Letter from Chappaqua

Letter from Chappaqua

AJC Executive Director David A. Harris writes a monthly letter offering his insights and analysis of current concerns facing American and world Jewry.

Letter from Chappaqua
February 29, 2004

Once upon a time, Chappaqua was an unknown northern Westchester town, often confused in people's minds with either Chautauqua or Chappaquiddick. No longer. Ever since an ex-president and his wife, now the senator from New York, unexpectedly moved here, the place has become plenty well known. What hasn't changed, though, is the beauty and tranquility of the area.

That makes it all the more jarring, on a quiet weekend day, to contemplate the world in which we live. From my desk, looking out at tree tops framed by snow-covered hills, it's hard to imagine the complex and often ugly realities which we face daily.

This past week was another sobering reminder.

Yet again a Palestinian suicide bomber took Israeli lives-eight dead, sixty injured-on a bus in the center of Jerusalem, as the toll from such terrorist attacks nears one thousand, the proportional equivalent of 50,000 American fatalities. And the Israeli number would be far higher were it not for the extraordinary efforts of security forces to prevent, through intelligence and interception, more than 90 percent of all planned attacks.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague held a politically motivated hearing on Israel's security barrier that is expected, given the court's composition, to offer an advisory opinion in favor of the Palestinians and refer the matter back to the United Nations, fertile ground for Israel-bashing.

The current issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine has yet another article on the difficulties faced by many "frightened, angry, and dispirited" Jews in France, including a description of an incident that occurred while an American Jewish Committee delegation was visiting last month. A prominent Jewish singer named Shirel was performing in the eastern town of Macon in the presence of Bernadette Chirac, the First Lady, when a group of French Arab youths began chanting "Death to the Jews." Sadly, the chant itself is nothing new these days, but the fact that the presence of Madame Chirac did not deter the youngsters reveals the depth of the problem, both for France's large Jewish community and for French society as a whole.

And Mel Gibson's deeply troubling new film, a direct challenge to the liberalizing spirit of the Second Vatican Council, opened in thousands of cinemas across the country and appears headed, for reasons worthy of examination at another time, for box-office success. That's bad enough. Even worse, as the film makes its way overseas, there could be more problems. In countries where the Jewish communities are small and the web of Christian-Jewish cooperation not nearly as well developed as here, the level of Jewish anxiety is likely to be even higher. And it's very possible that Arab countries will use the film to show Jews in the worst possible light. Remember how, in May 2001, the Syrian president, in the presence of Pope John Paul II, reawakened the deicide charge.

In thirty years of communal service, I can't recall a more unsettling, unnerving, and unpredictable period, and it's not as if the past three decades were all milk and honey. In my frequent meetings with Jewish audiences, whether in synagogues, homes, schools and colleges, or organizational settings, it's clear that people are worried, more so than they have been in a very long time.

Everything seems to be happening at once, they note, and it's almost too much to process-Gibson's film, dangers to Jews in Europe, security threats, suicide bombings, vilification of Israel, fiery anti-Semitic rhetoric in the Islamic world, and, increasingly, anecdotal stories of anti-Jewish comments or incidents in their own communities.

Just in the last few weeks, one New Jersey grandmother told me that her five-year-old grandson had come to visit her after school, but without the kippah he normally wears. When she asked why, he told her that he had learned that "some people don't like us" and therefore it was better to take off the skullcap outside of school.

At a high school sports event in Westchester, a Jewish player for one team, the son of friends, was taunted with the "k" word by players on the other team. Meanwhile, a Long Island resident who works on Wall Street told me the other evening that he has become much more low-key about his Jewish identity and support for Israel at work because he "senses hostility." And parents of college-bound kids wonder aloud what their children might face on campus as Jews and whether they'll know how to deal with potentially troublesome situations.

Given this state of affairs, it may seem a bit of a stretch to introduce some counterbalancing news. Surely there will be those who wonder if I've taken leave of my senses or become hopelessly woolly-headed. Neither is the case, to the best of my knowledge at least, but it's important precisely at this moment in time, when there may be a temptation to yield to despair, to remind ourselves that the current picture is not unremittingly bleak. And perhaps this will provide a measure of hope that we are far from being alone or defenseless.

First, it was in 1654, exactly 350 years ago, that Jews arrived here, in what was then called New Amsterdam. They came from Recife, Brazil, fleeing the extension of the Portuguese Inquisition to that part of the world. The story of the ensuing three-and-a-half centuries simply has no precedent in Jewish history. We have evolved to become the freest, most successful, most integrated, most prosperous, and most influential Diaspora Jewish community ever.

To say the least, we have received a great deal from this country-unparalleled freedom, opportunity, acceptance, and equality. In turn, we have contributed mightily to America's growth and development in virtually every sphere imaginable. We should not pass up the upcoming opportunity to celebrate this landmark anniversary with unreserved joy and gratitude.

Second, there are signs everywhere of American Jewish energy and vitality. Jews who care about being Jewish, more mindful than ever of the dangers to the Jewish future posed by assimilation and eventual disappearance, are intensifying their involvement and commitment. The evidence is everywhere-in day schools, camps, synagogues, universities, community centers, new groupings, publications, the Internet, you name it. The result in the years ahead may be a community slightly smaller than today, but still more vibrant, literate, and engaged.

Third, we live in the single most powerful and dynamic nation in the world. This counts for something.

America continues to stand tall and proud as a beacon of hope and freedom. America is uniquely positioned to assist Israel in its quest for security and peace. America maintains a special relationship with Israel unlike any other country's ties with the Jewish state. America is prepared to use its power of veto in the UN Security Council, even when it may be a minority of one, to block anti-Israel resolutions. America is prepared to speak out on the dangers of global anti-Semitism while some other countries would rather look the other way or bury their heads in the sand. America is prepared to walk out of a UN-sponsored conference on racism in Durban when it turns into a hate fest. And America is prepared to use its diplomatic might to protect endangered Jewish communities in far-flung places.

Fourth, despite an unprecedented campaign of terror and violence directed against it, Israel's will both to defend itself and to carry on with daily life remains unshakable. It is, in fact, a powerfully inspiring story.

When one thinks about what Israelis are shouldering-the defense burden, the narrow margin for error, the elusive search for peace, the danger of suicide bombings anywhere and everywhere, the microscopic and often unsympathetic scrutiny of the international media, automatic majorities arrayed against them in international organizations, a tourism meltdown, economic travails, and domestic fault lines-the miracle of this country and its successes to date boggles the mind. A recent visit to Israel was another welcome reminder of a democratic country unbowed, unbent, and determined to live life to its fullest, even as it grapples with a never-ending stream of challenges.

Fifth, there have been some rather noteworthy changes in this tumultuous region.

For the foreseeable future, at least, Iraq as a regional threat is out of the picture. That's no small feat. After all, this was a country openly calling for Israel's elimination, which provided hefty financial payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and launched thirty-nine Scud missiles at Israel in the 1991 Gulf War.

So, too, at least in large measure, is Afghanistan, which under Taliban rule was a haven for terrorist groups, including, of course, Al-Qaeda. The Taliban have been removed from government and wide swaths of the country, if not entirely from the Afghan-Pakistani border region.

Libya appears to have undergone a change of heart, sobered, no doubt, by the fate of Saddam Hussein, and the interception of equipment headed for Tripoli's fledgling nuclear weapons program.

Syria continues to talk tough, but finds itself in an unenviable strategic position. Turkey, to its north, is close to the United States and Israel, and will not soon forget Syria's harboring of anti-Turkish Kurdish terrorist groups not that long ago. Iraq, to its east and southeast, is now occupied by 100,000 American soldiers. Jordan, to the south, is pro-American. Israel, to the southwest, sits atop the Golan Heights with a clear view of Damascus. And Syria's longtime and indefensible occupation of Lebanon is finally getting some scrutiny from the international community.

Iran poses the greatest threat in the region, but two recent developments bear noting. There can be no doubt about Iran's intention to develop nuclear weapons. Much in this regard has been unearthed in recent months with the help of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). While the United States and Europe may not entirely see eye-to-eye on the proper policy response, there is no longer any significant disagreement on the intelligence assessment, which itself is a major step forward. Further, the Iranian elections held earlier this month have revealed the true nature of the regime, shattering the false distinction that many stubbornly clung to between a "reformist" president and the repressive mullahs. Until now, Europe in particular was pinning its hopes on President Mohammad Khatami to bring about internal change. A new approach is required, which provides another chance for Europe and the United States to forge a common plan.

It turns out that Pakistan, or more specifically the country's top nuclear expert, A.Q. Khan, and those who supported and protected him, were actively sharing nuclear technology with at least three nations, the very nations dubbed the "axis of evil" by President Bush-North Korea, Iran, and Libya. This ominous trade has been exposed and, if we are to believe news accounts, ended. Further, Khan is reportedly revealing to interrogators information about his global dealings, including facilitators in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. Despite the obvious damage already done, with this data in hand, considerable progress can be achieved in the race to deny rogue states weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.

And not least, the sustained post-9/11 focus on terrorist funding from Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states, training, indoctrination, and state sponsorship has had some effect, though obviously not nearly enough, on the ability of groups in the region to operate effectively.

Sixth, the implosion of the Soviet Union and the demise of the Warsaw Pact continue to have overwhelmingly positive reverberations. While Jewish life was largely snuffed out in the Cold War and anti-Semitic campaigns took place in several eastern-bloc countries-notably the USSR, Czechoslovakia, and Poland-Israel's enemies found practically limitless diplomatic, political, and military support.

Fifteen new countries have emerged in place of the defunct USSR, some more democratic than others, some closely allied to the United States. Jewish communities have been reborn throughout these countries, and signs of communal life abound. Relations with Israel have been established and in some cases are flourishing, including with several predominately Muslim nations.

And in Central Europe today, in stark contrast to the situation just twenty years ago, Israel now has some of its closest friends anywhere, including Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, and the Baltic states. Several of these countries will shortly be joining the EU, where their pro-Israel voices hopefully will be heard. Moreover, each of these countries seeks ties with the larger Jewish world and is also witnessing the revitalization of long dormant Jewish communities.

Seventh, I alluded to Israel's ties with Turkey. Indeed, this is one of the most important developments for Israel in recent years, not least in the military-to-military sphere. It also serves as a model of Israel's ability to establish a close relationship with a predominately Muslim country. When a new Turkish government took office in 2002, concern was expressed that its pro-Muslim sympathies, in contrast to the fiercely secular nature of many other political parties, might damage the bilateral relationship, but this has not proved the case.

Speaking of allies, Israel's link with India, which has skyrocketed in the past twelve years, is another key factor in Jerusalem's global positioning. Israelis joke that India sought the tie so it could boast that the combined Indo-Israeli population constitutes one-fifth of the world's population!

India's booming economy, vast potential, and shared strategic concerns with Israel create a common agenda and a mutually beneficial working link.

Israel's other important ties shouldn't be ignored either, such as with Australia, Britain, Canada, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and, above all, Germany, not to mention the Pacific island nations, which are often Israel's most stalwart allies in the UN (apart from the United States), and Costa Rica and El Salvador, whose embassies are in Jerusalem. Finally, while Israel maintains open or discreet contacts with a number of Arab countries, its relationship to date with Jordan is in a category all its own and therefore deserves special mention.

Eighth, the countries of Western Europe, however late in the day, are waking up to the danger of anti-Semitism. It took longer than it should have, but there's growing recognition of the need for decisive action, particularly in France. Various conferences have recently taken place, political leaders are speaking out with greater frequency and clarity, and law enforcement and judicial authorities appear to be stepping up their efforts. There is also increased monitoring of what's being beamed into European countries via satellite from the Arab world and what's being preached in mosques and taught in Islamic schools on European soil.

Moreover, there is now greater understanding in Europe of what some Jews have been saying from the onset of this current wave of anti-Semitism, namely that this should not be seen as an exclusively Jewish problem. Attacks on Jews are nothing less than assaults on Europe and its value system.

The multiple challenges faced by European countries with sizable and growing Muslim populations have no easy answers. Nor should anyone believe that the surge of anti-Semitism can be dealt with by a few well-chosen words from a politician's lips or an occasional prison sentence. But at long last a slumbering Europe is opening its eyes and seeing before it a problem that is both serious and unlikely to disappear on its own. In the scheme of things, that must be labeled progress.

Ninth, even as we concern ourselves with possible fallout from the Gibson film, we mustn't lose sight of the remarkable progress achieved in Christian-Jewish relations during the past fifty years, both with the Catholic Church and major Protestant denominations. In fact, it's no exaggeration to say that more progress has been made in Christian-Jewish relations in the past five decades than in the previous 1,500 years.

We have friends in the Christian world who don't want to see backsliding by their churches in attitudes toward Jews and they oppose Gibson's whole retrograde approach to current theology and teaching.

In other words, we are not alone in this battle. As but one example, read the op-ed by Father John Pawlikowski of the Catholic Theological Union in the Baltimore Sun ("The Poison in 'The Passion,'" February 25).

And tenth, despite our small numbers relative to the world's population, the Jewish voices still count in corridors of power and decision-making circles, and not just in the United States. Governments and other key institutions often consider the Jewish dimension as they deliberate policy. They may respect a Jewish viewpoint, they may worry about damage to their image, especially in the United States, or they may simply believe entrenched stereotypes of Jews as vastly more powerful than our numbers alone would suggest.

While we may not always succeed in our efforts, this image gives us a fighting chance to make our case, and that's a far cry from the powerlessness we experienced not so long ago in our history, with all its catastrophic consequences.

There they are-my list of ten factors, to which others could surely be added, that we ought to keep in mind these days. They might serve as an additional dollop of confidence to get us through this tumultuous period.

And what exactly is it that we should be doing? Three basic things, I believe.

Each of us has the capacity to do more. I'm a great believer in the power of individual initiative, creativity, and inspiration. Each of us has strengths. We should play to them as we ask ourselves how we can best help enhance understanding of Israel, combat anti-Semitism, and strengthen interfaith fellowship in our communities and beyond.

In addition to our individual actions, when we come together in groups, we leverage our voice and our reach. That's why organizations matter. But all organizations are not qualitatively equal, even if they share a commitment to Jewish well-being, any more than all colleges and universities are identical because providing an education is their primary objective. Through organizations with access to top leaders and savoir faire in dealing with complex issues-like the American Jewish Committee-our views can be expressed most effectively.

Plant for the future. Recent events should remind us again of the long haul we face to eliminate anti-Semitism and achieve peace and security for Israel. That's all the more reason why we must prepare our children and grandchildren for what lies ahead, starting in the home. But it must be done thoughtfully. Frightening children is not the most effective way. Rather, it's incumbent on us to inculcate in them pride in being Jewish, awareness of the vast riches of Jewish civilization, and connection to Jews everywhere, from Israel to Argentina to France.

In Ecclesiastes it is written, "To everything there is a season."

This is a season to remember our blessings.

It is a season to face our challenges squarely, courageously, intelligently, and in concert with our friends.

It is a season to recall that Jews have always been animated by hope, a belief that human action can make the world more just and harmonious.

And it is a season to remind ourselves, as Rabbi Tarfon taught us in the Sayings of the Fathers, that while we may not be required to complete the work, neither are we free to desist from it.

Once upon a time, Chappaqua was an unknown northern Westchester town, often confused in people's minds with either Chautauqua or Chappaquiddick. No longer. Ever since an ex-president and his wife, now the senator from New York, unexpectedly moved here, the place has become plenty well known. What hasn't changed, though, is the beauty and tranquility of the area.

That makes it all the more jarring, on a quiet weekend day, to contemplate the world in which we live. From my desk, looking out at tree tops framed by snow-covered hills, it's hard to imagine the complex and often ugly realities which we face daily.

This past week was another sobering reminder.

Yet again a Palestinian suicide bomber took Israeli lives-eight dead, sixty injured-on a bus in the center of Jerusalem, as the toll from such terrorist attacks nears one thousand, the proportional equivalent of 50,000 American fatalities. And the Israeli number would be far higher were it not for the extraordinary efforts of security forces to prevent, through intelligence and interception, more than 90 percent of all planned attacks.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague held a politically motivated hearing on Israel's security barrier that is expected, given the court's composition, to offer an advisory opinion in favor of the Palestinians and refer the matter back to the United Nations, fertile ground for Israel-bashing.

The current issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine has yet another article on the difficulties faced by many "frightened, angry, and dispirited" Jews in France, including a description of an incident that occurred while an American Jewish Committee delegation was visiting last month. A prominent Jewish singer named Shirel was performing in the eastern town of Macon in the presence of Bernadette Chirac, the First Lady, when a group of French Arab youths began chanting "Death to the Jews." Sadly, the chant itself is nothing new these days, but the fact that the presence of Madame Chirac did not deter the youngsters reveals the depth of the problem, both for France's large Jewish community and for French society as a whole.

And Mel Gibson's deeply troubling new film, a direct challenge to the liberalizing spirit of the Second Vatican Council, opened in thousands of cinemas across the country and appears headed, for reasons worthy of examination at another time, for box-office success. That's bad enough. Even worse, as the film makes its way overseas, there could be more problems. In countries where the Jewish communities are small and the web of Christian-Jewish cooperation not nearly as well developed as here, the level of Jewish anxiety is likely to be even higher. And it's very possible that Arab countries will use the film to show Jews in the worst possible light. Remember how, in May 2001, the Syrian president, in the presence of Pope John Paul II, reawakened the deicide charge.

In thirty years of communal service, I can't recall a more unsettling, unnerving, and unpredictable period, and it's not as if the past three decades were all milk and honey. In my frequent meetings with Jewish audiences, whether in synagogues, homes, schools and colleges, or organizational settings, it's clear that people are worried, more so than they have been in a very long time.

Everything seems to be happening at once, they note, and it's almost too much to process-Gibson's film, dangers to Jews in Europe, security threats, suicide bombings, vilification of Israel, fiery anti-Semitic rhetoric in the Islamic world, and, increasingly, anecdotal stories of anti-Jewish comments or incidents in their own communities.

Just in the last few weeks, one New Jersey grandmother told me that her five-year-old grandson had come to visit her after school, but without the kippah he normally wears. When she asked why, he told her that he had learned that "some people don't like us" and therefore it was better to take off the skullcap outside of school.

At a high school sports event in Westchester, a Jewish player for one team, the son of friends, was taunted with the "k" word by players on the other team. Meanwhile, a Long Island resident who works on Wall Street told me the other evening that he has become much more low-key about his Jewish identity and support for Israel at work because he "senses hostility." And parents of college-bound kids wonder aloud what their children might face on campus as Jews and whether they'll know how to deal with potentially troublesome situations.

Given this state of affairs, it may seem a bit of a stretch to introduce some counterbalancing news. Surely there will be those who wonder if I've taken leave of my senses or become hopelessly woolly-headed. Neither is the case, to the best of my knowledge at least, but it's important precisely at this moment in time, when there may be a temptation to yield to despair, to remind ourselves that the current picture is not unremittingly bleak. And perhaps this will provide a measure of hope that we are far from being alone or defenseless.

First, it was in 1654, exactly 350 years ago, that Jews arrived here, in what was then called New Amsterdam. They came from Recife, Brazil, fleeing the extension of the Portuguese Inquisition to that part of the world. The story of the ensuing three-and-a-half centuries simply has no precedent in Jewish history. We have evolved to become the freest, most successful, most integrated, most prosperous, and most influential Diaspora Jewish community ever.

To say the least, we have received a great deal from this country-unparalleled freedom, opportunity, acceptance, and equality. In turn, we have contributed mightily to America's growth and development in virtually every sphere imaginable. We should not pass up the upcoming opportunity to celebrate this landmark anniversary with unreserved joy and gratitude.

Second, there are signs everywhere of American Jewish energy and vitality. Jews who care about being Jewish, more mindful than ever of the dangers to the Jewish future posed by assimilation and eventual disappearance, are intensifying their involvement and commitment. The evidence is everywhere-in day schools, camps, synagogues, universities, community centers, new groupings, publications, the Internet, you name it. The result in the years ahead may be a community slightly smaller than today, but still more vibrant, literate, and engaged.

Third, we live in the single most powerful and dynamic nation in the world. This counts for something.

America continues to stand tall and proud as a beacon of hope and freedom. America is uniquely positioned to assist Israel in its quest for security and peace. America maintains a special relationship with Israel unlike any other country's ties with the Jewish state. America is prepared to use its power of veto in the UN Security Council, even when it may be a minority of one, to block anti-Israel resolutions. America is prepared to speak out on the dangers of global anti-Semitism while some other countries would rather look the other way or bury their heads in the sand. America is prepared to walk out of a UN-sponsored conference on racism in Durban when it turns into a hate fest. And America is prepared to use its diplomatic might to protect endangered Jewish communities in far-flung places.

Fourth, despite an unprecedented campaign of terror and violence directed against it, Israel's will both to defend itself and to carry on with daily life remains unshakable. It is, in fact, a powerfully inspiring story.

When one thinks about what Israelis are shouldering-the defense burden, the narrow margin for error, the elusive search for peace, the danger of suicide bombings anywhere and everywhere, the microscopic and often unsympathetic scrutiny of the international media, automatic majorities arrayed against them in international organizations, a tourism meltdown, economic travails, and domestic fault lines-the miracle of this country and its successes to date boggles the mind. A recent visit to Israel was another welcome reminder of a democratic country unbowed, unbent, and determined to live life to its fullest, even as it grapples with a never-ending stream of challenges.

Fifth, there have been some rather noteworthy changes in this tumultuous region.

For the foreseeable future, at least, Iraq as a regional threat is out of the picture. That's no small feat. After all, this was a country openly calling for Israel's elimination, which provided hefty financial payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and launched thirty-nine Scud missiles at Israel in the 1991 Gulf War.

So, too, at least in large measure, is Afghanistan, which under Taliban rule was a haven for terrorist groups, including, of course, Al-Qaeda. The Taliban have been removed from government and wide swaths of the country, if not entirely from the Afghan-Pakistani border region.

Libya appears to have undergone a change of heart, sobered, no doubt, by the fate of Saddam Hussein, and the interception of equipment headed for Tripoli's fledgling nuclear weapons program.

Syria continues to talk tough, but finds itself in an unenviable strategic position. Turkey, to its north, is close to the United States and Israel, and will not soon forget Syria's harboring of anti-Turkish Kurdish terrorist groups not that long ago. Iraq, to its east and southeast, is now occupied by 100,000 American soldiers. Jordan, to the south, is pro-American. Israel, to the southwest, sits atop the Golan Heights with a clear view of Damascus. And Syria's longtime and indefensible occupation of Lebanon is finally getting some scrutiny from the international community.

Iran poses the greatest threat in the region, but two recent developments bear noting. There can be no doubt about Iran's intention to develop nuclear weapons. Much in this regard has been unearthed in recent months with the help of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). While the United States and Europe may not entirely see eye-to-eye on the proper policy response, there is no longer any significant disagreement on the intelligence assessment, which itself is a major step forward. Further, the Iranian elections held earlier this month have revealed the true nature of the regime, shattering the false distinction that many stubbornly clung to between a "reformist" president and the repressive mullahs. Until now, Europe in particular was pinning its hopes on President Mohammad Khatami to bring about internal change. A new approach is required, which provides another chance for Europe and the United States to forge a common plan.

It turns out that Pakistan, or more specifically the country's top nuclear expert, A.Q. Khan, and those who supported and protected him, were actively sharing nuclear technology with at least three nations, the very nations dubbed the "axis of evil" by President Bush-North Korea, Iran, and Libya. This ominous trade has been exposed and, if we are to believe news accounts, ended. Further, Khan is reportedly revealing to interrogators information about his global dealings, including facilitators in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. Despite the obvious damage already done, with this data in hand, considerable progress can be achieved in the race to deny rogue states weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.

And not least, the sustained post-9/11 focus on terrorist funding from Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states, training, indoctrination, and state sponsorship has had some effect, though obviously not nearly enough, on the ability of groups in the region to operate effectively.

Sixth, the implosion of the Soviet Union and the demise of the Warsaw Pact continue to have overwhelmingly positive reverberations. While Jewish life was largely snuffed out in the Cold War and anti-Semitic campaigns took place in several eastern-bloc countries-notably the USSR, Czechoslovakia, and Poland-Israel's enemies found practically limitless diplomatic, political, and military support.

Fifteen new countries have emerged in place of the defunct USSR, some more democratic than others, some closely allied to the United States. Jewish communities have been reborn throughout these countries, and signs of communal life abound. Relations with Israel have been established and in some cases are flourishing, including with several predominately Muslim nations.

And in Central Europe today, in stark contrast to the situation just twenty years ago, Israel now has some of its closest friends anywhere, including Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, and the Baltic states. Several of these countries will shortly be joining the EU, where their pro-Israel voices hopefully will be heard. Moreover, each of these countries seeks ties with the larger Jewish world and is also witnessing the revitalization of long dormant Jewish communities.

Seventh, I alluded to Israel's ties with Turkey. Indeed, this is one of the most important developments for Israel in recent years, not least in the military-to-military sphere. It also serves as a model of Israel's ability to establish a close relationship with a predominately Muslim country. When a new Turkish government took office in 2002, concern was expressed that its pro-Muslim sympathies, in contrast to the fiercely secular nature of many other political parties, might damage the bilateral relationship, but this has not proved the case.

Speaking of allies, Israel's link with India, which has skyrocketed in the past twelve years, is another key factor in Jerusalem's global positioning. Israelis joke that India sought the tie so it could boast that the combined Indo-Israeli population constitutes one-fifth of the world's population!

India's booming economy, vast potential, and shared strategic concerns with Israel create a common agenda and a mutually beneficial working link.

Israel's other important ties shouldn't be ignored either, such as with Australia, Britain, Canada, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and, above all, Germany, not to mention the Pacific island nations, which are often Israel's most stalwart allies in the UN (apart from the United States), and Costa Rica and El Salvador, whose embassies are in Jerusalem. Finally, while Israel maintains open or discreet contacts with a number of Arab countries, its relationship to date with Jordan is in a category all its own and therefore deserves special mention.

Eighth, the countries of Western Europe, however late in the day, are waking up to the danger of anti-Semitism. It took longer than it should have, but there's growing recognition of the need for decisive action, particularly in France. Various conferences have recently taken place, political leaders are speaking out with greater frequency and clarity, and law enforcement and judicial authorities appear to be stepping up their efforts. There is also increased monitoring of what's being beamed into European countries via satellite from the Arab world and what's being preached in mosques and taught in Islamic schools on European soil.

Moreover, there is now greater understanding in Europe of what some Jews have been saying from the onset of this current wave of anti-Semitism, namely that this should not be seen as an exclusively Jewish problem. Attacks on Jews are nothing less than assaults on Europe and its value system.

The multiple challenges faced by European countries with sizable and growing Muslim populations have no easy answers. Nor should anyone believe that the surge of anti-Semitism can be dealt with by a few well-chosen words from a politician's lips or an occasional prison sentence. But at long last a slumbering Europe is opening its eyes and seeing before it a problem that is both serious and unlikely to disappear on its own. In the scheme of things, that must be labeled progress.

Ninth, even as we concern ourselves with possible fallout from the Gibson film, we mustn't lose sight of the remarkable progress achieved in Christian-Jewish relations during the past fifty years, both with the Catholic Church and major Protestant denominations. In fact, it's no exaggeration to say that more progress has been made in Christian-Jewish relations in the past five decades than in the previous 1,500 years.

We have friends in the Christian world who don't want to see backsliding by their churches in attitudes toward Jews and they oppose Gibson's whole retrograde approach to current theology and teaching.

In other words, we are not alone in this battle. As but one example, read the op-ed by Father John Pawlikowski of the Catholic Theological Union in the Baltimore Sun ("The Poison in 'The Passion,'" February 25).

And tenth, despite our small numbers relative to the world's population, the Jewish voices still count in corridors of power and decision-making circles, and not just in the United States. Governments and other key institutions often consider the Jewish dimension as they deliberate policy. They may respect a Jewish viewpoint, they may worry about damage to their image, especially in the United States, or they may simply believe entrenched stereotypes of Jews as vastly more powerful than our numbers alone would suggest.

While we may not always succeed in our efforts, this image gives us a fighting chance to make our case, and that's a far cry from the powerlessness we experienced not so long ago in our history, with all its catastrophic consequences.

There they are-my list of ten factors, to which others could surely be added, that we ought to keep in mind these days. They might serve as an additional dollop of confidence to get us through this tumultuous period.

And what exactly is it that we should be doing? Three basic things, I believe.

Each of us has the capacity to do more. I'm a great believer in the power of individual initiative, creativity, and inspiration. Each of us has strengths. We should play to them as we ask ourselves how we can best help enhance understanding of Israel, combat anti-Semitism, and strengthen interfaith fellowship in our communities and beyond.

In addition to our individual actions, when we come together in groups, we leverage our voice and our reach. That's why organizations matter. But all organizations are not qualitatively equal, even if they share a commitment to Jewish well-being, any more than all colleges and universities are identical because providing an education is their primary objective. Through organizations with access to top leaders and savoir faire in dealing with complex issues-like the American Jewish Committee-our views can be expressed most effectively.

Plant for the future. Recent events should remind us again of the long haul we face to eliminate anti-Semitism and achieve peace and security for Israel. That's all the more reason why we must prepare our children and grandchildren for what lies ahead, starting in the home. But it must be done thoughtfully. Frightening children is not the most effective way. Rather, it's incumbent on us to inculcate in them pride in being Jewish, awareness of the vast riches of Jewish civilization, and connection to Jews everywhere, from Israel to Argentina to France.

In Ecclesiastes it is written, "To everything there is a season."

This is a season to remember our blessings.

It is a season to face our challenges squarely, courageously, intelligently, and in concert with our friends.

It is a season to recall that Jews have always been animated by hope, a belief that human action can make the world more just and harmonious.

And it is a season to remind ourselves, as Rabbi Tarfon taught us in the Sayings of the Fathers, that while we may not be required to complete the work, neither are we free to desist from it.

Date: 2/29/2004
Copyright 2013/2014 AJC