On Oct. 6, 1973, as Jews throughout the State of Israel were engaged in the prayer and penitence that usher in Yom Kippur, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was leading 300,000 Egyptian soldiers through the ceasefire lines of the Sinai Peninsula. At the same time, Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad led a Syrian attack to recapture the Golan Heights. The Arab armies made a strong showing in the early days of the Yom Kippur war, and many Jewish lives were lost.
A little over four years later, on Nov. ‘0, 1977, Sadat stood before the Knesset in Jerusalem and said, "No one could have ever conceived that the president of the biggest Arab state, which bears the heaviest burden and the main responsibility pertaining to the cause of war and peace in the Middle East, should declare his readiness to go to the land of the adversary while we were still in a state of war."
And, less than a year after that, on Sept. 17, 1978, that state of war officially came to an end as former adversaries Sadat and Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin stood together on the lawn of the White House and signed the Camp David accords.
It was within the context of this historical reality that I read with sadness the coverage of the real estate fair held last month at Cong. Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck. The fair, aimed at providing American Jews with the opportunity to buy land in the west bank, was the latest battle on the New Jersey front of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and reactions to the program appeared strong and sincere from proponents of all sides of the issue.
But it was not the question of home purchases, land settlement, protests and counterprotests, or accusations of anti-Semitism or discrimination that led to my sadness. Rather, it was a sentiment expressed by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, the religious leader of Cong. Bnai Yeshurun, and repeated over and over in both the Jewish and secular media. In The Record’s coverage of the fair, Rabbi Pruzansky was quoted as saying, "I don’t think there is much hope for peace in my lifetime, unless the messiah comes." In the Jewish Week coverage, he was even stronger in his hopelessness, stating, "Peace is an illusion that will not come in my lifetime or that of my children, unless the messiah comes."
This disallowance of hope, is, I believe, not only historically baseless but philosophically dangerous to both the present and future of the Jewish community, particularly the pseudo-involved American Jewish community. It is much easier to refuse to negotiate with our adversaries when our adversaries are blowing up the Egged bus to Otniel instead of the New Jersey Transit bus to Manhattan. It is much easier to refuse to compromise with our adversaries when such refusals result in more pictures on a poster rather than in the deaths of our own sons and daughters. And it is much easier to write off the hope for peace in the Middle East when the continuation of war means little more than attending a protest, getting stirred up during a sermon, sending care packages to soldiers, or, if you are really committed to the cause, investing in a house that you will, most likely, never be brave, committed, or rustic enough to move into. This disallowance of hope does nothing to help our brothers and sisters in Israel, and, on the contrary, serves solely to arm those who wish to paint our community as unwilling, unconscionable, and insensitive extremists, insincere in our frequent calls to find "true partners in peace."
Rabbi Aryeh Levin often stated that God’s salvation can come, "in the twinkling of an eye." I am not sure how Rabbi Pruzansky feels about the peace treaties Israel enjoys with Egypt and Jordan, but I am pretty confident that if, in 1974, he had been asked about the chances of peace with either country, he probably would have said something to the effect of, "Peace is an illusion that will not come in my lifetime or that of my children, unless the messiah comes." And I am sure he would have felt the same way if asked about ending apartheid in South Africa before 1989, or about the future of civil rights in Mississippi if asked during the 1960s.
And he would have been wrong.
Stephen Glicksman, a developmental psychologist, lives in Teaneck.