At the recent annual DATA dinner, we, together with nearly 650 participants in attendance, presented Mr. Glenn Beck with the prestigious DATA “Defender of Israel” award for his steadfast defense of Israel.
Many have asked me about the decision, on the part of DATA, a rabbinical organization, to present an award to a Gentile who expresses very strong political views on the extreme right of the spectrum.
My response is that we are living in a world very hostile to Israel and its detractors are many, in the media and in governments around the world. Israel’s strong supporters are becoming, unfortunately, fewer and farther between. I strongly feel we need to embrace those who are our true friends; to look beyond what their other political views may be and focus on our common ground, the fundamental right for Israel to exist with security and safety.
The theme of this year’s dinner was our connection to, and support of, Israel and how it is the center of Torah in the world. It made sense to extend an honor to a man who has chosen to be in the trenches of the PR battle to make sure Israel continues to exist. Especially as a Gentile, Beck has the opportunity to make his voice heard and to make the case for Israel in a way that no Jew could ever do. For that the Jewish people owe him a debt of gratitude which we expressed last week.
I would like to comment on a couple of very meaningful points Beck made that evening. He said several things which inspired the largely Jewish audience to take pause and reconsider their connection to their own Judaism.
Beck spent much of his talk showing how the founders of this country had the teachings of Torah and the Jewish people at the forefront of their thoughts. It was the teachings of Torah which forged the foundation of this great country, and a Jew who actually financed the American Revolution.
Without the Nation of Israel there would simply not be a United States of America.
Talking about the Holocaust and his own visit with his family to Auschwitz, he put the challenge to his family what they would do in the face of such tyranny. Would they have the courage to stand up and be counted among the righteous of the nations of the world who would make a stand and risk their own lives to protect the innocent Jews, should the situation again arise?
He put the challenge back upon the Jews in the audience and of the generation. What are we all truly doing to ensure the future of the Jewish people?
Beck spoke with great reverence for our Torah and the scholars of Torah, whom he and the members of his faith have so much to learn from. He quipped that in just a few sessions with Rabbi Bentzi Epstein he has learned more than years of study from his own sources of religious knowledge!
To end his talk, which he delivered with great humility and abundant passion, Beck remarked that this evening he is being presented with the Defender of Israel award. He then reached into the lectern, pulled out a Torah/Chumash and, with great emotion, exclaimed the he is not the Defender of Israel; rather, this (the Chumash), “this is the Defender of Israel!”
Besides bringing together many wonderful Gentile supporters of Israel and the Jewish people within our community, the effects of Beck’s talk have been fascinating. To summarize remarks that I have heard from many, I’ll quote the remarks of a young professional Jewish woman in attendance that evening, who approached one of our longtime students, a co-worker in one of the key Federation-supported local institutions. She said that, as a social liberal, and a Reform Jew, she initially felt very uncomfortable sitting at a dinner to be addressed by Beck. After hearing him, however, she walked away with a new level of Jewish pride and the pride of her Jewish heritage.
She now is taking a new look about what she’s doing for herself Jewishly and for the Jewish people.
Sometimes we need to hear about our greatness and the prominence of our rich heritage from others to realize ourselves what we had. Like the story of Moses and Yisro (Jethro), where the Jews learned from him, a Gentile coming from the outside, the greatness of the miracles which they had experienced and the immensity of the Revelation at Sinai, we need to listen to our friends around us and hear their words as a wake-up call to stand up and become proud, committed members of the Jewish people.