To live and die as Jews
by Jonathan Rosenblum
June 8, 2001
Poor Sofa Landver. Her fifteen minutes of Warholian fame for "discovering" that the hevra kadisha refused to bury non-Jewish victims of last Friday night's suicide bombing were cut short last Saturday when Tommy Lapid, a far more practiced demagogue, seized the mike. "Islamic jihad strikes at the living, and the hevra kadisha stikes at the dead," he ranted.
Both Landver and Lapid need to stir up the hatred of the Russian immigrant community for religious Jews and Judaism. Landver, together with her Labor party colleague MK Roman Bronfman, has the ineviable assignment of winning the Russian community back to the Left. To do so they must deflect attention from the complete failure of Oslo, so poignantly symbolized by last week's suicide bombing - a failure that has claimed a high proportion of Russian-speaking victims. Lapid is a one-issue politician, who has long since indentified the Russian immigrants as the largest audience for his particular brand of foaming at the mouth.
The Israeli media proved eager accomplices to Lapid and Landver. Both Israeli TV and radio repeated Landver's allegations as fact without even waiting until Motzaei Shabbos to contact the hevra kadisha or the chief rabbinate. Before the utter falsity of the allegation was exposed on Saturday night, it had already been broadcast worldwide by AP and the Los Angeles Times, America's largest news service. Walla, one of Israel's most active internet news sites, superimposed a picture of young yeshiva students on graves in a Saturday story -- to remind readers that no yeshiva students had been killed outside the Dolphinarium disco?
An outraged Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau clearly had it right on Saturday night when he labelled Lapid a cynical politician exploiting the terrible tragedy for his purposes before the dead were even buried. As Israelis experienced the unity of the besieged - we are all targets, anywhere, anytime - Lapid chose to sow hatred instead.
That cynical exploitation of the Russian immigrants, however, goes back much further. At the creation of the State, burial was consigned to individual religious communities - Jewish, Islamic, and Christian. No one contemplated a large group of citizens who would fall into none of these categories, or envisioned mixed families with both Jewish and non-Jewish members. The influx of hundreds of thousands of non-Jews from the former Soviet Union over the last decade thus created a major challenge to the existing burial system.
Yet from 1992 to 1996, nothing was done to provide burial areas for non-Jewish immigrants. Just as Palestinian refugees were consigned to squalid camps for 53 years to maintain a permanent strike force against Israel, so the Left apparently preferred to let resentment of "the Orthodox monopoly" to fester.
Only with the advent of Yisrael B'Aliyah in 1996, did the search for solutions begin. Party leader Natan Sharansky and Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein worked closely with the chief rabbinate to address the problem. Over the three years of the Netanyahu government, approximately 25 specially demarcated burial sites were designated around the country for non-Jews adjacent to Jewish cemeteries. As a result of those efforts, graves were readily available to receive all the non-Jewish victims of Friday night's suicide bombing and the hevra kadisha was fully prepared to provide them with respectful burial.
THE difference between Sharansky and Edelstein, on the one hand, and Lapid, on the other, is that the latter thrives on fomenting social tension while the former view the achievement of pragmatic, consensus-based solutions as the essence of politics.
Sharansky also understands something that completely escapes Lapid: the importance attached to Jewish cemeteries by both those buried in them and their descendants. One of the most precious rights held by members of traditional European communities was the right to be buried in the communal cemetery. Today those cemeteries are often the last reminder of a thousand year culture that was destroyed, and Jews around the world react with vehemence to news of their desecration or destruction.
Judaism, like most religions, requires that only Jews be buried in a Jewish cemetery. (Rabbi Berl Wein recalls how the long-time dean of De Paul Law School, a Jesuit law school in Chicago, could not be buried on Catholic "hallowed ground" because as a Protestant he had not received the last sacraments of the Catholic Church.).
Throughout the ages, Jews have risked their lives to assure a "Jewish burial" for their loved ones, and even complete strangers. Jews have always made their way to Jerusalem to die and be buried. Hundreds of thousands of those buried in Israel today would never have agreed to burial except in a Jewish cemetery. Burying a non-Jew alongside them is not a costless gesture of goodwill, but the infliction of a deep wrong upon them and their families, no different than paving our ancestor's graves in Europe to make way for a parking lot.
LAPID cannot countenance any distinction between Jew and non-Jew. Unlike Sharansky, for whom the fostering of Jewish identity is key to the successful integration of immigrants, as well as the source of national strength, Judaism is for Lapid trivial, at best, and repulsive, at worst.
Precisely because the name Jew means so little to him, he would confer it on one and all. For Lapid, anyone who comes to Israel or is killed together with Jews is ipso facto a Jew. Hitler and the Islamic jihad suicide bomber, may their names be blotted out, are thus transformed into the final authorities on who is a Jew. (Are we really so deficient in human sympathy that we are not pained by young lives so brutally snuffed out unless they are "Jewish" lives.)
Following Lapid's logic, a Jew, in the Israeli context, is any target of the Palestinians - i.e., any non-Arab.
That logic, however, leads to a number of uncomfortable conclusions. If Jews become defined as simply the "non-Arabs," don't the Arabs have a more ancient and stronger claim to the land than non-Arabs? And if no distinction is permissible between Jew and non-Jew, what basis can there be for a specifically "Jewish" state?
And finally: Was the ancient Jewish yearning for the Land, without which modern Zionism would have been unthinkable, nothing more than a desire to come here and live as non-Arabs?
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