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united and strong."
osh Weinberg and his father, Joel, stood in a small
We simply need Israel to survive, Josh said. "Without her,
store along a lightly traveled sidewalk in Jerusalem,
we are but sheep without a shepherd, subject to the wrath of
Israel's beleaguered biblical capital whose name
translates to "City of Peace." The store was bursting
Josh then raised a pointed question. Observing that many
with kippot (skullcaps) of different shapes, sizes and colors.
friends thought he was nuts to jeopardize his life by going to
The store's "dimensions were closer to those of a shoebox
Israel, but that he has managed to stay safe and sane two
than of an average-sized room," said Josh, 17-year-old
months into his pilgrimage, he said, "I often ask myself,
grandson of Ruth and Benno Levi of Oak Park. "There was
`Who is crazy — me for coming, or they for ignoring their
hardly room to breathe."
roots and remaining in America?'"
"Echad. Shteim. Shalosh. One. Two. Three. A balding man
Only by being in the land of our forebears is it possible to
in his late 30s began to count kippot with painstaking slow-
grasp the hardship gripping "nearly every facet of Israeli life,"
ness, as if he was departing from all he held
dear," Weinberg wrote in the journal he is
keeping during his year of study at Yeshivat
Doing Our Part
HaKotel, a rabbinical college near the his-
said he believes the many diaspora Jews who insist they
toric Western Wall.
will visit Israel "when the situation be c omes better." But he
Ten minutes later, the shopkeeper handed
fears that is a naive approach.
Joel Weinberg, a Pittsburgh resident, two
"Anti-Semites will never stop from hating Jews and as long
plastic bags brimming with kippot to sell to
as they exist," he said, "the state of Israel will never be at
American Jews. With the sale complete, the
ROBERT A. shopkeeper smiled faintly,
Those Jews who have trav-
making a momentary emo-
eled from the diaspora to
tional connection — as if
their ancestral homeland,
in those two plastic bags lay
despite the threat there, have
the key to his salvation from economic ruin,
left an indelible imprint on
the paltry profit needed to keep his store
Israelis and given them a rea-
afloat," Josh said.
son and the strength to per-
"It is a pity that it has come to this —
store owners, without documentation, trust-
Upon his arrival in Israel,
ing relative strangers to sell their items
Josh found "half-empty
abroad," he added.
streets and shop owners who
"In a slow but steady trend; Jerusalemites
beg all who pass by for any
are becoming desperate to survive in this
sort of business."
current economic stagnation."
Many once-thriving stores
"Life is hard in Israel," Josh said, in an
Josh Weinberg and his grandfather, Benno Levi. in Jerusalem's retail districts
understated but fervent reminder about
have closed, victims not only
what faces our brethren in the Jewish home-
of the plunge in tourism,
but also the falloff in Israelis willing to risk venturing too far
from home. Given our ability through the ages to rebound
from adversity, Josh is confident "the streets of Jerusalem will
Benno Levi shared his grandson's journal entry with me
again teem with people" and that the reign of terror against
because, he said, he was impressed by its "sense of emotion
Israel by Palestinians aligned with Palestinian Authority
and empathy." And I'm glad he e-mailed it to me.
leader Yasser Arafat will be snuffed.
I found the candidness and courage of this teenager —
And he makes a compelling case.
and so many others like him — uplifting. They have decid-
The Detroit Jewish community has tried to do its part by
ed to study under the embracing canopy of the Jewish state
three solidarity missions, which have brought 154
despite the Palestinian uprising.
metro Detroiters to the Jewish state during the intifada. Our
At a time when the state of American Jewry is stressed by
next larger "miracle mission" is planned for April 2004.
the triple-edged blow of assimilation, intermarriage and apa-
Josh urges Jews in America to help "combat the despair"
thy, Josh Weinberg — one of five children of Tova and Joel
brethren are confronting 6,000 miles away by visiting
Weinberg — gives us pause to believe in our nation's pool of
Yisrael — "located across an ocean, but hopefully
future Jewish leaders.
much closer in your hearts."
"I love Israel," Josh said, "because it has been promised by
If you can't make the sojourn, there's plenty you can do to
God to the Jewish people and because it is a safe haven that
the same emotional connection as the Jerusalem shop-
shields us from . all our enemies."
and the Weinbergs. For example, you can buy Israeli
His use of the term "safe haven" is arguable given the
via local stores, events or the Internet; give to an
deadliness of the intifada, whose violence and terrorism have
Israeli charity; call, e-mail or write Israelis; advocate for
claimed more than 640 lives over the past 24 months,
Israel's safety and security; lobby congressional leaders to
including 14 in Tuesday's bus- bombing near Hadera. But I
Israel's right to defend itself against aggressors; or
can't fault his premise that no matter how fierce the enemy,
Israeli or U.S. concerns doing business in Israel.
we remain a people, which has been our key to surviving.
do something for the Israeli cause.
As Josh explained, we've been persecuted throughout his-
the diaspora — but the diaspora needs Israel
tory — "by the Pharaohs, the Crusaders, the Spanish, the
Russians, the Nazis and, of course, the Arabs." Yet "we have
Make no mistake about that. ❑
found a country of our own — a state where Jews stand
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