CBS news reported that US-Israel relations have reached a “new low” after a senior government official called Prime Minister Netanyahu a “chicken**” on matters related to the comatose peace process and a “coward” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat, in an interview with The Atlantic.
A few weeks ago I visited Israel for my niece’s wedding. Driving to Ramat Gan, where the wedding was to take place, with my wife and daughter in the car, we had front row seats to the spectacle that is Israeli driving.
In fact, a joke is told of an American tourist riding in an Israeli tax. As the taxi approaches a red light, the tourist is shocked to see the driver drive right through without even slowing. Not wanting to make waves, he holds his tongue.
The trip continues without incident until they reach the next intersection. This time the light is green and to the American’s dismay the taxi comes to a grinding halt. Unable to contain himself, he asks the driver, “When you went through the red light, I didn’t say anything. But why on earth are you stopping at a green light?!”
The Israeli cab driver looks at the American as if he is deranged. “Are you crazy?!” he shouts.
The other guy has a red light. Do you want to get us killed?!”
But back in our car, we were not blazing through any red lights. Traffic had piled up and only motorcyclists were able to make any progress. Happy to be avoiding the traffic jam, many of them zig-zagged wildly through the standstill, crossing lanes without checking.
As traffic finally began to move again, I was changing lanes when a motorcycle went whizzing past. He was speeding and certainly not taking notice of the cars around him, and my car touched his motorcycle.
Furious, he cut me off, got out of his car and began yelling at me and cursing me out. For five minutes straight he shouted at me, told me I don’t know how to drive and I should take driving lessons! And on, and on… My wife and I exchanged a look and I said to her, “Welcome to Israel.”
Indeed, welcome to Israel!
Israel is not like other countries. It is at the forefront of fighting terrorism, and its citizens live with the constant threat of violence. Jews have endured thousands of years of persecution and suffering. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis put their lives on the line for their country. Thousands have died and thousands have been severely wounded.
Israelis know what danger is and they know how to defend themselves. Just walking down the street can be dangerous. The entire country is a frontline. And on top of that, Israel is constantly scrutinized by the rest of the world. They cannot make a move to protect their own citizens without being ripped to shreds by the media and foreign officials. Perhaps this is what makes Israelis so edgy, trickling down to even the driving.
And one thing Israelis are not, is “chicken**”!
In this week’s Parshah we read about Avraham, who stood up for monotheism despite the ridicule of the entire world. Everyone was against him. In fact, the original name for Jew—Ivri—comes from this Parshah. Ivri means “other side,” because Abraham was on one side and everyone else on the other. He was the only person to believe in one G-d, and even after being thrown into a blazing fire because of his beliefs, he did not waver. He was no coward.
And G-d promises Avraham, “I will bless those who bless you [Israel], and the one who curses you I will curse.” This is a timeless lesson and the message is clear: if you want to be blessed, you need to bless Israel.