• Eilleen Eisenberg

Which Comes First: The Israeli or The Jew?


Illustration: Men at Western Wall [CC0 Public Domain] via MaxPixel

In my early twenties, soon after I finished college, I moved to New York City and immediately became friendly with the girl living next door to me. We bonded over the mouse living in between our walls. After a few years of living next-door to one another, we both decided to find new apartments.

She left a few weeks before I did, so on the day of her move I stopped by her place to see if I could help — even though I knew there was nothing I could do, so it was really an empty offer.

When I entered her apartment, I noticed that she hired a very attractive mover. I could tell right away that he was Israeli, so I made my move and the following ensued:

Me: “Are you Israeli?”

Israeli Mover: “Yes, are you?”

Me: “Not yet. I have a question though. Am I supposed to take my mezuzah with me when I move out?”

Israeli Mover: “If the new people moving in are Jewish, you keep it on the door for them.”

Me: “Okay, thank you. By the way, I must tell you that I love Israelis — I mean Israel. Well, both, but I really, really love Israel! I don’t think anyone loves that country like I do.”

Israeli Mover: “Oh yeah? I love Israel so much, that I was going to get a tattoo of the Israeli flag on my arm.”

Me: “But why get a tattoo? You’re Jewish!”

Israeli Mover: “I am Israeli before I’m Jewish!”

Me: “You are Israeli BECAUSE you’re Jewish!”

Israeli Mover: “You’re right.”

No, this dialogue wasn’t about Jewish people and tattoos. It also had nothing to do with our mutual love for Israel. This conversation was about an understanding — an understanding of how Judaism and Israel go hand in hand, and the importance of reminding ourselves of that. Especially today.

For those of us who are Jewish and live outside of Israel, we need to remember that Israel is our support and we must support Israel, starting with our rhetoric. I’m referring to the current “anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism aren’t the same” statement that keeps floating around. Aren’t they alike? Aren’t they the same thing?

For the Jewish person living outside of Israel, has anyone in your inner-circle ever degraded Israel in front of you? Did you want to defend the country, but felt a bit uncomfortable doing so? Did you feel that you lacked the proper knowledge to respond? Were you not bothered with what they said because, after all, you don’t live there? Did you simply not care? Do you care?

We know we always have a home in Israel, even if we don’t speak up for the country. Israel protects the Jewish people in every way. The Jewish people should be protecting Israel, at least with their words.

During my aliyah (immigration to Israel), I learned the most amazing thing from an Armenian Christian taxi driver in Jerusalem. This was our conversation:

Taxi Driver: “You know the Hebrew letters for Israel are yud, sin, resh, aleph, and lamed?”

Me: “Yes.”

Taxi Driver: “Do you know what each letter of our country stands for?”

Me: (thinking)

Taxi Driver: “Yud for Yitzchak and Ya’akov. Sin for Sarah. Resh for Rachel and Rivkah. Aleph for Avraham. Lamed for Leah.”

There you have it — our founding fathers and mothers. Israel and Judaism, Judaism and Israel. There’s no order here. Neither comes first. Kind of reminds me of the first time I thought I was waiting on a line in Israel, only to realize there are no lines in Israel — we're all just part of the crowd at the register.

I can’t believe I almost forgot to tell you! Do you want to know what happened after that conversation I had with the Israeli mover who said “I love Israel so much, that I was going to get a tattoo of the Israeli flag on my arm?”

We both went and got matching tattoos. I’m kidding! They looked nothing alike. Kidding again...

But Israel and Judaism? They are very much alike.

Eilleen worked as a writer/producer for Cable Television promotional copy in the US. She fulfilled her dream of making Aliyah years later. She uses her energetic, creative, fun and quirky style to be an advocate for Israel. This article is reprinted from the author's blog. Click here to read more of this writer's work in The Jerusalem Herald.

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בס"ד

...הָרִימִי בַכֹּחַ קוֹלֵךְ מְבַשֶּׂרֶת יְרוּשָׁלִָם הָרִימִי אַל תִּירָאִי אִמְרִי לְעָרֵי יְהוּדָה הִנֵּה אֱלֹקֵיכֶם! (ישעיה  מ:ט)

...Raise your voice with strength, herald of Jerusalem; raise it, do not be afraid; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your G-d!"

(Isaiah 40:9)

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