Amazing times

It’s really, really hard. But it’s really, really important.

It is so very, very easy to see all the negative going on in the world and in the Jewish world. So very, very easy to focus only on the scary things, the upsetting things, the stupid things, the depressing things. And it’s especially easy if you are Jewish.

Jews are very, very good, indeed we are masters at noticing only the bad. We are so attuned to the crazy things Iran says and does, what this or that insane Jew hater just did or said. We worry about this threat and that, about BDS and college anti-Semitism, feel the media is out to get us, the UN hates us, the world wants to get rid of us.

We are very, very not good at noticing all the good around us. That’s understandable when you have a lunatic in the White House, who forgets to mention the Jews when issuing a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, who just shut down the State Department office dedicated to combatting anti-Semitism worldwide, who sent out a tweet showing himself body slamming CNN, a video that was the handiwork of a known anti-Semite.

And it’s understandable when even a march for lesbians in Chicago becomes a forum for Jew hatred, when the insane organizers throw out three marchers for having committed the sin of carrying a gay pride flag featuring a Star of David.  And when the government of Israel decides to alienate 90 percent of the world’s Jews by kyboshing a very sane, reasonable, unifying agreement that would allow all Jews to pray in peace and as they wish at the Western Wall.

A lot of the time the world feels nuts, especially if you are a Jew. Which is why it’s so important to take note of, absorb, luxuriate in all the amazingly good things going on for Jews in the world today.

The amazing thing is I have space to mention only a small fraction of all the good Jewish stuff that has gone on in just the last couple weeks. My guess is most of it you didn’t notice, or if you did, you gave it a quick glance and went back to worrying about how threatened we are and how bad things are.

Well, the truth is things are absolutely great for us and we need now and then to take a few minutes and be aware of that.

Aware, for example, of who has come to Israel in just the last few days. You know, we make such a bit tsimess that everybody hates Israel, wants to hurt Israel, wants to boycott Israel, that Israel has enemies everywhere. But the truth is all that is far less true than how many love Israel, and show it.

And so at this very moment, we have the amazing reality that more than 10,000 Jewish athletes are in Israel for the Maccabiah Games, known as the “Jewish Olympics.” The Maccabiah Games, please note, are the third largest sporting event in the world.

We all know the stereotype about Jews and athletics, but right now there are superb athletes, all Jews, competing in 43 sports, representing 80 countries.

Speaking of countries, another recent visitor to Israel was Narendra Modi, the first prime minister of India to ever visit Israel. And India is not just another country, it’s the largest democracy in the world. And its leader just visited the Jewish state. So much for the whole world hating Israel. Yet more proof of how accepted and embraced Israel is by the world.

Modi visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum.  He did not visit the Palestinian Authority or meet with Palestinian officials during his visit. He did meet with Moshe Holtzberg, whose parents were murdered in an attack on the Mumbai Chabad House, as well as his Indian nanny who accompanied him to Israel.

We have even had some good news in a Jewish world increasing filled with disunity, with Jewish hate for other Jews, with Jews turning away from, dismissing and defaming other Jews. And we even had some tshuva from a Jew who exemplified just that ugly hatred and disgusting treatment of other Jews with whom he has political differences.

America’s new ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is very right wing politically. Which is fine. What is not fine is that he once called liberal Jewish groups and organizations “worse than kapos,” the Jewish Nazi collaborators, and “morons.” That a Jew could accuse other Jews of being kapos just because they disagree about a two state solution, shows you how low the Jewish world has sunk.

And yet, it appears that Friedman, wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, seems to have come to realize that. He recently gave a speech in which he said, “I am as guilty as anyone else for having entered the partisan divide that has, unfortunately, to some extent fractured the Jewish community in the U.S. and in Israel. But it has to end.”

Friedman said from now on, he would “treat the Jewish people of whatever stripe, whatever political views, with the same dignity and respect that they all deserve. And I hope we all do the same. We must turn the page.”

And Friedman did more than just say the right thing. He actually followed through, meeting with the leadership of J Street, a left wing Jewish peace group he had previously said he would never meet with because they were worse than Nazi collaborators.

Let us hope that Friedman’s behavior will serve as an example to all Jews, especially those so opposed to allowing some Jews to have their own prayer area at the Western Wall, being against the right of Jews to pray as they wish at Judaism’s most sacred site.

Speaking of which, we had the good news that Israeli diplomats in the United States had the good sense not to let insult be added to injury.  Israeli diplomats in North America rejected a talking point handed down to them from Jerusalem, which they told an Israeli daily blamed liberal Jews for the Western Wall controversy.

The top diplomats refused to repeat the narrative that Jonathan Shechter, a top adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, handed down to them in telephone conversations about the crisis in relations between the government and leaders of the Reform and other liberal Jewish denominations in the United States, the Israeli newspaper Maariv reported.

A diplomat who was not named in the Maariv article told the newspaper: “It defies belief that after everything that’s happened, the prime minister’s staff are seeking to blame U.S. Jews, who were deeply offended by the government decisions, for the situation.”

Good for those representatives of Israel that they did not follow insane orders. Good for us and good for relations between American Jews and Israel, despite the efforts of the government to sabotage them.

Then we had good news from unexpected places. We just learned, for example, that Paddington Bear, the adorable and iconic children’s book character, might have been a little bit Jewish — in spirit, at least.

Michael Bond, author of the beloved Paddington Bear books, passed away recently. His books are based on a story that the Brown family finds a bear from “darkest Peru” sitting on a suitcase at London’s Paddington train station. He has a note hanging around his neck that says “Please look after this bear.” The family takes him in and he embarks on a series of entertaining adventures.

Seems that Bond said the character was partially inspired by Jewish refugee children he had seen arriving at London’s Reading train station during World War II. In an interview, he said, “I remember their labels round their necks and then I remember going to the cinema and seeing on the newsreel that Hitler had moved into some new country and seeing footage of elderly people pushing prams with all their belongings in them. Refugees are the saddest sight, I still think that.”

Still think nobody cares about the Jews?

Okay, running out of room, so just a few more quick ones. Pop star Britney Spears not only recently gave a concert in Israel but also visited the Western Wall while she was in the country. Britney is big stuff and while we obsess about the occasional wacko who says no way will he perform in Israel, it’s important to take notice when a major star like Britney not only comes to perform but honors our holiest site.

Okay, let’s get to my favorite story, which shows how much has changed for the better for Jews. Israeli Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein addressed the Russian parliament more than three decades after his release from a Soviet prison.

A Ukraine-born Soviet prisoner of conscience, Edelstein was imprisoned in 1984 on trumped-up drug charges because he was teaching Hebrew. He spent three years doing hard labor in Siberian camps.

Edelstein began his remarks in Hebrew, then switched to Russian. “Today, I stand here before you as speaker of the Knesset, and in the same language that I was imprisoned for teaching,” Edelstein said. “I bless you with the ancient Jewish blessing ‘Shalom Aleichem!’ Even in my wildest dreams I did not believe I would reach this moment.

“I was imprisoned because I was teaching the language which spread to the world the ideas of rejecting tyranny, upholding the rule of justice, love of mankind and the hopes of freedom; the language in which the prophets of Israel foretold the day on which ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; nor will they learn war anymore.’ I was imprisoned because I worked to disseminate the language in which Abraham, the founder of the Jewish religion, was told ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you,’” he said.

Yes, today we have an Israel where Jewish athletes from around the world gather, where the leader of the world’s biggest democracy visits, where a Jewish leader returns triumphant to a Russia that had oppressed him for being a Jew, where an American Jewish ambassador shows there is hope that Jews can respect other Jews despite not agreeing. And where Britney Spears prays at the Kotel.

We are living in amazing times, my friends.

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