"Get Back To Where You Once Belonged!"
(song by The Beatles)

by Dr. David Lazerson

First, a bit of confession. It's been a long time - a very long time. 30 years to be exact. In 1971, as a rather typical, alienated All-American Jewish college student, I spent six months visiting & touring Israel. With my ever-trusty guitar at my side, I worked for about four months on two different kibbutzim, tending cows, picking oranges & bananas, and driving my own tractor. When I left back then to return to the States, my long curly hair touched the ground at the Tel Aviv airport as I knelt down, kissed the turf and made a solemn promise to return.
I'm not exactly sure just what took me so long to fulfill this oath. These past 30 years have definitely kept me busy. Somewhere in my senior year at the University of Buffalo, much to the amazement of my buddies, I began keeping kosher, putting on Tefillin, and even observing the Sabbath. Shortly afterwards, I was introduced to a young woman named Gittel from Detroit. Not the "Fiddler-on-the-Roof" sort of arrangement, mind you, just an honest blind date. Now, seven kids later, thank G-d, we sure have what to keep us occupied. During the past three decades, I somehow managed to complete my doctorate in special education, write some books and even make some music.
Still, even while living the good life in America, (convertible sports car, circular driveway, ski trips, the whole nine yards) not a day went by without me thinking of coming back, of making good on that 1971 Boy Scout promise. Several of our own kids have, in fact, come to Israel during the years. Our daughter Elisheva studied for a year at Bar Ilan's special program for American students, but I was even more impressed when she was hired as a waitress in an Israeli restaurant. Our son Yisroel, Sruli for short, participated in a summer learning/touring program. And Yossi, all of 15 years old, has been there twice already. He dreams of becoming a pilot in the Israeli air force. I mean seriously. He reads up on the stuff all the time & practices flying on a simulator.
But it's my eldest son, Aron Moshe, that finally motivated me. You see, he just finished his four months of basic training with the IDF's Nachal Hareidi program. It's a unique army program for individuals with "religious needs." Besides all his army training, his unit takes Torah study classes and davens three times a day. He was given one week off before continuing with advanced training. Gittel & I didn't think twice.
For Gittel, it was her first time. It could very well have been mine too, for we cried tears of joy as the plane touched down at Ben Gurion airport. At long last, I was fulfilling my personal promise.
For many reasons, I am grateful that we came. First, of course, to spend time with our son. Our hearts seemed to swell with pride seeing him in a real McCoy IDF uniform. Even his tzitzit, prayer shawl, is army green! And, I must admit, we felt very safe. Having Aron Mosh with us was like traveling with a private security guard. As a sharpshooter, he not only carries a modified M-16, he brings along the scope & night vision piece.
Secondly, I was so happy to experience Israel first-hand, just to dispel all the lousy PR we usually get bombarded with in the media. Before these last horrific terrorist attacks, Israel was often the blamed party. The country seemed to be portrayed as a gloomy, depressing, hostile place. From the media reports one would think that the whole country was running scared, hiding under the covers, afraid to see the light of day. We found it to be the very opposite, and it seemed like a special mitzvah to add to the bustling streets, crowded busses, and cafes filled with conversation, laughter and music.
Perhaps having been away so long has put me in a rather unique perspective, like having a more objective, "before & after" kind of perspective. A few things really stood out. First, how much the country has grown and developed. How big and busy the cities are! In '71, you'd be hard-pressed to find a major shopping mall, or a bowling alley, or a ski resort, or kosher Burger King for that matter! And so many of those dry, barren hills throughout the countryside are now filled with communities of all sizes, shapes and colors.
The second matter was just as blatant. I was astounded at just how close the Palestinian areas are to main nerve centers of Israel. Jericho is a mere half hour from Jerusalem. The West Bank minutes from Jewish communities. The hilltop of Abu-Sneh overlooks the small Jewish community in ancient Hebron, the home of Abraham, Issac & Jacob. The Arabs have used this very hilltop to shoot at the Jews below. One of their "brave" snipers murdered a baby here. I think it was Netanyahu who remarked on a visit to Washington, that the "view from the Jordon (river) is not the same as the view from the Potomac!"
That's putting it mildly.
It would be one thing if these Arab places were friendly and the inhabitants believed in living in peace together with Israelis. Yet, most of these areas are in fact openly hostile. The Palestinian media and schools preach hatred towards Jews and Israel. Their young men are brainwashed (or do so willingly) into becoming holy martyrs, aka - suicide bombers.
I think it's high time for some honest soul searching. Israel has given so much for the sake of peace, year after year, accord after accord, deal after deal. And yet, this has not brought about a more peaceful condition. Quite the opposite. The difference to me, from '71 - 2001, was quite apparent. I found the Arabs to be much more "chutzpadik" and resentful of Israelis - in spite of the fact that we have given them so much. We have always extended a hand in friendship & good faith. Our "peace" partner has always tried to cut it off and then ask for more.
I urge PM Sharon to stand strong and to follow the American strategy of how to handle terrorists. I mean, I don't exactly see the US negotiating with Bin-Laden, or offering, say, the state of Jew Jersey to the Taliban for a homeland if they will only just behave. No, the US will only hang up the boxing gloves and replace them with the white silk when the job is done; when the terrorists have been silenced.
Israel, thank G-d, has the capabilities to do the same and well we should. Wiping out terrorism, going after the organizations & states that support it, is not only for Israel's benefit, but ultimately for the welfare and security of the world at large. Those Arabs who choose to live in peace in Israel, all well and good. Israel is a wonderfully diverse country with abundant opportunities. On the other hand, those Arabs who advocate violence and hatred, let them suffer the consequences.
No longer just an outsider, a tourist, but a father of an Israeli soldier, I also urge the government to strengthen and beautify the entire country, including our "settlements" and holy sites. Any self-respecting nation would seek to preserve its own time-hallowed and honored treasures.
It was heartbreaking for Gittel & I to learn first-hand about the archeological destruction done by the Arabs on top of the temple mount in Jerusalem. It seems that this is another one of their attempts to rewrite history and destroy historical proof of a Jewish connection to Israel. It wasn't too far back when they tried, once again through violence and bloodshed, to stop the opening of the incredible tunnel tour by the Western Wall.
When the Taliban threatened to destroy the centuries old, huge stone statues of Buddha, the entire free world was up in arms. The Taliban blew them up anyhow. I keep listening but I simply don't hear the same forceful protests concerning the temple mount travesty. The silence is deafening.
When we asked about visiting the tomb of Joseph, we were equally saddened to hear that this area is now under Palestinian control and essentially off-limits to Jews. In fact, after Israel gave this piece of real estate to the Arabs, another "peace" deal after more rioting and violence on their part, they quickly proceeded to build a mosque there and not allow Jews to enter!
And so too with the Machpelah, the ancient burial place of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron. We're talking way back, a good 3,000 years or so in history, that once again show a powerful, eternal bond between the land called Israel and the children of Israel. While we had the wonderful opportunity to visit and say some heartfelt prayers there, we could only get so far inside. It seems that the Arabs have some sort of jurisdiction and may get offended if we got too close.
You'd have to be crazy to entertain a notion of joint ownership of Jerusalem and its holy sites. Arabs and Christians have freedom of access to all places under Israeli control. When things were reversed and the Arabs were running the show, from '48 - '67, Jews weren't allowed into the Old City. 'Nuff said.
The PLO and company have shown their true colors. They cannot be trusted and have failed miserably as peace partners, and thus have failed their own people. While the whole world seems to be refining itself, learning to grow & share in this amazing technological age, Arafat & Company are, in fact, simply unable or unwilling to do so. They function like the Taliban, priding themselves in violence and hatred like fighters from the Middle Ages. Like my grandma Grace used to say; with friends like this who needs enemies?
Finally, I urge all of you to not just take my word for it, but to visit this incredible country for yourselves. Bring some extra water and climb Masada. Pray at the Wall in Jerusalem. Stroll through the neat shops on Ben Yehuda. Float in the Dead Sea, which is, by the way, teaming with all sorts of life enhancing minerals and salts. Check out ASCENT and the artist shops in Tzfat. Visit some of the thousands of holy & historical sites throughout this enchanting land. Like the Nike sign on my skullcap conveys, just do it!
And yes, when I recently left the country I bent down once again to kiss the ground and make a promise. Thirty years? No way, man. It's gonna be real tough to wait 30 days.

Dr. David Lazerson,
N. Miami Beach, Fl.

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