Famous Jewish patriots
A selection of tales for the holiday season.
‘Above all as a Jew’: The heroism of Eli Yishai
A man there was in Israel, Eli Yishai by name. Comely he was, saintly he was, thoughtful he was. Elegant in attire, beard trimmed meticulously, shod in the finest footwear, he even gave his eyeglasses a divorce. Powerful in rule, nobody’s fool. Noble of lilt, he ministered to all, and did so to the hilt. Not just as “interior minister” of a backwater country founded by the Zionists did he see himself, but as the minister of the interior and innards of the Jewish people itself.
And a day did come when he was sitting at the door of his official car when a terrible rumor reached him from the sea states: Ashmadai, dressed as a judge and arbiter, handed down a vicious verdict in the Germanic land against the covenant of the patriarch Abraham. It happened that a wicked physician, patently uncircumcised in body and mind, did go to court against Rabbi Goldberg in the city of Hof in the State of Bavaria, charging “bodily mutilation” of a newborn. For a Cologne court had already ruled that circumcising children is not lawful and constitutes an infringement to the body.
Hearing this, Eli Yishai became much afraid. And, feeling that the whole fate of the Jewish people was heaped on his narrow shoulders, he took quill in hand and wrote with intestinal fortitude the following missive, for yea, the spirit of the Lord was upon him:
“To Chancellor Merkel,
“As deputy prime minister of Israel, as interior minister and as chairman of the largest religious party, but above all as a Jew, I have a request to make of you − circumcision is one of the most important commandments of the Jewish people. Do not let the Jews living in your country choose between observing the local law and observing the divine imperative ... Do not let them choose between their Judaism and their citizenship, and do not prevent them from combining the two together!”
Already that same evening, a young Junker clicked his heels and handed the note to Chancellor Merkel. Upon reading the words, fear and terror descended upon her: Here was a divine order calling on her not to refrain from stretching forth her hand to the knife. And who was the emitter of this outcry? Not only as the deputy prime minister of Israel, not only as the interior minister and not only as the chairman of the largest religious party in Israel − but “above all as a Jew”!
That undoubted shikse was shaken to the marrow. And like the people of Nineveh, she was about to declare a fast and cover herself in sackcloth and ashes, and not only to cancel the edict but to undergo conversion and circumcision herself. But lo and behold: The heads of the Jewish community in the Germanic land were all in a dither over the intervention of Eli Yishai, saying, “Minister Yishai did not think of getting updated about the details ... This is an unexampled example of intervention in religious and political matters of an independent Jewish community outside Israel...”
Eli Yishai’s anger did blaze forth and he did hurl forth another missive: “The issue of circumcision is not a matter of one complaint. I shall continue to act on behalf of the Jewish people.” Which sages gloss as, “Only I and my party are allowed to speak above all as Jews.”
A tale of saints, or: The legend of Reb Yisrael Katz
This is the tale of a Jew named Yisrael Katz, a specimen neither lean nor shy, who was appointed a government minister: someone for whom hacking roads is not only a professional occupation, but a personal mission. It came to pass that upon the advent of the month of mercy, when the Jewish soul is filled with fear and trembling, two visions did appear unto this thick member of the upper crust. In one, he was facing a white-bearded old fellow who was perusing the books of human accounts and judging people for their good deeds and bad. In the other, he was facing the judgment and election of his fellow party members: row upon row of skullcapped types. In both visions alike he had to please his judges by taking pride in mitzvot he had fulfilled during the year.
This Jew did wrestle with himself, wondering what he would be able to offer his Judge above and his judges below: A train to Nablus exclusively for settlers? Not yet built. A superhighway as a shortcut around the A-rabs? That already exists and is no big deal. While he tossed and turned in his sleep, there appeared unto him a robe-clad bearded fellow with shining eyes, from whose lips there emanated only one word: “Bicycles.”
The Jew awoke and as soon as the sun emerged thundered by telephone into the ear of the mayor of Tel Aviv: “The bicycles!”
“What about them?” the mayor asked.
“Desecration of the holy day,” the Jew replied.
“What desecration? In our city Yom Kippur has been known for years as the holiday of the bicycles, hundreds and thousands of them!”
Our Jew hesitated for a moment, being quite embarrassed. “As long as they’re not the green ones,” he said at last. “Not the green ones, not on the holiest day of the year for Judaism.”
It is said that the miraculous old man who was seen in the dream was the prophet from Gilead.
The miracle of the Nine: On nine calculators of the End of Days who also hastened that event: Nass, Hotovely, Kara, Gamliel, Elkin, Levin, Shama, Regev and Akunis
A king there was in Jerusalem, not long before the destruction. And whatever he did do, his subjects and vassals and members of his court did flatter him unctuously and kowtow to him deeply, whether he went right or left, turned around or stood in place. They did ingratiate themselves with him like low slaves, as to say, “I do love my master.” They would lick his footsteps and lurk with ears pricked to bite every adversary of their lord, even at the command of a whistle or an insinuation.
The enthusiasts wished to outdo themselves. They betook themselves to a palatine of the king bearing a parchment scroll in which was written, “We, Knesset members from Likud, express full confidence in the way the decision on the Iranian issue will be made, and we are certain that any decision that will be made will stem from a responsible perspective. At this time, when political elements and the politically ambitious are conducting a tremendous campaign that questions your judgment, we saw fit to put in writing our unreserved support.”
The king told them, “But I haven’t yet decided.” They replied, “We support you on that, too.” He responded, “But maybe a conclusion will be reached in which I retract my decision.” They said, “We express our full confidence in that, too.”
He pressed them: “Full confidence in what, actually? Tell me, please, that I may give my support as well.”