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Home From the Rabbi From the Rabbi - November 2009
From the Rabbi - November 2009 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:

On November 2, 1898, Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, had arranged to meet Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who was touring Palestine.  Their meeting took place at a kibbutz called Mikveh Israel, “The Hope of Israel,” and it was there that Herzl hoped that the Kaiser would endorse Zionist plans to create a Jewish national homeland in the area.

In fact, the meeting went smoothly, and Herzl left with the strong impression that Germany would throw its considerable influence behind the plans.  Imagine his surprise when, only a week later, the Kaiser turned lukewarm and then moderately negative to the Zionist idea.  What had happened to change his mind?

No, it was not anti-Semites in Germany, although there were certainly enough of them.  It was liberal Jewish professors and journalists and merchants who were afraid that, if they supported Zionism too strongly, a charge of dual-loyalty would be levied against the Jewish community of Germany.  Germans, they thought, would come to question their loyalty to the Fatherland and challenge their acceptance into German society.  They, it turned out, were the primary element that swayed the Kaiser away from supporting Herzl’s plans.

Fast forward now, exactly nineteen years.  WWI had been underway for three years, and there seemed to be no end in sight.  For the British, the key to their survival and ultimate victory was their navy; it would protect their access to the Suez Canal and guard communication within their world-wide colonial empire.  But how to guarantee that the British navy would continue to rule the waves?

A Jewish chemist named Chaim Weizmann offered the Admiralty a new kind of naval gunpowder, a propellant charge that could throw the projectiles of their battleships’ guns farther than their enemies’.  It would be to the great advantage of the British if they could shoot at the Germans, but, simultaneously, be out of range of the German guns.

Weizmann gave his invention to the Admiralty without consideration of personal recompense.  But he asked something for his people.  On November 2, 1917, His Majesty’s Government issued a statement declaring that they were in favor of the creation of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine.  This was the famous Balfour Declaration, named for the Colonial Secretary who first spoke it, Lord Arthur James Balfour.

But a week later, in an amazing parallel to the Kaiser’s earlier actions, the British government first began to waffle and then quietly dismissed their own intent.  Obviously, the goodwill of the Arab populations in Jordan, Palestine and Egypt was far more important to them than that of the Jews, and the assurance of a steady flow of oil for the boilers of their ships was more vital than faithfulness to their declaration.

The French have a saying:  “le plus ca change, le plus c’est la meme chose.” the more things change, the more it’s the same thing.  In fact, things have changed.  We are no longer worried about a charge of dual-loyalty.  We know we can be patriotic Americans, but simultaneously enthusiastic Zionists.  Our identity is no longer fragile or conflicted.  But, at the same time, we know that there are forces in the Arab region that would try to persuade the powers of the world that a Jewish state called Israel is a travesty and unacceptable.

It is incumbent upon us, then, to act as proud American Jews and equally proud supporters of the State of Israel.  We may not agree with everything Israel does – that’s our prerogative – but it is our fundamental task to ensure that the Jewish national homeland continues and that we move as deliberately as possible to a state of peace and security in that troubled region of the world.

Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi



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