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Sunday, August 1, 2004

Me, An Extremist?

Musings #61
July 21, 2004

Me, An Extremist?

Just yesterday, I saw an old friend, a frequent visitor to Israel, who claims to be proud of preserving friendships with people he doesn’t agree with, people whose politics is very different from his own. We carefully choreograph our conversations, tip-toeing over some topics, gracefully leaping over others and teasing each other like fencers who pretend that winning is effortless.

He always calls me an extremist and alleges that if I was to appear on a panel representing American Jews living in Israel, it would be hard to find enough people to balance my extreme opinions. I consider that a strange allegation, primarily because in reality I’m not an extremist. I would call myself a purist. I see things in clear, simple lines, like an engineer, not like the vague, indistinct dots of a Monet or Sisley painting.

Once I make a life-altering decision, I go forward and don’t look back. Once I understood that being Jewish and believing in G-d demanded following religious laws, mitzvot and halachot, I began doing my best to live in accordance. A natural, logical outgrowth was the realization that I must live in Israel, in the Land of Israel. All of the Land has equal importance, and the “green line” has none. For me, living in a place in which the Bible is set is most meaningful. Shiloh fits the bill.

As a religious, Torah, Orthodox Jew, I take my “orders” from G-d, not the US, UN or even Israeli politicians. It’s all very simple, though not quite simplistic. What confuses me, is that this very same old friend was so supportive and enthusiastic when he realized that I wanted to be religious, to keep Shabbat and kashrut. For me living in Eretz Yisrael is of the same importance. After just under forty years of living as a Torah Jew, I still can’t understand how some people can be so careful and conscientious about keeping Shabbat, kashrut, prayer, modesty, Taharat Hamishpacha, regular Torah learning and more, but they stubbornly stay in Chutz La’Aretz, far from Eretz Yisrael.

How does one pray three times a day to G-d, saying and comprehending the words, but refusing to live in our Land, G-d’s Land, which he gave to us and commanded us to live in? Most of the same people who taught me to follow the laws that G-d gave us live in Chutz La’Aretz. Everyone has their reasons, their excuses. Some friends feel eaten away by guilt, regret and longing that they’re not here, and that I can understand. Sometimes we lose control of our lives, and it’s very hard to grab the reins and lead ourselves in the direction we really want.

As I try to put a positive spin on what my old friend has said, I realize that it’s really a compliment. When he claims that it would be hard to find someone to counterbalance me, it’s not because I’m extreme or fanatic, it’s because, as a religious Jew, defending my life choices and positions is easier than defending his.

Batya Medad, Shiloh

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