Below is a speech I delivered at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue in New York City to commemorate the 75th annual memorial for Ze’ev Jabotinsky on August 4, 2015.
Close your eyes – and picture Ze’ev Jabotinsky urging the Jews in Europe to leave in the days before the Holocaust.
Picture the days before the State of Israel, when the Irgun forced the British to leave the land.
Picture the one-armed hero Joseph Trumpeldor, who fought at Tel Hai in 1920 – dying with the words on his lips “Never mind, it is good to die for our country.”
Picture the boys of Betar who formed Plugat Hakotel and protected Jews who visited the Western Wall when Jews needed protection going there.
And now, open your eyes.
As a Betari, as the son of Penny Waga, a woman who revered Ze’ev Jabotinsky, I am here to tell you on the 75th anniversary of the death of this great man, the ideals of Jabotinsky are very much alive.
And now with your eyes wide open, picture the streets of France today where young Jewish members of Betar fight to protect the community there. In Israel, in the Prime Minister’s office is a picture of the great Ze’ev Jabotinsky (Bibi Netanyahu’s father was a long-time assistant to Jabotinsky). And all over the world, in the United States and elsewhere, those of us who follow Ze’ev Jabotinsky are often on the front lines of fighting for important issues affecting the Jewish people.
Those of us who have read and studied the work and words of Jabotinsky realize that this man’s ideology offers a guidepost for life, something that leaves one – as he said – with a proper “philosophy of life” and a guidepost on how to live life as a Jew.
Of course, the duty and aim of Betar is very simple, though difficult: to create a “normal,” “healthy” Jew. The greatest difficulty is encountered because, as a nation, the Jews today are neither “normal” nor “healthy.” During two thousand years of exile, the Jewish nation lost the habit of concentrating its willpower on an all important task, lost the habit of acting in unison as a people, lost the ability to defend itself. Instead, the Jews became accustomed to shouts rather than deeds, to disorder and disorganization, to negligence.
Those of us who follow Jabotinsky realize the need for normalcy in everything we do in life as Jews – and as people.
As a former Rosh Hanagah of Betar – national president of Betar North America for many years – as a human being, a Jew, an American, as an entrepreneur, Jabotinsky has guided my entire worldview. Jabotinsky touches our soul, our imagination, and our minds.
There are many lessons that he taught us – but tonight I wish to impart five key principles, which I believe to be core and vitally relevant to our people, and the world in which we live today.
Zeev Jabotinsky is very much alive.
Principle 1: Ahavat Yisrael – love of Jewry. Jabotinsky taught us we must stand by our fellow Jews, and love them. This is something that cannot be emphasized enough. Love the Jewish people.
From getting a Jewish education and learning Hebrew, to standing up and speaking out for the Jewish people, these things are necessities.
We stand with Jews – and for Jewish issues. Be proud. That means you. Love every Jew – for we are, as Jabotinsky taught us, the descendants of kings. We are a race onto our own – and as we see now with the terrible Iran deal, it is hard to depend upon the world.
Today, the world is relying upon a follower of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Benjamin Netanyahu, to raise a voice of moral conscience against an enemy of civilization.
About a year before becoming Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon said that if Jabotinsky would have been the head of the Jewish Agency instead of David Ben-Gurion, millions of Jews would have been saved from death during the Holocaust. Immediately afterwards, “post-Zionist” politicians told Sharon he should apologize for having said this. Sharon replied, “I was there and I know what happened, if you want we can debate about it in public.” No further comments were heard. He was right. Jabotinsky commanded us to love Jews – and in action not just in theory.
Standing here in 2015 Manhattan, my Jewish brethren should read Jabotinsky’s 1908 essay, which spoke of Jewish intellectuals who displayed an ambivalent attitude to their people:
The bitter root of our shame and our suffering is that we do not give our own people the full love of a patriot. It would be better if we did not love our people at all, if we were unconcerned as to whether it existed or had disappeared, rather than that we should love it halfway, which means to despise it. The Jewish character has some negative qualities; yet it is not because they are negative that we despise them, but because they are Jewish. As for those qualities of our race which are morally or esthetically irrelevant, they awaken our disgust because they remind us of our Jewishness.
The Arab name Israil carries a beautiful and poetic sound to our ears, but those among us called Yisrael are never happy with their “ugly” name. We readily accept the fact that the Spaniard’s name is Jaime, but turn up our noses when we have to pronounce the name Chaim. The gestures made by an Italian we find captivating; they annoy us when a Jew makes them. The specifically Jewish intonation in our speech is not pleasant. The southern Germans and the Swiss articulate exactly the same jarring singsong and we do not complain; but the same sound from a Jew seems intolerably tasteless to us…
Love the Jewish people – and of course love and stand with the Jewish people and the Jewish State.
Principle 2: Hadar. Hadar is a Hebrew word that hardly is translatable into another language: It combines various concepts such as outward beauty, respect, self-esteem, politeness, faithfulness. The only suitable “translation” into the language of real life must be the Betari – in his dealings, actions, speech, and thought.
Nevertheless, “Hadar Betar” must be the daily goal of each one of us: our every step, gesture, word, action, and thought must always be strictly executed from the Hadar viewpoint. In so many ways, it is the total essence of what it means to have Jewish pride. To be a mensch and to be a good person. To stand up – and be ethical and collected and good – yet stand up and speak out and carry ourselves with dignity.
Have moral values. Have decency. Be grand, be strong and sharp, courteous and honest. Hadar is to do what is right, and not what is popular or convenient. Hadar is honor, splendor, glory, the mission of Jews having a backbone. That which we see amongst Jews who stand up for themselves and our people.
The closest rendering of its meaning would probably be “overall impeccability.” Jabotinsky’s own statement of the virtues inherent in Hadar included all the trivia that make up our daily lives – external sightliness, cleanliness, tidiness, punctuality, courtesy, chivalrousness, and considerate behavior towards women, the old, and the very young.
As Jabotinsky said:
Human society is based on reciprocity. If you remove reciprocity, justice becomes a lie. A person walking somewhere on a street has the right to live only because and only to the extent that he acknowledges my right to live. But, if he wishes to kill me, to my mind he forfeits his right to exist – and this also applies to nations. Otherwise, the world would become a racing area for vicious predators, where not only the weakest would be devoured, but the best. — [Jabotinsky in Ethics of the Iron Wall]
In an entirely different era, he clinged to his firm-belief that Jews needed an army of their own. As Jabotinsky asked in a speech to a Polish Jewish audience: “Is a situation moral in which one side can commit any crime or murder and the other is forbidden to react?”
This, my friends, is as relevant today as it was then.
Every word must be a “word of honor”- and the latter is mightier than steel. A Betari – a follower of Jabotinsky – is someone whose word matters, whose honor matters.
Principle 3: Barzel (iron) – Be not afraid. Do not allow Jews to be taken advantage of. We must support Jews who fight and protect the Jewish people. The philosopher Max Nordau was quoted as telling Jabotinsky that “the Jew learns not by way of reason, but from catastrophes. He won’t buy an umbrella merely because he sees clouds in the sky. He waits until he is drenched and catches pneumonia.”
And indeed it is scary times.
Say it loud and clear – there is no occupied territory, and the world today is not anti-Israel. They are anti-Jewish.
It’s against the Jews, just as it was and just as it always will be. As Jabotinsky said, “It is not the anti-Semitism of men; it is, above all, the anti-Semitism of things, the inherent xenophobia of the body social or the body economic under which we suffer.”
And that continues today all over the world.
Jabotinsky always realized only strength would bring peace, noting:
We cannot promise any reward either to the Arabs of Palestine or to the Arabs outside Palestine. A voluntary agreement is unattainable. And so those who regard an accord with the Arabs as an indispensable condition of Zionism must admit to themselves today that this condition cannot be attained and hence that we must give up Zionism. We must either suspend our settlement efforts or continue them without paying attention to the mood of the natives. Settlement can thus develop under the protection of a force that is not dependent on the local population, behind an iron wall which they will be powerless to break down.
We do not want the world’s love, we demand its respect. And the only way to gain respect is to earn it.
Today, we must heed the words of Jabotinsky: “We were not created in order to teach morals and manners to our enemies.”
We were not created in order to teach morals and manners to our enemies. Let them learn these things for themselves. We want to hit back at anybody who harms us. Whoever does not repay a blow by a blow is also incapable of repaying a good deed in kind. The Latin proverb says “of two evils choose the lesser.” When we are in a position where – through no fault of our own – physical force dominates, only one question can be asked: what is worse? To continue watching Jews being killed and the conviction grows that our lives are cheap, and among the whole world that we are spineless?…the blackest of all characteristics is the tradition of the cheapness of Jewish blood, on the shedding of which there is no prohibition and for which you do not pay.
It is always aimed at us, and we must respond. We must end this abuse of ourselves, at all costs. And it is very easy. They spit in our faces without fear, ‘in passing’, for no reason – not because our insulters are blessed with courage and want to pick a fight with us, but because this pleasure is so cheap for them: they will spit at us and go on their way, and nothing will happen. We must accustom them to the thought that from now on this pleasure will come at a hefty cost. A new commandment must enter our hearts: that even where there is only one Jew, the word ‘Zhid’ must not be heard without response. Wise people will come and try to dissuade us – But it is not our purpose to win in every single incident. Our objective – to create about us the belief that a slur on our national feelings is no longer what it once was, a small diversion free of cost – but will rather, with an absolute certainty and a mathematical precision, result in a sharp and unpleasant confrontation.
And this is a lesson which our enemies have learned – and continue to learn. And this is a value which Jabotinsky brought to the Jewish world.
As Jabotinsky said: “We hold that Zionism is moral and just. And since it is moral and just, justice must be done, no matter whether Joseph or Simon or Ivan or Achmed agree with it or not.” And whether Barack Obama or John Kerry or the EU agrees with it, Zionism – in all of the Jewish State – is moral and just.
A proud Jew should be ethical and respectful and show that Jews today are strong. Pride fosters self-esteem and respect. The Jewish people are strong and we must teach our kids today to be strong, and show them pride and power.
As Jabotinsky once said, “My instinct is that the only kind of children I have ever loved are the mischief makers.” Jews today need some more mischief makers – make mischief.
Jews are the only nation that did not become extinct throughout generations without having a land of its own and scattered among the nations. Hebrew is the only language in the world that has risen from the ashes and has been reborn. The world has witnessed the miracles of Israel being resurrected after 2000 years and the liberation of biblical Israel with Jerusalem as its capital in only six days.
Study the heroes of the Jewish people who exist – from the countless times Israel defeated Arab armies to freedom fighters for Israel like Avraham Stern who fought zealously the British colonists, Joseph Trumpeldor, who until the last moment of his life defended the Hill called Tel Chai, with 100 Jews against 5000 Arabs, and said that it is good to die for your country. Consider also the martyrs from the freedom fighters for Israel who sacrificed themselves by destroying British posts, the brave warriors of the IDF. These are Jewish heroes we should celebrate.
And the Israeli government should tell its opponents to ‘Go to Hell.’
As our mentor noted in 1911:
Instead of excessive apology and instead of turning our backs to the accusers – as there is nothing to apologize for, and nobody to apologize to – it is long overdue to respond to all current and future accusations, reproaches, suspicions, slanders and denunciations by simply folding our arms and loudly, clearly, coldly and calmly answer,’Go to Hell!’
Who are we, to make excuses to them; who are they to interrogate us? What is the purpose of this mock trial over the entire people where the sentence is known in advance? Our habit of constantly and zealously answering to any rabble has already done us a lot of harm and will do much more. The situation that has been created as a result, tragically confirms a well-known saying: ‘Qui s’excuse s’accuse’ (He who apologizes condemns himself).
We think that our constant readiness to undergo a search without hesitation and to turn out our pockets will eventually convince mankind of our nobility; look what gentlemen we are–we do not have anything to hide! This is a terrible mistake. The real gentlemen are the people that will not allow anyone for any reason to search their apartments, their pockets or their souls. Only a person under surveillance is ready for a search at every moment. This is the only inevitable conclusion from our maniacal reaction to every reproach, to accept responsibility as a people for every action of a Jew, and to make excuses in front of everybody.
I consider this system to be false at its very root. We are hated not because we are blamed for everything, but we are blamed for everything because we are not loved. We do not have to apologize for anything. We are a people as all other peoples; we do not have any intentions to be better than the rest. We do not have to account to anybody; we are not to sit for anybody’s examination and nobody is old enough to call on us to answer. We came before them. We are what we are, we are good for ourselves, we will not change and we do not want to.
Principle 4: Unity is one of the biggest problem Jews have faced throughout history.
Yet do not mistake unity for standing with others. It’s the confidence of realizing that you can stand alone and be united with truth. They are wrong and we are right.
“Everybody is wrong and you alone are right?” No doubt this question springs by itself to the reader’s lips and mind. It is customary to answer this with apologetic phrases to the effect that I fully respect public opinion, that I bow to it, that I was glad to make concessions….All this is unnecessary, and all this is untrue. You cannot believe in anything in the world, if you admit even once that perhaps your opponents are right, and not you. This is not the way to do things. There is but one truth in the world, and it is all yours. If you are not sure of it, stay at home; but if you are sure, don’t look back, and it will be your way.
Stand united in the face of the enemy. The first consequence of “every man is a king” is, obviously, universal equality: the essence of your or my royalty is that there cannot be anyone above you or me in dignity or status. The second consequence is individual liberty: “a king is nobody’s subject.” Be comfortable standing alone in unity.
As Ze’ev Jabotinsky declared, settlement of the “land” is the only “law.” As he said: “There is no justice, no law, and no God in heaven, only a single law which decides and supersedes all — [Jewish] settlement [of the land].”
That is unity – and that is true – “Our tradition has it that in the beginning, G-d created the individual. Man is intended to be free. Democracy’s meaning is freedom and the goal of democracy is to insure the influence of the minority” — Introduction to the Theory of Economy — Part Two, 1934, in Nation and Society (Hebrew), pp. 218-219.
Have unity – and be strong.
Principle 5: Bitachon (faith). It is faith in the indestructibility of the Jewish people. Strength matters. And this is strength on so many levels.
The economy. Realize that one of the most fundamental differences between the right and the left then and now is something people don’t associate with Jabotinsky: he was a capitalist.
The great notion we hear so much about, the “Start-up Nation” is connected to Jabotinsky.
A country of 7.1 million people, only 67-years old, with no natural resources, surrounded by enemies and in a constant state-of- war since its founding, produces more start-up companies than most other large, peaceful, and stable nations. In the past 10 years, Israel’s stock market produced better risk adjusted returns than all other developed stock markets, and the TA-25 returned 161 percent, including dividends.
Jabotinsky believed that “every individual is a king” and the state should not impair one’s freedom. He noted that freedom of speech and assembly, majority rule, and equality for all are ideals that socialism combats. Practically, he advocated an end to the Histadrut’s monopoly over labor in Eretz Israel, which was preventing non-socialists from getting work.
Jabotinsky wrote that the Bible is full of social protest, but not socialism. Its economic and social policy is one of freedom rather than direct control over economic activity by the government. Jabotinsky believed in a competitive market and explicitly wrote that Israel’s economy must be a free market.
And that of course is one form of bitachon.
And bitachon of course is also a healthy fear of G-d. Menachem Begin showed this as the first Jabotinsky follower to serve as Prime Minister of Israel.
During the Holocaust the world thought that Jews would be history. Before 1967 the world thought that Arab countries would push the Jews into the Sea. Instead, Israel liberated more of its cities. As of now, it seems that there is no hope. Arabs inside Israel are becoming a majority, the politicians from all over the world (including Israel) are searching for ways to destroy the tiny Jewish State, and the surrounding countries are vigorously renewing their efforts to achieve Israel’s annihilation.
And bitachon of course is the strength of the IDF. Perhaps the most important contribution of Jabotinsky’s movement to Israel’s founding was its insistence on the importance of a Jewish army. Today, while the United States and others pressure Israel, it is vitally important to remember that Jabotinsky stressed the concept of the new Jew, who would be a “fighting Jew.” As he said in Manhattan in a speech on the eve of World War 2, “I challenge the Jews, wherever they are still free, to demand the right of fighting the giant rattlesnake … as a Jewish Army.”
And as Jabotinsky said many years ago, “The past lays a railroad track for the future.” Indeed while the years go by, Jabotinsky’s gems can be studied for eternity.
And to our eternal teacher Zeev Jabotinsky tonight we say thank you.
We, your pupils, your eternal devotees are so grateful that our nation in its homeland has again given the trust to bear the responsibility for assuring its liberty, its security, its peace, dignity, welfare and future, in the Land of Israel restored. Blessed are the pupils, Adoni Rosh Betar, for whom a teacher like you arose and who continues to live in their hearts. Blessed be the teacher, whose pupils carry aloft his flag, believe in his vision and diligently fulfill his tenets.
Today I stand here and tell you that we will win – as the words of Jabotinsky are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them many years ago.
Betar has taught me so much in life. From the power of the written word – he of course was a great writer – to the power of publicity. Stand up for yourself and even if everyone says you are wrong – do it anyway. You can do it and you alone can make a difference. Stand up to our enemies. Protect and care for Jews. Have Jewish dignity and pride. Being born a Jew is not an accident of birth.
As Jabotinsky said, “Tell them [the Jewish People] three things in my name, and not two: they must get iron [i.e. weapons]; they must choose a king; and they must learn to laugh.”
I took a vow at the age of 13 – the vow – the neder of Betar, which said “For the command of Betar is the echo of my convictions: To the vow that rises from the depths of my blood.”
And tonight I say to you, that vow will be with me as long as I am in this world. As Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote in Shir Betar (The Song of Betar), “Silence is Despicable!”
Zeevjabotinsky.com is a project of the Ronn Torossian Family Foundation.