Then there are the people who act like every day is their special day. Actually, they’re just special. And when birthday time comes around, everyone had better bow low in humble gratitude that we’ve been graced with these special people.
JERUSALEM - The Jewish people are marking the 60th anniversary of their national rebirth, the founding of Israel, today with the usual military flyovers, flag buntings, and televised reminiscences of aging pioneers.Special character.
But another form of celebration is planned, and its sponsors believe it says something about the national character: a three-day conference of some of the best minds from around the world on some of the biggest challenges facing humankind - and especially the Jews - in the coming decades.
Given the guest list, the topics are naturally big and ambitious, including the shift in global power from West to East (and south), nuclear proliferation, and climate change. But much of the focus will also be on topics closer to home such as Islamic extremism, the rise of Iran, and sovereignty in Jerusalem.Special challenges.
In fact, what are billed as global challenges - terrorism, Iran - seem to be somehow especially Jewish and Israeli ones. The organizers say this is not coincidental or unusual and point as an example to Hitler, who posed an enormous threat to the world but focused particularly on the Jews.
“Cataclysms always seem to affect Jews first,” remarked Stuart E. Eizenstat, a senior official in the Clinton and Carter administrations who wrote an essay that forms a basis for the conference. “Go back to the Black Plague. It was not a Jewish issue, but it had particular impact on Jews because they were blamed for it.”Special victims.
Missing from the conference will be any serious Arab representation. Political and intellectual leaders from Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian areas have been invited, but none has confirmed partly because simultaneously the Arab world will be marking Israel’s 60th anniversary as a catastrophe known as “Nakba Day,” which will involve their own conferences and demonstrations. The organizers in Jerusalem are still hoping a few will come.Arabs: Not Special. Plus, they’re busy talking about that (air quotes) Nakba thing.
Peres said the idea for him was to bring thoughtful Jews and non-Jews together in the perhaps idle hope of “making the Jews more worldly and making the world more Jewish.”Special. Making others special is admittedly an idle pursuit, but at least they can better recognize and appreciate those who are special.
One significant development of recent years that will be discussed is the shift in the relationship between Israel and diaspora Jewry. For decades, Israel was the needy child depending on contributions and support from abroad as it struggled to survive.Special needs.
Today, Israel’s Jewish population of 5.5 million is the world’s largest, just ahead of that of the United States, which is slowly declining through low birth rate and intermarriage. Israel has become the center of Jewish life and is increasingly being asked to act like the older brother to Jewish communities elsewhere.Special responsibilities.
Must we all acknowledge that Israel and the Jewish people are more special than any other country or people? What if we don’t? Does the refusal to believe this make somebody (air quotes) anti-semitic?
Whatever. I do not believe that Israel or the Jewish people are any more special than anybody else. I take people as I find them, and I resent the expectation that I believe elitist nonsense. And by the way, I resent it from wherever and whenever it comes: from people with money, from people with power, from people with influence, from fashionistas to celebrities…whatever. Israel and Jewish people are hardly the only group that takes group pride a little too far. It’s a hyped-up world we’re living in. Far too many people believe their own hype.
It doesn’t matter how nice your house is, what your religion, what car you drive, how much money you make, what your job title is, how plush your office, how great your wardrobe, how tragic your back-story. It doesn’t matter. What matters is how you treat people. That’s all that matters.
I leave you with a story from Jesus, whom I adore.
Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” “Which ones?” the man inquired. Jesus replied, ” ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’“ “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. Matthew 19:16-30