March 8, 2012

It was a week filled with impassioned leaders and strong words. The annual meeting of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), which took place in the nation’s capital this past weekend, brought together more than 13,000 people, including grassroots pro-Israel activists and high-level public officials and decision makers. President Obama was one of the first to address the crowd, taking the podium to reassure those gathered of his commitment to a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, and determination to stop Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

While Obama’s pledge was well received, the crowd really seemed to be waiting for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who spoke the following day. Throughout his statements, Netanyahu repeatedly asserted one principle: Despite the strong, enduring nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship, Israel must reserve the right to defend herself as she sees fit. “The purpose of the Jewish state is to secure the Jewish future,” he said. “That is why Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. We deeply appreciate the great alliance between our two countries. But when it comes to Israel’s survival, we must always remain the masters of our fate.”

These are the words of a man who is sensitive to political realities, determined to maintain the strong ties between two historic allies, but, above all, determined to protect his country and his people from the hateful radical Islamists of Iran and elsewhere. It is a huge responsibility, and one can only imagine how it must weigh on the Prime Minister. But it is a responsibility he discharges admirably, with great passion, intelligence, and conviction.

Everyone at the conference has now returned home — inspired by the words, strengthened in their resolve to support Israel. The Jews in attendance join their friends and family today in celebrating Purim, a festive holiday that recalls the Jewish people’s deliverance from their enemies in ancient times. We mark this occasion by, among other things, reading the biblical account of the Purim story from the book of Esther. In that story Mordecai tells Queen Esther, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

As I reread these words this year, I know I will think of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Surely he is a leader for Israel “for such a time as this,” when existential threats to the Jewish people are as real and pressing as they have ever been. May God continue to give the Prime Minister strength, wisdom, and courage as he seeks to work together with the U.S. to ensure a peaceful and secure Israel. And may we all take comfort in knowing that no matter what, Israel is never truly alone in “securing the Jewish future,” as “he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps” (Psalm 121:4, NLT).

With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein