What's changed in the last 60 years is that our Land of Israel has reopened as a destination for Jewish masses, a significant change from centuries past. Unlike the various communities of European Jews 500 years ago who were exiled en masse from their homes, going to Israel is an option for brethren of ours who suddenly find themselves out of a home.
That a Jew would choose to go elsewhere during a time of exile is not surprising. Yes, Israel is our Land but it is not an easy place to live. In addition, family or cultural ties might lead a Jew elsewhere instead of home. That's one reason I live in Canada, for example. The idea of a Jew fleeing to North America instead of Israel is disappointing but understandable.
What I've never understood well is the idea that Jews want to go back to a place they've been kicked out of. Yes, I know our history is replete with those kinds of examples as well. Pretty much every western European country kicked out its Jews at one point or another and except for Spain those communities were eventually rebuilt. But again, where else did they have to go at the time?
Seventy years ago the world watched as the Nazis, y"sh, and their allies destroyed Jewish life in central and eastern Europe. In the aftermath of World War 2 there was little to nothing left of the established communities that had been there a few years earlier. Yet even on this burnt soil a new crop grew. Germany and Poland have two of the fastest growing Jewish communities in the world and there is even a limited revival going on in Russia of all places.
Yet even this I can comprehend to an extent. Today's central and eastern Europe are different from 70 years ago. Anti-semitism, while still prominent, is not at 1930's levels and the current wave of secular post-nationalism sweeping over the continent seems content to keep it where it is. Germany and Poland were once lands of misery for us, now they are allies of Israel and sources of economic opportunity for Jews living there.
What I cannot understand is those folks who, having been exiled from their "home" countries insist on returning there when the situation on the ground vis a vis the local Jewish community has not changed:
Had this gentleman stayed in Italy, it would have made sense. A move to Israel would have been preferable but going to New York or Montreal would also have been understandable. Exactly what was he expecting in returning to Libya?
How many times in history does the same thing have to happen? The Jew fights for his country, the Jew builds up his country, the Jew sacrifices for his country and then when victory is achieved he is still branded as "the other"?
There is only one Land where this does not happen, where the Jew is nto the outsider. If Gerbi wasn't happy in Italy but wanted a Mediterranean climate, he should have moved east to Israel. Perhaps he yet may.
After the ugly spectacle of the grisly execution of Gaddafi, the world cheered when Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the chairman of the National Transitional Council, declared his country’s liberation on Sunday. But pro-democracy advocates of the Arab Spring were concerned at word that Islamic shariah law, not Western-style democracy, would serve as the “basic source” of legislation in the country.
In his historic speech Saturday in Benghazi, Jalil also urged Libyans to show “patience, honesty and tolerance” and shun hatred as Libyans look to the future.
He then knelt to offer a brief prayer of thanks. “This revolution was looked after by God to achieve victory,” he told the crowd.
And yet, for another native son, there is still no room in Libya for the prayers of the other sons of Abraham.
Dr. David Gerbi is a native of Tripoli, who, at the age of 12, was exiled, along with 38,000 other Jews, after Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Gerbi may have left Libya for Italy, but Libya never left David. During two live interviews with him, I learned about his herculean efforts over the years to reconnect Jewish exiles with their native land. This included an ill-fated trip to Tripoli during the Gaddafi regime, which led to his arrest.
After the outbreak of the uprising against Gaddafi, Gerbi hooked up with the rebel forces of the National Transitional Council, the group that earned critical NATO backing and key financial support from democracies with the promise of a moderate Muslim society that would respect the norms of human rights.
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, Dr. Gerbi decided to test the promise of religious tolerance by clearing the garbage surrounding Tripoli’s long-unused Dar Bishi Synagogue. “I cannot pray under the holy banner of ‘Shema Yisrael’ (Judaism’s most important declaration of faith) amidst the filth,” he said.
But when he returned the next morning, locals warned him about threats from extremists and urged him to flee. Instead of leaving, Gerbi remained at his hotel, hoping to convince the transitional government to allow him to restore the synagogue and the Jewish cemetery.
Last week we spoke again and David described a harrowing Yom Kippur, where the threatening chants of protesters outside his hotel 11 stories below echoed throughout the day. “No place for Jews or Zionists,” some declared. Eventually, a senior Italian diplomat convinced Gerbi to evacuate “liberated” Tripoli on an Italian military plane.
The outcome of David Gerbi’s quest for religious tolerance will go a long way to inform us just how different the new Libya will actually be from the dark days of the Gaddafi era. We hope Canadians will encourage Libya’s new leadership to go beyond words and walk the walk on the path towards true tolerance by symbolically restoring the respect for, and dignity of, their former Jewish neighbours.