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Behind the Headlines

– Different snapshots of Israel

Moroccan soldiers embraced us

For decades, the relationship between Morocco and Israel has been one of quiet cooperation in military and intelligence matters. On July 17 this year, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recognized Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara, Moroccan King Mohammed VI sent a warm, personal letter to Netanyahu inviting him to visit the North African nation.

In June, Israel appointed its first military attaché to Morocco. Joint military training exercises were conducted on Moroccan soil involving Israeli and Moroccan soldiers and commanders.

The Israeli delegation was comprised of an elite Golani Brigade unit led by a major. “They embraced us with open arms and were very warm. We performed joint drills,” said an Israeli captain (The Jerusalem Post, July 13, 2023). “This went on all day, every day, for the whole week. This is not something to be taken for granted,” he added. “We also ate together and spent time together until late at night.” On Friday evening, the soldiers celebrated Shabbat in a local synagogue.

The normalization of diplomatic relations between the nations occurred in 2020 in the aftermath of the Abraham Accords between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Sudan followed suit shortly after.

The Jewish community of Morocco dates back to the Romans. Prior to Israel’s founding in 1948, Morocco’s Jews numbered about 265,000, the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world. Today it numbers under 2,000.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (2019), 472,800 Israeli citizens were born in Morocco or are of Moroccan descent.

The faith of the Jews of Israel

Tourists who visit Israel will inevitably have interactions with the locals. Three-quarters of the population are Jewish, while the remainder are Christian, Muslim or other minorities. Many of them appear to be secular.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, however, by practice the Jewish population is:
20 % national-religious or ultra-orthodox,
40 % traditional and
40 % secular.

But this is not a complete depiction, as even among secular Jews, eighty percent believe in “the God of Israel,” notes David Weinberg (The Jerusalem Post, April 21, 2023). This translates to 92 percent of all Jews in Israel believing in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That level of faith is surely the highest among Western nations today.

The four-millennia-old history of the Jewish people, beginning with the era of the Patriarchs, continuing with the prophets of the Bible, the centuries-long (partial) dispersion of the Jews from their land, then their return to their indigenous homeland, along with Israel’s re-establishment as a modern state, all combine to explain the intensity of the Jews’ faith and the tenacity with which they defend their state today.

Finding the good in the world

– A Jewish light to the nations

Helping one’s fellowman is an ideal for many people, but for some it becomes a reality–and Jews are among them.

Take, for example, the Israeli American, Moti (Mordechai) Kahana, who was born in Jerusalem in 1968. He served in the Israeli air force, then ended up in New York owning a successful business selling used cars. It was sold to the Hertz car rental company in 2009.

Then events led him in other directions. While visiting the Holocaust memorial site Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, he discovered that his mother’s relatives in Romania had been murdered during the Shoah by their neighbors, not by the Nazis. It troubled him that it had not been possible to rescue them.

In 2011, a civil war raged in Syria. He watched the news as millions of citizens became refugees.

Then in 2012, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc in New York City. There were thousands of flood victims needing food, clothing and shelter. He became involved delivering supplies–food, blankets, gasoline, baby formula, diapers–to the needy. He gave water to a woman in despair and she hugged him for it. It changed his life.

Since then, Kahana and his team of co-workers have organized rescues of refugees from Syria and bused hundreds of sick and injured children and their mothers across the border into Israel, where they are treated in hospitals for free.

He has rescued Iraqis, assisted thousands of Kurds in Afghanistan fleeing the terrorist group ISIS, and even enabled the Afghan women’s soccer team to escape the tyrannical Muslim government.

He established a soup kitchen on the Romanian-Ukrainian border feeding refugees fleeing the Russians. And he has also provided assistance in Jordan and Turkey.

Jews have been helped too. He rescued two hundred Jewish orphans from Ukraine. He rescued the last 12 Jews in Syria in 2014. The last 47 Jews in Yemen were rescued in 2020, and the last Jew in Afghanistan in 2021.

How did Kahana save these Jews when an Israeli would have met impossible obstacles in the Muslim world? He used his US connections and his reputation for providing technical, logistical services for humanitarian needs. “I have assisted a lot more Christians and Muslims [than Jews], hundreds if not thousands of them,” he says humbly. But his goal is “finding the good in the world. And to me, that is what really matters.” Kahana’s search has brought light and life to the nations.

This story speaks to us: Kahana, being an Israeli, was frequently helping those who might be considered his enemies.

In the 1950s, the founder of LEMA’AN ZION, Inc., Herbert Hillel Goldberg, a Jewish Holocaust survivor whose father and two sisters were murdered by the Nazis, organized and provided humanitarian assistance from Sweden for tens of thousands of German (among other) refugees across Northern Germany.