“When you’re going through hell, keep walking”: Israeli courage and the challenge of our lives

“When you’re going through hell, keep walking”: Israeli courage and the challenge of our lives October 17, 2023

Hersh Goldberg-Polin, a twenty-three-year-old American-Israeli born in Berkeley, California, was at the Nova music festival last weekend when more than 260 attendees were massacred by Hamas terrorists. Hersh took cover in a bomb shelter, but a grenade blew off his arm from the elbow down. Since he could still walk, he was ordered by Hamas to leave the shelter. His phone soon pinged across the border in Gaza, where authorities say he is being held hostage.

His parents, who were born and raised in Chicago and moved to Israel fifteen years ago, have not heard from him since. His mother, Rachel Goldberg, said of him, “Hersh is my only son and he’s my first child. He’s what made me a mother. I feel like God could have given him to anyone and he gave me the perfect son for me.”

Now she is spending her days praying for his return, telling his story to media outlets, and appealing to US senators and Israeli politicians. “We need to know that we are doing every single thing that we can do,” she said.

She added: “I think when you’re in hell, if you stop, then you’re really stuck. So when you’re going through hell, keep walking—and that’s what I’m doing.”

“Not knowing where he was going”

From the beginning of their story, the Jews have needed such courage simply to exist as a people.

In Genesis 12, God called Abraham, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (v. 1). Hebrews 11 tells us that he then “went out, not knowing where he was going” (v. 8).

This is the epitome of courageous faith.

Moses did the same when he faced down Pharaoh, the most powerful man on earth, and led his people through the Red Sea and the desert wilderness. So did Joshua when he led them across the flooded Jordan River. So did the judges when they led their people into battle time and time again against their enemies. So did David against Goliath and the Philistines. So did Daniel when he trusted his God in the lions’ den. So did Jesus’ apostles when they left their homes and vocations to become his disciples, then preached the gospel in defiance of the religious authorities who arranged his murder (Acts 5:27–32).

In a brilliant 1973 article for Foreign Affairs, then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir wrote that her people “brought to fruition the labor of Jewish pioneers who, since the turn of the century, gave their lives to transform a barren and denuded land into fertile fields, flourishing settlements, and new patterns of society.” The land they rebuilt “had neither oil nor abundant natural resources. Its wastes offered no temptation except to Zionist pioneers animated by the twin ideals of a new Jewish society and a reconstructed land.”

Now that land is home to one of the most advanced economies and militaries in history. Their courageous faith is an invitation and example our nation urgently needs today.

“The most dangerous time the world has seen in decades”

Jamie Dimon is the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank; the New York Times calls him “as close as Wall Street has to a statesman.” He is in the news because of a statement he made accompanying his bank’s quarterly earnings last Friday: “This may be the most dangerous time the world has seen in decades.”

High inflation and rising interest rates are risks, to be sure. But Dimon told reporters that the conflict in Israel and Gaza is “the highest and most important thing for the Western world.” In his view, it could have “far-reaching impacts on energy and food markets, global trade, and geopolitical relationships.”

The Wall Street Journal offers evidence, reporting that the war is “affecting the global balance of power, stretching American and European resources while relieving pressure on Russia and providing new opportunities to China.” The article notes that both are positioning themselves to lead the global movement against the West’s “neocolonialism.” An escalation of the war could force many European nations into greater dependence on Russian oil and gas and carries the risk of renewed violence by Islamist militant groups across the Continent.

Walter Russell Mead is one of the most perceptive cultural commentators of our day. His Wall Street Journal response to Hamas’s atrocities, titled “A Middle East Wake-Up Call,” concludes with this paragraph:

Finally, there is the question of whether American and Western opinion will awaken to the new state of the world. In a horrible way, the descent of death-dealing paragliders into a peaceful music festival in Israel is an apt symbol of our times. The post-Cold War trance of the West, reaping peace dividends, celebrating flower power, and generally living as if utopia had already arrived, has left us mentally and morally disarmed. The revisionist powers that recognize no moral limits on their power as they seek to overturn the existing world system in an ocean of blood are descending onto our festival of folly like the hell-bound paragliders of Hamas. We cannot and should not respond with irrational panic and random outbursts of violence. We must soberly and deliberately address a mortal danger to everything we hold dear—and we must at long last wake up (my emphasis).

Forging a new future

If Dimon and Mead are right—and I believe they are—we are witnessing a hinge point in history. Our secularist path has indeed “left us mentally and morally disarmed” as the moral therapeutic deism that dominates our culture separates God from life, rejects moral absolutes, and celebrates self-centric self-reliance.

As a result, America can forge a new future only by turning to the source of Israel’s courage in the past.

Abraham and his heirs who built the biblical nation of Israel risked everything to follow God’s call. Now Jesus is calling you and me to do the same for the sake of our nation and her future.

Will we?

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