When my husband Irving Moskowitz was a young man he would go door-to-door around Milwaukee with a blue box collecting money to redeem property in the Land of Israel. Even though it was during the Great Depression, everyone put in what they could afford: pennies, nickels and dimes.
In the 19th century, wealthy Jews like Rothschild were purchasing large tracts of land for Jews to settle in the Holy Land. The synagogue Ohel Yitzhak in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, abandoned in 1938 after waves of Arab violence – which my family rebuilt – was originally built and paid for by European Jews in the 1880s. For thousands of years Jews dreamed of Israel and in the last centuries all Jews took part in the effort to reclaim the land and support Jews who lived there.
This is a part of the Jewish tradition: charity for the poor and reclaiming the land of our country. It was perfectly normal for Irving and me to continue this path. It was the driving force behind Irving’s quest to work hard to continue the tradition. Why is this cause for world controversy? Fodder for riots and outraged pronouncements from foreign leaders?
We were both born in the United States and experienced anti-Semitism while growing up. However, we were secure in the knowledge that our government would ensure our equal rights to live in any neighborhood in any part of the country we wished. We believed that if it was legal, the full force of the government would protect us regardless of the fact that we were Jews. How is it then that President Barack Obama had demanded that the Israeli government disallow building permits in areas of Jerusalem if Jews would live there? Christians and Muslims yes, Jews no. This is clearly racist. Furthermore, this would deprive us as American citizens of our constitutional rights to equal protection of the law.
It seems to be a continuation of a 2,000-year-old habit of Jews being told where they can and cannot live. This spanned from the ghettos of medieval Europe, to severe zoning restrictions in czarist Russia and finally to the edicts of Nazism, where we were eventually told that we could not live at all. Can it be possible that we will accept any part of that today in our own nation? Jews should be able to live anywhere in the world. The question should be: “Is the purchase legal and are the permits in order?” Not “what faith do the families living there follow?”
Cherna Moskowitz is the president of the Irving I. Moskowitz Foundation. Cherna Moskowitz is on the board of Nefesh B’Nefesh, The Ariel University Center, ZOA, JINSA and Bar Ilan University, and Hesder Yeshiva of Sderot, and chairs the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism.