It is written in tractate Berachot page 5B of the Talmud that "a captive cannot release himself from prison."
There are many reasons given for this phenomenon. A prisoner is often incapable of effecting change on his own behalf. He may be overcome with grief and closed from supporters or paralyzed by fear of retaliation from his captors. One may suggest that the prisoner lacks the proper information to effect change, and lives on perceived hope alone, while an outsider may be better informed and unfettered and therefore able to respond and act accordingly.
I have visited the people and land of Israel many times since the announcement of the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif and since the trial balloon announcements of the division of Jerusalem. These visits have allowed me the opportunity to meet with Israelis from all walks of life — people in government, rabbinic leaders, executives in religious organizations, and the "amcha," the people on the street.
Many Israelis feel like prisoners in their own country. They do not know what to believe or whom to trust. Religious organizations are concerned that if they challenge government decisions, they may lose aid from Jewish organizations and crucial government subsidies. This leads to feelings of disillusionment, betrayal, and despair. Many want to react but do not know how.
"A captive cannot release himself from prison" seems to fit our brethren in Israel, today.
Diaspora Jews, the outsiders, are here to help. On a recent visit to Israel, I noticed the overwhelming belief that a division of Jerusalem was not possible. I shared with them the perspective from outside Israel that a division of Jerusalem was to the world a viable option. I encouraged the Israelis to make it known that dividing Jerusalem is unacceptable to Jews both inside and outside the country. They did just that.
Together, two groups, of insiders and outsiders — the office of the Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel and the National Council of Young Israel — called upon synagogues worldwide to dedicate a Shabbat, the weekend of January 18-19, in honor of Jerusalem. This Shabbat was a time to pray for the unity of Jerusalem, discuss the current situation, and act on behalf of a united Jerusalem. Hundreds of synagogues in the United States and Israel participated. Through American efforts, the chief Ashkenazic and Sephardic rabbis have issued critical statements calling for Jews across Israel and the diaspora to take action against this possible divide. It is important that Jews around the world continue to voice their opinions and make sure that the Israeli leadership hears them loud and clear.
Many of us have met with the senior Israeli rabbinic leadership from across the religious spectrum. We have shared with them what we perceive are the realities of the situation, the security concerns of American and Israeli experts, the concerns of so many Americans who send their children to Israel to study and live, and they have listened. I believe we, diaspora Jewry, have influenced their view of the situation.
There are many people in Israel, Israelis and Americans, who upon seeing the activities of individual American organizations have become active themselves. Just recently, the One Jerusalem organization, under the leadership of former refusenik and Knesset Member Natan Sharansky, announced a strategic alliance with the American-based Coordinating Council on Jerusalem to keep Jerusalem united under Jewish sovereignty.
"A captive cannot release himself from prison," but those of us on the outside, working with those in Israel, hopefully can and must and, God willing, will succeed.
But are we really outsiders?
We all have family, friends, and associates in Israel, often in Jerusalem. We speak for them. We have all yearned, prayed, financially supported, and in our own way fought for the establishment of Israel, for the unity of Jerusalem, for the security of Israel. We have earned the right to express our opinion.
We have been told for decades, by every Israeli prime minister, by every Israeli president, by every mayor of Jerusalem, that we are one, the Jews of Israel and the diaspora. We have been told that Jerusalem, indeed all of Israel, belongs to Jews worldwide. Well, we believed you. We are one, and Jerusalem belongs to all of us. And we have the right and obligation to speak out.
We are U.S. citizens and our American government is applying pressure upon Israel. We have the right and obligation to speak out to our government.
The Israeli government, seemingly, is not listening to its own Knesset, the majority of whom are against the division of Jerusalem. Maybe it will listen to the voices of the American Jewish community. We must raise our voices loud and clear.
Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel, founded the Coordinating Council on Jerusalem.