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"If you can find that, then I think you have actually
hey were in the family car, headed to their home
found everything that matters."
in Jerusalem from an errand, when Rabbi Daniel
When the Gordises arrived in Israel, pre-uprising, they
Gordis' 12-year-old son, Avi, asked him if he
a one-year sabbatical from the rabbi's work as
would ever board a bus in Israel. "Yes," the rabbi
of the Ziegler Rabbinical School at the
said, without hesitating.
University of Judaism in L.A. Ehud Barak had just ousted
" Ima [mom] doesn't let me ride the bus," Avi told his
Binyamin Netanyahu as prime minister and euphoria
father, an Israeli educator since making aliyah from Los
reigned among Israelis. High tech was hot, unemployment
Angeles in 1998 with his wife, Elisheva, and their three chil-
was low, hotels were packed and shoppers were plentiful.
"The future looked brighter than the sun that shines
Rabbi Gordis, director of the Jerusalem Fellows program of
you," Rabbi Gordis told us.
the Mandel Foundation Sector on Jewish Education and
despair pulsates and security guards seem every-
Continuity, thought to himself that relative
when Israelis think the worst is past, another
wealth shouldn't determine personal safety.
atrocity or travel warning occurs.
He knew bus service was vital in the eco-
"My kids are not the first generation of Israeli kids to
nomically depressed land where gas masks
with war," Rabbi Gordis said, "but they are the first to
have become family staples.
But before he could respond, his son
why the family lives on a street where the
spoke up: "I'll tell you what I think. I think
attacked on the way to school just because
that when grownups really love Israel, they're
of moving back to the friendly sur-
willing for their kids to get killed for it."
roundings of California.
The rabbi replied, "We don't want any-
Then he told us why: "We stay because, despite every-
body in our family to get killed for it, but
that is wrong, Israel is an extraordinary society. We
• we love Israel enough to stay here amid all of
move to Israel. We moved home."
"We stay because all the places that we
This exchange took place last August — 23 months into
in the Tanach are the places we drive by
Palestinian-inspired terror against Israel. Buses are
or through. We stay because on Shabbat morning,
easy targets for suicide bombers aligned with
there is something unbelievably powerful about
Islamist radicals seeking to break the will of Israelis
standing in Zion when you ask for peace for it.
and either seize the Jewish state as theirs or win deep
"We stay because each morning when we daven
concessions in the quest for a Palestinian state. The
we say, 'Bring us together from the four cor-
uprising has unleashed more than 16,000 attacks
of the Earth,' we know to where."
against Israel; it has taken at least 730 Israeli and
Rabbi Gordis believes every diaspora Jew is
obligated to "dwell" in our ancestral homeland on
Flashback to the spring of 2001: Rabbi Gordis
some level, even if only through visits, invest-
told Avi to be tough amid nightly shooting nearby.
ments, overseas purchases, or spoken or written
Palestinians in Beit Jalla would fire toward the
Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo and the Israeli army
He scolds us for canceling trips to Israel when
would respond. The rabbi told Avi the enemy is
sorely needed and deeply appreciated.
seeking to spur "a subtle level of anxiety so profound, that
He's proud that recent election results showed Russian
life becomes intolerable for us."
immigrants, after just 10 years, no longer feel they require
He added, "What it means to be a Jew, whether a long
their own ethnic political party; they're happily Israeli.
time ago or now, is to be part of a larger story. And our
story, for better or for worse, takes place here. The only rea-
son we have a connection to this land is because we, as a
people, have refused to run away. And we're not going to
Rabbi Gordis' inner struggle moved me as he recounted
run away now
a Shabbat table conversation that took place in January.
Avi — who amid the rat-a-tat-tat of gunplay night after
night nearly two years before had said he "couldn't do it
A popular author and speaker on Jewish life in Israel and
anymore," he couldn't stand the fighting — told his par-
America, as well as on Jewish law and ethics, Rabbi
ents, "Thank you for bringing us here. Thank you for
Gordis keynoted the annual Shiffman Family Lecture
Feb. 5 at the Jewish Community Center in West
Now 13 and only five years from army induction, Avi,
Bloomfield. The lecture kicked off Detroit Jewry's
like hundreds of thousands of Israeli kids, had learned
Seminars for Adult Jewish Enrichment (SAJE), a major
to cope with dread, anxiety and surrealism.
midwinter learning experience.
"They had learned what makes life meaningful,"
Without a moment's regret, the animated, kippah-wear-
Rabbi Gordis said.
ing rabbi told 500 Jewish Detroiters who had come to the
I left the JCC with deeper respect for Israelis, who
JCC on a cold, windswept night why he was an
must constantly adjust to a world we in America can
unabashed Zionist. He argued compellingly that Jewish
hardly imagine — a world where terrorism alerts accom-
survival must have a higher purpose. "What makes a
pany the weather reports.
meaningful life is to find something — while fortunate
Rabbi Gordis was overly preachy at times, but I did
to be alive on this Earth that God gave us — worth say-
feel enriched by "the sweetness of Torah that he brings,"
ing, 'This thing, this cause, this place, this idea, this tra-
just as Rabbi Scott Bolton of the Jewish Academy of
dition is so utterly important to me, I would give every-
Metropolitan Detroit predicted when he introduced his
thing for it — bar none.'
former teacher as the SAJE keynoter. ❑
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