Thoughts to Ponder Number 66

2 Kislev, 5761; November 29, 2000

It is Time to go to Synagogue
The Wisdom of an Apikores

In my younger days, I knew a man who was a convinced and committed apikores (heretic). I used to meet him every Shabbath morning in synagogue where he was a frequent worshipper. He often would walk into the sanctuary, tell people that they were wasting their time coming to the morning service "since there is no God," and then he would proceed to his seat. Thereupon, he would cover himself with his talith, open his prayer book and join the service with great fervor.

Intrigued by his behavior, I once asked him to explain himself. What is a committed atheist doing in a synagogue and praying as if his life depends on it? After a short pause he said, "The reason why I come to synagogue and join the prayers is the same reason I make kiddush at home on Friday night and eat kosher. I am a Jew, and I want to identify as a Jew. And it is these customs which make us into Jews. The synagogue is where we Jews meet as Jews and these prayers give us our neshomeh (Jewish soul). Without these we are lost. Therefore I will come to this synagogue till my last day on earth, and I will eat kosher and make kiddush Friday night. True, there is no God, but I am a Jew!

In these trying days for the people of Israel I suddenly realize the great wisdom of this Jewish apikores. Those who carefully read Israeli newspapers, listen to the radio and watch debates on television cannot escape the fact that many leading and highly intelligent Israelis no longer come to synagogue. They seem to have lost their neshomeh and almost completely separated themselves from the community of Israel. Unlike my friend, the heretic, they are no longer Jewish apikorsim but just secularists. And that is the difference between heaven and earth.

Denying the Jewishness of the Israeli State, or distorting it so that it loses all meaning is disastrous. To question the moral justification of the State of Israel is critical. Telling fellow Jews that it would have been better to have founded our new homeland in Uganda is destructive. Changing "Hatikva" so as to remove its Zionist flavor or replacing the Israeli flag with a non-Jewish symbol is deadly. Trying to replace 4000 years of Jewish Tradition with 50 years of Israeli culture is a tragedy. These are all signs that the carriers of those and similar proposals have lost their neshomeh.

For several years now many professors in Israeli universities have taught hundreds of thousands of Israeli students a kind of nihilism, rejecting Jewish values and declaring them to be outdated antiquities of our primitive forefathers. Famous Israeli authors have declared war upon Jewish Tradition. Zionist leaders, once the heroes of secular Israelis are now ridiculed and portrayed as unworthy people by those who previously admired them. Left-wing Israeli historians have made it their mission to prove that Jews never lived in this country, that the Temple never stood in Jerusalem and that there is no authentic Jewish claim to the land. Pop music has taken the place of Zionist and Jewish melodies, and abuse of drugs and alcohol is coming increasingly into style at Israeli parties and pubs. Modernism and its values have finally entered into the lives of many Israelis.

There is no greater danger to a nation than to demoralize it by getting its inhabitants to believe that their ancient culture is no longer of value, that their traditions are meaningless, that their ideology has become bankrupt and that their claim to a piece of land is unethical. This is homicidal, and on the verge of treason.

While a fast majority of young Israelis still admit that they are Jewish, it is becoming abundantly clear that more and more of them no longer see this as a privilege. Those who carefully observe the society in the land of Israel cannot escape the feeling that some kind of epidemic is spreading over the country which contaminates its inhabitants with an anti-Jewish spirit. It looks as if a kind of "Judaism free-society" is taking over, abrading the Jewish neshomeh, slowly strangling it and killing it.

It seems that the Jewish neshomeh, Heaven forbid, is about to be buried. But, although the secular Israelis will undoubtedly perform the burial ceremony with the appropriate decency one accords to the antique world and one's forefathers, they will ultimately realize that they really buried much more. They buried the very foundation of the Jewish State, their very identity and their future. Their cries for help in the aftermath will be of no avail, and their attempt to resurrect the Jewish neshomeh will be too late and too difficult.

True, the land of Israel is blessed with many, many proud Jews who take their Judaism very seriously and embrace the country with the love of their souls. But these are mainly found within the religious or traditional communities. Regrettably we see simultaneously a whole generation of fine, young, secular Israeli children falling victim to the desire to outdo the gentiles. While their parents still possess some kind of Jewish education, these children are not so privileged.

Concerning them, the handwriting is on the wall. Being robbed of proper and inspirational Jewish education, a warm Jewish environment, they will no longer relate to the uniqueness of a Jewish neshomeh. They will be left without an ideology, without love for the land and turn into people who despise themselves for what they are. It is this mentality and not the murderous intentions of the enemy which, God forbid, will lead to the downfall of the State of Israel.

It is therefore time that Israelis should return to the synagogue and some level of Jewish living. That they are secular, apikorsim or atheists does not worry us as much as the fact that they are losing their neshomeh. They should listen to my friend, the apikores. It is time that they rediscover their neshomeh and once more realize what it means to be part of that unexplainable "stuff" called Jewishness. Only in the synagogue and in a genuine Jewish environment is the Jewish neshomeh fashioned, kept warm and spiced with its special flavor.

Just like my atheist friend did, so Ehud Barak, Yossi Beilin, Yossi Sarid, Yael Dayan, Israeli professors, historians, authors and many others should go to synagogue and discover their Jewish neshomeh. It will be an eye-opener for them, it will bring warmth back to their souls and they will be proud to be Jewish even though some of them may continue to be apikorsim or secularists. And, above all, the people of Israel will see their leaders in synagogue and feel assured that their leaders are not just Israelis, but Jews and, henceforth, part of the mishpocheh. Such a move will be a great relief and a great simcha to millions of Jews around the world.

And even our enemies will hear and understand that the Jewish spirit is not to be ridiculed.

Nathan Lopes Cardozo

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