Though few may doubt that Jewish life in America could be threatened, Gordis effectively explains why this luxury is precisely because of the modern state of Israel. In the most powerful passages of the lengthy piece, he describes the Israeli contribution to the strength of the American Jewish psyche and standing:
There was an era not long ago in which American Jews tiptoed around America, nervously striving to stay beneath the radar. They evoked that image of the spies who reported back to Moses after surveying the Promised Land: “We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we appeared to them.” The American Jews who believe they could survive the loss of Israel do not remember that era. They take it as entirely natural that thousands of American citizens confidently ascend the steps of the Capitol Hill on the lobbying day at AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference. Do they ever ask themselves why virtually no one ascended those same steps between 1938 and 1945 to demand that the United States do something to save the Jewish people from extinction?
After all, there were millions of Jews in America the United States during that horrific period, and they knew what was happening. But American Jews of that generation lacked the confidence and the sense of belonging in America that this generation of students now takes for granted. When some 400 mostly Orthodox rabbis marched on Washington in the October 1943, President Roosevelt simply refused to meet them and departed the White House via a rear door. There were no mass protests, no caravans of buses to Washington to demand help for their European kin.
Jews today no longer think of themselves as a tiptoeing people. When Soviet Jews awakened and wanted out of their national prison, American Jews supported them, and the State of Israel made their rescue a national project. When an Air France flight filled with Jews was hijacked to Entebbe, the State of Israel rescued them, and American Jews were filled with unprecedented pride. When Ethiopian Jews were caught in the crosshairs of a deadly civil war, the State of Israel whisked them out, and American philanthropists continue to make them a key priority. Much of what fuels American Jewish pride is the existence and the behavior of the State of Israel.
In ways we do not sufficiently recognize, Israel has changed the existential condition of Jews everywhere, even in America. Without the State of Israel, the self-confidence and sense of belonging that American Jews now take for granted would quickly disappear.