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September 5, 2018 9:53 am

The IDF Are Heroes, but Israel Needs Many Kinds of Warriors

avatar by Shmuley Boteach

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IDF paratroopers in action on the ground. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Haaretz recently published a column attacking Miriam Adelson as unqualified to voice support for Israel’s Nation-State Law. Since so few people have done as much to support the State of Israel as Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, the premise of the article was mean-spirited.

Worse than the premise of the article, however, were its targets. The op-ed was not just against Miriam and Sheldon, but against their children. The columnist built her case and based her very title on the Adelsons’ sons, whom she criticized for not having served in the Israeli army. That the columnist would ignore Miriam’s distinguished service as an officer in the IDF, or her eldest daughter and son in law’s service as IDF officers, and Sheldon’s service in the US Army, made it clear that this was an attack aimed squarely at their young sons, born in the United States.

Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have chosen to take leading roles in the Jewish world of philanthropy and American political support for Israel, and in doing so, strode into the chronicles of public discussion. Their two sons, however, are not the same. And for Haaretz to publish an op-ed attempting to shame them is just plain wrong.

Worse, however, than Haaretz’s attack against two sons who are not in the public eye, is the blatant hypocrisy that the paper so carelessly parades. Haaretz regularly publishes harsh attacks against Israel by many writers without ever raising the question of whether or not the writers or their children served in the IDF. For Haaretz, apparently, the standards are lowered for those who criticize Israel. But even if we are to ignore this lowbrow taunt, we must be sure to rebuff the article’s dangerous ideas.

After all, by narrowing down pro-Israel commitment only to military service, such commentators run the terrible risk of demeaning and degrading the efforts of the Jewish people who fight for Israel in so many other crucial ways.

First, let me be clear. There is no one as brave as Israel’s soldiers, and they are rightly lauded as the Jewish people’s greatest heroes. My wife and I are unendingly proud of our children who chose to serve bravely in the IDF. But every day, I witness American, Australian, and European Jews who fight for Israel with all their might, resources, names, and reputations, and who put themselves on the line for Israel’s interests. No, this not the same as a soldier who risks life and limb. But to say that their service does not matter just as much is to pretend that Israel does not need BDS fighters on campus, philanthropists who fund synagogues and schools, and rabbis and teachers who pass on Jewish identity and legacy.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe never wore an IDF uniform. But without him, Jews and Judaism around the world might have succumbed to an irreversible decline. The same is true of the Chabad emissaries that I encounter all over the world — whether in Lyon or Turin, Nepal or Panama — who dedicate their lives to rekindling fractured Jewish communities in every corner of the globe, all while serving the needs of hundreds of thousands of Israeli soldiers who go on extended trips after the end of their service. Will we too begin to discount their efforts?

Should student activists who work tirelessly to protect the name of Israel as its smeared and maligned on their campuses also be told that their efforts too just don’t make the cut?

We should inspire our children to always fight for Israel and the Jewish people. To demean the method in which they contribute — even as we laud the IDF as the most essential institution to Israel’s survival — is destructive and foolhardy.

Ultimately, the Jewish people need many kinds of warriors. The Lubavitcher Rebbe employed military terminology in his drive for Jewish outreach. “The soldiers,” as his young emissaries are called, were told to traverse the world in “mitzvah tanks” on “campaigns” of love and kindness. The Rebbe wasn’t just looking for catchy words. He used such terms, instead, because he knew that the service of these young men and women in spreading the light of Judaism to millions of unaffiliated and secluded Jews was critical, or they would be lost. He wanted every Jewish warrior to have as much grit, energy, and discipline as those who so bravely defend Israel on the battlefield.

I have no problem acknowledging a hierarchy of service in which we laud IDF soldiers as the top of the rung. But we must take the whole picture into account.

It is, in conclusion, especially ironic that the Haaretz article was published in response to Miriam Adelson’s support for Israel’s Nation-State Law. Much of the controversy surrounding the law centered on the possibility that it might “alienate millions of Jews worldwide,” as Ronald Lauder put it in an op-ed published recently in The New York Times. Firstly, it should be mentioned that when you seek to shame and condemn Israel — as Lauder did publicly — it is very relevant whether or not you’ve lived and served there, and truly understand the challenges that the country is facing.

More importantly, though, if there is anything that might alienate Diaspora Jews, it’s the false notion that if they don’t live and serve in Israel, they aren’t an integral part of it. Jews across the world cannot be made to feel any less responsible for the future of the Jewish people than do those who live in Israel.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 31 books, including his most recent, The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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