Barbara Sofer

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The Human Spirit: Getting into the fray

By Barbara Sofer

December 23, 2016

"Let it burn." The Facebook comment about the 1,700 fires that raged in Israel in November was posted on the page of an American Facebook friend. No one reacted. So I did. "I hope you don't mean Israel. We have already been in the ovens once this century."

The thread was removed.

Then there was the comment by the person who blamed the fires on the "dumb-assed Zionists" for planting only pine trees.

I sent a short reply about the biodiversity of the planting in recent decades and the 240 million trees that had been planted to hold eroding soil and green the planet.

Still another comment I reacted to complained about Israel's obvious prejudice in thinking of banning mosque loudspeakers. I asked the writer if she'd like to be awakened daily at 5 a.m.

I don't often get involved in such confrontations or, I should say, often enough.

What bothered me most and pushed me into action was that no one else – on the page of an American Jewish Facebook friend's page – tried to curb the anti-Israel comments. The "dumb-assed Zionist" post got six "likes."

I'm sure not everyone agrees with this nastiness, but they don't want to get into the fray.

Who can blame them? You could spend the entire workday responding on social media to unpleasant comments, particularly if you venture beyond the comfortable world of the friends who share your worldview. Getting into the fray takes time and emotion and maybe even a smidgen of research.

The hard-core anti-Israel activists won't change their minds anyway, right? That's one excuse, but my suspicion is that anti- Israel comments have become so ubiquitous that they are accepted as truth. To respond is to expose oneself as a Zionist.

The visit of indisputably Zionist retired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz has deservedly been getting a lot of press.

He has been aptly dubbed "America's most public Jewish defender" and "Israel's single most visible defender – the Jewish state's lead attorney in the court of public opinion." He contends with vitriolic critics on the Right who see him as too liberal and those on the Left who discredit him for his love of Israel.

I heard Dershowitz speak at the Ra'anana branch of Matan, the Mindy Greenberg Women's Institute for Torah Studies. The late Mindy Greenberg, a young woman of valor whom I had the privilege to meet, was Dershowitz's first cousin, one of five sisters who lived next door to the two Dershowitz brothers.

Alan was the babysitter.

The famed lawyer and author came to Matan to name a beit midrash, one of the center's study areas, in memory of his mother, Claire Ringel Dershowitz, who died at age 95 in 2008. He and others spoke of his mother's Orthodox feminism, of her strong opinions and excellent memory. Matan empowers women to formulate and express educated opinions.

Fittingly, Dershowitz was interviewed by Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz against a background of tall volumes of Talmud.

Among the interesting points Dershowitz made (the worthwhile interview is still online) is that he spends more time fighting with his fellow travelers on the Left than with those he disagrees with on the Right. He feels a responsibility to make sure that the antisemitic far-Left doesn't become part of the mainstream.

For example, he made a publicized exit from the Black Lives Matter movement because of its condemnation of "the nation- state of the Jewish people" (a term Dershowitz prefers to "the Jewish state").

The achievements of the Jewish people, in creating a democratic society, in the arts and sciences, are waved away as attempts to whitewash Israel's purported wickedness. I thought of my answer to the critic of our tree-planting policy.

I'd considered reminding him that we "dumb-assed" Zionists read more books, produced more Nobel prize winners, and invented more tech products than his countrymen. To anti-Zionists, these are more reasons to hate us.

What can change minds? Warned that he would be the underdog in a debate at Oxford University with its muscular anti- Israel activism, Dershowitz focused on the narrative of Israel's attempts to make peace. The Oxfordians were astounded.

When he challenged them to shout out the name of a country that faced the threats Israel did and that had maintained superior human rights and concern for the civilian population during warfare, the hall was silent. He won.

We can't be Alan Dershowitz, but then, we don't have to debate BDS-ers at Oxford. I was inspired to answer offensive posts by a friend whose common postings are exquisite nature photos but who scolded a mutual Facebook friend for mocking a first-time tefillin wearer who got the wrapping wrong. There are lessons to be learned: in protecting our own ideological circles from extremes and in venturing into the world outside our weltanschauung to interrupt the Israel- bashing.

Matan Ra'anana director Oshra Koren taught that you shouldn't study Torah in a room without windows. As much as we turn inward, we have to be involved in seeing what's happening outside.

The Hasmonean period of the Hanukka events was a time of intense internal strife as well as persecution from the outside.

Only when the resolute women and men stood up to the enemy did we earn Divine intervention. We, too, must become defenders and publicists for our present-day miracles.



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