Ensuring Israel's Survival
uring this past winter break
from rabbinical school, I
had the opportunity to meet
some new friends.
I befriended Yisrael, an architect
from Tel Aviv, at the Dead Sea, where
my wife and I spent a couple of days
at the end of our vacation in Israel.
Yisrael shared his story with me over a
traditional Israeli breakfast.
While fighting for Israel, he was hit
with a bullet. It was a direct shot to his
left temple, leaving him disabled for the
rest of his life. He was lucky to be alive.
Yisrael was not the only disabled
veteran of the Israel Defense Forces
whom I encountered while at the
Dead Sea. There were hundreds of
men at our hotel who became severely
disabled while fighting for Israel's con-
tinued existence. They are known as
N'chei Tzahal. Some, like Yisrael, can
barely walk anymore, even with the
aid of a cane or a walker. Others are
amputees, missing an arm or a leg,
and bound to a wheelchair for the rest
of their lives.
They were at the Dead Sea to find
some temporary relief from their pain
Jason Miller, originally from West
Bloomfield, is a fourth yearstudent in
the Rabbinical School and the William
Davidson School of Education at the
Jewish Theological Seminary of America
in New York City. His e-mail address is
through the therapeutic powers of the
The N'chei Tzahal come each year
for two or three weeks, and most of
the hotels are very accommodating to
their needs. The Israeli government
pays for their much-deserved vacation;
but if it is not taken by the end of the
year, the opportunity is lost. Thus,
many of them make their vacation to
the Dead Sea at the end of every
December — making the Dead Sea, in
essence, the unofficial convention and
reunion of Israel's disabled veterans.
Mostly men, the N'chei Tzahal range
in age and represent each of Israel's many
wars. I met men who fought for Israel's
statehood in 1947, as well a young man
on crutches, disabled during the current
intifada (Palestinian uprising).
I spent an hour talking about poli-
tics.and religion with a couple of vet-
erans on the beach. One of these men,
whose foot was blown off by a land
mine in the Sinai Desert in 1956,
explained that he and his wife had
been coming to the Dead Sea for three
decades and it is the only time he feels
any relief from his injuries.
When I remarked to the other veter-
an how nice it is that the Israeli gov-
ernment provides them with a compli-
mentary vacation, he looked me in the
eyes, put his hand on my shoulder and
said, "Trust me, we paid for it."
I could not have agreed more with
his statement. However, his words also
deeply troubled me because after see-
Israel's Election And The T' Factor
aka-paka. The lips never stop
moving. Paka-paka. The hot
air flows from the mouth.
Paka-paka. Opinions spew
out for whoever will listen. Paka-paka.
In Israel's media-bombarded, overly
politicized, highly opinionated, emotion-
ally charged, ideologically divided socie-
ty, paka-paka is part of life. No more so
than during an election campaign.
Paka-paka is the popular term
Israelis use to denote the mix of self-
important bombast, long-winded
commentary and general yada-yada-
yada heard so often throughout the
nation. In a country where talking
Robert Sarner is a senior reporter/editor
on Israel's only English-language daily
TV show. Before moving to Israel in
1990, he was a writer and magazine
editor in Paris and Toronto. His e-mail
address is email@example.com
heads rule the airwaves, per capita cell
phone use is among the highest in the
world, and where almost every citizen
feels he knows better than the prime
minister, paka-paka is inevitable.
Lately, in the lead-up to next
Tuesday's election, the P factor has
gone into overdrive, and I don't mean
just paka-paka. Pundits, pollsters,
political publicists, the press and of
course the politicians themselves —
pontificating paka-paka professionals
all — have taken center stage.
Since the election campaign began in
November, first for party primaries and
then for the Knesset itself, politics has
had a stranglehold on the public agen-
da and dominated the print media.
Never at a loss for words, the nation's
columnists, political talk show hosts,
panelists, and countless other supposed
experts debate endlessly: Why is Prime
Minister. Arid Sharon still leading by a
wide margin in the polls despite the
ing these individuals whose
have been possible without
lives were so visibly changed
Moses sharing in the task.
by their devotion to Israel, I
Yitro's message brings to mind
was left wondering about my
Rabbi Tarfon's well-known
own contribution to Israel's
teaching in Pirkei Avot— It is
continued existence. What was
not [incumbent] upon you to
my role as a Zionist living in
finish the task, but neither are
the diaspora? I never risked life die
you free to desist from the task.
and limb like these heroes.
This mishnah never spoke to
This Shabbat in parashat
me more than it did a few weeks
Yitro, our people's pre-eminent
ago while a participant on the
leader is exhausted. Moses is
Commentary Jewish Theological Seminary's
making all of the judicial deci-
Solidarity Mission to Israel. In
sions for the people. He is
the same room where David
hearing every single dispute,
Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel's
and it is wearing on him greatly.
independence, a third-generation Israeli
When his father-in-law, Yitro, a
woman charged us with the message that
Midianite priest, observes how Moses
Israel belongs to all Jews, not only to
is handling his leadership role, he
Israelis. We all share in the responsibility
exclaims, "Why do you act alone,
of ensuringisraers survival, and those of
while all the people stand about you
us in the' diaspora can achieve this
from morning until evening? The task
through tourism to our homeland.
is too heavy for you and you will sure-
Israel's economy is dependent on
ly wear yourself out."
tourism, realizing a return on invest-
Therefore, acting as an "outside
ment as in no other sector, but the
management consultant," he gives
current situation has led to a dearth of
some very valuable advice to Moses,
Jewish tourists. Israel is calling us to
urging him to reserve only the most
come home and we must heed that
important legal cases for himself, while call and do our share.
appointing judges from among the
Feeling the- love for our homeland
elders of the people to rule on all
and our deep emotional attachment to
other minor matters.
the land, we must follow the message
Moses heeds his father-in-law's good
of Rabbi Tarfon. Those Israelis fight-
counsel, putting the new legal system
ing for the stability of Israel cannot do
into practice; in so doing, he sets the
it alone. And Israeli citizens cannot do
Israelites on the right path toward
it alone. They need us. They need us
becoming a nation. Our ancestors'
now more than ever.
journey toward peoplehood would not
Let us not desist from our task. 0
sorry state of the nation,
depressed mood, the economic
despite being embroiled in a
crisis and the fact that almost
corruption scandal and despite
nobody wanted this election in
failing to deliver on his cam-
the first place, the Knesset
paign promises of two years
tried to act responsibly. It
ago? Why has the campaign of
reduced, albeit reluctantly and
Labor leader Amram Mitzna
not by much, the hefty sub-
and his party failed to take off?
sidy it gives the parties from
How will Israel's one million-
the public purse to help pay
plus Russian immigrants vote
for their campaigns.
this time? Why is the centrist,
This slightly lower subsidy
secular rights party, Shinui,
Commentary did not stop the parties from
proving so popular despite its
producing millions of freshly
ill-defined platform? The topics
minted posters, banners, bill-
go on ad infinitum.
boards, bumper stickers, flyers,
The Likud corruption scandal injected
brochures, handbills, newspaper ads
an exciting new element to the media's
and other printed matter that com-
already obsessive coverage of political
pete for the public's attention. All this
intrigues, imbroglios, shenanigans and
in addition to the parties' official TV
other forms of jockeying for power.
and radio propaganda blitz.
Adding to the torrent of paka-paka,
Some things just never change, such
every other day sees a new poll published
as the inane slogans, overworked
with great fanfare.
cliches and the airbrushed images of
earnest-looking faces posing against
the ubiquitous blue and white flag. It's
so tired and predictable. So too are
This year, in deference to the country's
SARNER on page 36