudi — he captured the entire purpose of existence: To repudiate every form of hedonism and idolatry, and to embrace and acknowledge the Divine purpose of existence.