A Family Reunion

Arnold Roth and Stewart Weiss - Jerusalem Post - November 16, 2003

Dear participants in the General Assembly of United Jewish Communities:

As you open your convention today in Jerusalem, we say bruchim haba'im, toda and shalom.

Welcome to Israel, our country and yours. It's always good to see friends like you here, showing solidarity with your fellow Jews, expressing support for our struggle to find peace and safety in this challenging neighborhood.

Not everyone brings a positive outlook like yours when arriving here. We have grown accustomed to foreign dignitaries and heads of state who come to critique and criticize. And we're very familiar with the hordes of foreign journalists whose photographs and interviews seem calculated to present our worst side to the world.

Thank you for making the significant effort to be here. We suspect your decision to come may not have been popular with your loved ones. We appreciate the statement you make and the message you send just by being here. Lately, the flights landing at Ben-Gurion have been less than full.

So it's a pleasure to see the hubbub and commotion accompanying your arrival. And if you experienced delays at passport control, well, that's like a rainy day in Israel; you may get wet, but it's a blessing.

We know your agenda is full. But in the midst of your deliberations, we would be glad if you took a moment to consider a few issues that are on the minds of people like us, average Israeli olim who came here from communities not very different from those you represent.

Pluralism and Polarity: The desire for individual expression is as much a feature of the makeup of Jews here in Israel as it is back in your home towns. We all seek these opportunities while emphasizing and strengthening the principles that bind us together. The difference is where one places the emphasis.

American Jewry, blessed with relative peace and prosperity, can still afford to explore manifold avenues for spiritual, cultural and political diversification. But Israel is engaged at every level in a gritty battle to live, and to maintain a normal way of life.

Physically attacked from within, verbally castigated from without, this is a time for us to close ranks and concentrate on survival. It seems more prudent to lower the level of dissent, stress commonality and present a united front on issues that impact on our personal security and the safety and well being of our families.

A bitter national debate over renegade "peace plans," or on the morality of tearing down settlements or building security walls is a luxury which we cannot afford just right now. War has brought us, mercifully, a rare atmosphere of consensus, and we can ill afford to squander it.

Jon and Ron: There is overwhelming support here for bringing Jonathan Pollard and Ron Arad home, and for doing what it takes to see that this happens. Large-scale demonstrations of public support, including one outside the International Convention Center where you will meet tonight, have shown that Israelis think these cases are, at their heart, about Jewish pride and legitimacy. The apparent reluctance of our leaders to raise these subjects at the highest levels suggests that, as Jews and as Israelis, we have not yet come fully of age.

By George, We Think He's Got It! The Israeli public has an overwhelming admiration for President Bush and his administration's uncompromising stance on terror. Refusing to welcome Yasser Arafat to the White House, vetoing one-sided anti-Israel resolutions in the UN, backing Israel in its aggressive campaign against the bombers these have earned Bush our heartfelt respect.

As parents of children killed by terrorists, we are deeply concerned for the welfare of our families and we wish our own decision-makers would be as forthright as the US has been in Afghanistan and Iraq. In observing a proud America unafraid to take tough decisions in the name of routing out terrorism, Israel can learn much from America.

Love and Hate: A recent EU poll shows astonishingly wide support for the notion that Israel is the biggest threat to world peace. To the extent this points to the reemergence of ancient hatreds that we hoped had lost their appeal, this is demoralizing. But we continue to believe in the justice of our cause.

And while a love affair between us and the nations of the world may be a long way off, we have reason to hope that the ties that bind us to you, our brothers and sisters, remain as strong as ever. Like siblings, our high emotions occasionally cause us to bicker and argue. But we are convinced this stems from mutual love. This is a family reunion.

Now, if only we could figure out how to get you stay the other fifty-one weeks of the year!

Arnold Roth manages a Jerusalem technology company; his daughter Malki died in the Sbarro restaurant bombing. Stewart Weiss is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana; his son Ari fell in battle last year in a raid on Hamas headquarters in Nablus.