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Last Sunday, our community in Beverly Hills mourned the passing of an exceptional figure. Born in Rumania in 1927, Ernie Goldberger, a true “elder statesman” of Los Angeles Jewry, departed this world aged 96. He left an indelible mark on all who knew him.
Ernie’s resilience and courage embodied the tumultuous journey of many twentieth-century Jews, although his life story took that narrative to the next level. After witnessing the horrors of the Holocaust and losing his family in Auschwitz, young Ernie escaped Nazi-occupied Hungary and found his way to Palestine, where he joined the ranks of the Palmach, a precursor to the Israel Defense Forces.
Alongside his comrades—many of them also scarred by the Holocaust—Ernie valiantly defended the emerging State of Israel in 1948 against the onslaught of five Arab armies. Injured in the battle for Jerusalem, Ernie eventually sought medical care in the USA and settled in Los Angeles, where he became a successful businessman and an invaluable pillar of the Jewish community.
In the shadow of the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict, we nonetheless honored Ernie’s last wish: to be buried in the land he defended so passionately. Over the past weeks, as I’ve watched the recent events unfold in Israel following the horrific Hamas-perpetrated massacre of October 7th, I couldn’t help wondering – what would Ernie have said?
Sadly, he was no longer able to give us his spirited opinions – but I knew him well for many years, and I believe that had he been able to express himself, he would have responded to these events with characteristic intensity. I can hear him saying: “Do whatever it takes – make sure Israel is safe from terrorism!” Because, at the end of it all, Ernie’s deep-rooted love for Israel and the Jewish people was the central theme of his identity.
As the sun dipped behind the Judean hills during his burial, I was struck by a profound realization: Ernie’s sacrifices, and those of his generation, gave us the incredible Israel of today. And now, the mantle is ours. We must, all of us, stand resolute, and ensure by whatever means possible that the Israel gifted to us by Ernie and his comrades remains resilient in the face of every adversity.
It was this sentiment that was uppermost in my mind the next morning as I listened to Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg, parents of 23-year-old Hersh Goldberg-Polin. Hersh is a happy-go-lucky kid who recently returned from a tour of Europe, where he had attended a bunch of music festivals. On October 7th, he was at the ill-fated music festival on the Gaza border with his friend Aner Shapira.
Hersh was severely injured and then kidnapped by Hamas terrorists who invaded the festival and murdered at least 260 people with machine gun fire and grenades, and kidnapped dozens of others.
Aner was one of those who died. Hiding in a bomb shelter with dozens of others, including Hersh, Aner desperately tried to save his friends by taking grenades that Hamas lobbed into the shelter and throwing them back out. He was later found dead, his body destroyed by a grenade, and another grenade still in his hand.
The tragedy for Hersh and his parents – and it is no different for the 240 other kidnap victims – is that they are ordinary people who have been caught up in a nightmare scenario. Jon and Rachel’s precious child has been abducted by a gang of soulless vagabonds who are both depraved and amoral, eager to kill, maim, torture, and rape out of sheer hatred.
Shockingly, the hostages include 33 different nationalities, many of them non-Jews – including 11 Muslims – and the ages range from babies under a year to elderly men and women in their eighties. The medieval barbarity of their kidnappers is sickening – but most sickening of all is how the world has moved on from the hostages and wants to focus on the plight of Gazans under fire, as if the two are entirely unrelated.
One way in which those who want to end the war can help is by putting pressure on Qatar, whose money funds Hamas – every bullet, every rocket, and every tunnel – to the tune of at least one million dollars a day, and whose warm hospitality for Hamas leaders in luxurious Doha hotels is an affront to the civilized world.
Or at least, it should be. Tragically, the world is willing to overlook Qatar’s support for terrorism in the vain hope that they can act as a conduit to gain concessions from Hamas, the stupidity of which was hammered home to me by Yigal Carmon, former adviser to Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin, and the plucky founder of MEMRI, which releases translations of offensive extracts from Arabic and Iranian TV programs.
Publicly identifying Qatari assets around the world and boycotting them until this war is over is the least we can do to try and end the war. This week, Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani, Qatari Ambassador to the United States, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Our nation has cultivated a reputation for mediating complex disputes,” implying that Qatar is uniquely placed to get the hostages out and end the war. But, as one correspondent to the letters page put it: “This is much like an arsonist quenching a fire he started and then asking for a pat on the head.”
Yigal Carmon is determined to create a coalition of activists around the world who will put the squeeze on Qatar, destroy their credibility, and expose them as cultivators of terror and mayhem in the Middle East and beyond.
In the afternoon, I spent time at the Jerusalem studio of Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) – whose daily news bulletins and programming we regularly watch in California. The incredible support for Israel by our friends in the worldwide Christian community is beyond heartwarming. Amid a sea of misinformation in the mainstream media, CBN is a beacon of light – displaying steadfast support for Israel in its fight for survival. Hamas terrorism is referred to as what it is – terrorism – and Israel’s determination to root out Hamas is expressed by presenters as being a just cause.
CBN’s senior news reporter is Chris Mitchell, who first began reporting on the Middle East in the mid-1990s. It was such a pleasure to spend time with him and to hear his hopeful and positive perspective on Israel. Chris and his colleagues – and millions of their viewers around the world – are praying for Israel’s success in its battle against the forces of evil.
I also visited the headquarters of Lemaan Achai in Beit Shemesh. Lemaan Achai is a social welfare organization that in normal times helps people who are struggling financially to get them onto their feet. But right now Lemaan Achai has become a distribution center for goods coming into Israel from the United States designated for soldiers on the frontline and for families displaced by the war.
Lemaan Achai’s indefatigable executive director is Rabbi Avrohom Leventhal, whose dedication and passion ensure that the items get to where they are needed most, and that the recipients retain their dignity. Rabbi Leventhal has also initiated a program to help the refugees from the north and south of Israel find temporary jobs in Central Israel while they are displaced.
The work of Lemaan Achai – and countless other similar organizations that are working flat out to provide support to those in need in this time of crisis – is both amazing and very moving.
But I was most moved when visiting two military bases in Judea. Our community sponsored a BBQ dinner at one of the bases, along with live music – and the gratitude of the soldiers was amazing. All of them are reservists, with wives and children at home – professionals with jobs who have not been home, nor in direct contact with civilian life, since October 7th.
Ordinary folk plucked from their ordinary lives to do their bit for the survival of Israel – and they are spending every waking moment in high gear and on high alert as they face down Hamas terrorist cells, and dangers lurking around every corner. Their smiles and hugs will live with me forever. They kept on telling me how much they appreciate the support of American Jews, and how much it means to them – and all I could think was: this is the least we can do as you put your lives on the line to save Israel.
Which brings me back to Ernie Goldberger. Fundamentally, not much has changed since Ernie fought for Israel in 1948. The hatred is still there. The incomprehensible bias against Israel and Jews is still there. The friends who will support us no-matter-what are, thankfully, still there. The incredible fortitude and communal spirit of the Jewish people is still there. And, despite our many differences and disagreements, when push comes to shove – the unity of the Jewish people and our love for each other is still there.
In 1948, Israel prevailed against the odds. I believe that 2023 will be just the same. A new generation of Jewish heroes, just like Ernie, will ensure that our country, reclaimed after an exile of almost 2,000 years, will not be lost to the wolves at the door. On the contrary, they will only make us stronger.