January 20, 2011

The New Year promises to be tumultuous for Jewish communities around the world. We recently saw this powerfully illustrated in the northern African country of Tunisia, where Tunisian President Ben Ali fled the country in the wake of rioting against his dictatorial rule. With the government up for grabs, Jewish people in Tunisia have been on high alert, fearing for their future in this country where Muslims make up the overwhelming majority of the population.

Nissim Taito, director of the World Organization of Tunisian Jews, highlighted the dangers facing this small Jewish community in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Arutz Sheva. "If a democracy results from this coup then all of us will profit — the Jews, the Arabs, and the democratic world," he said. "But if, God forbid, Islamists take over, you do not have to be very smart to understand how serious it will be for everyone, especially the Jewish community, which is small, but numbers more than 1,500 persons."

As the scope of the unrest in Tunisia became evident, Israeli officials went into action to help Jews caught in the crossfire. On Saturday, 21 Israeli tourists were rescued from Tunisia. Israeli officials are closely monitoring the situation, and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) — one of The Fellowship's partner organizations funded through our On Wings of Eagles program — is offering immediate assistance to those eager to make aliyah to Israel. Recently, we received word that twenty Tunisian Jews have already taken the opportunity to come to Israel to escape the upheaval and violence.

The situation in Tunisia underscores to the rest of the world what Jews have long known — it is only in Israel, the biblical homeland of the Jewish people, that we are truly free to live as Jews. This is just one of the reasons why The Fellowship's On Wings of Eagles program is so critically important. Bringing Jews to Israel is, of course, the fulfillment of biblical prophecies made thousands of years ago. Yet, in this age of political upheaval and rampant anti-Semitism, it is also crucial for Jews' physical survival.

Of course, the nation of Israel faces threats as well. Last week, Lebanon — Israel's northern neighbor — saw its government collapse as members of the terrorist group Hezbollah resigned from Prime Minister Saad Hariri's cabinet. Hezbollah will undoubtedly try to capitalize on the chaos and tighten its hold on this troubled country. Israel has put its troops in the northern part of the nation on high alert in case the turmoil erupts into violence. This is only one of the many challenges the Jewish state faces in its ongoing struggle for peace and security.

Still, I believe we must remain optimistic about Israel's future. Israel is equipped with more than just military strength, technical know-how, and wise leadership — though all those are crucial to her survival. Still, my hope for Israel is based not just on these, but on God's promise, as shown in the biblical verse: "I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night" (Isaiah 62:6). Time and again in God's holy word He speaks of His love for His people, and His eternal commitment to their protection. It is this commitment, I believe, that will see Israel through to a brighter future — no matter how her enemies conspire against her.

My friends, today let us recommit ourselves to supporting aliyah for Jews in Tunisia, and indeed anywhere in the world where they are under threat. Let us pray for an end to the vicious plague of anti-Semitism that grips the world. And let us pray for the day when God's people — and the entire world — are blessed with His most precious gift of shalom, peace.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein