I spent about forty-eight hours in Israel this week and know that it is impossible to capture the spirit of what I saw, heard, and touched. I saw a group of nursery-aged children sitting around a table eating lunch. This was the first day they had returned home after enduring weeks of alarm sirens and rocket fire coming from two miles away. They were beautiful, innocent children who have been traumatized beyond what I can imagine. They loved the little stuffed toys that I gave them from the people of our congregation.
I met with the mayor of Sderot which is located about three miles from Gaza, and the mayor of Tel Aviv which is a “safe” forty miles from Gaza. In Sderot, I heard a message of courage and determination to maintain the lives of the people of his small town as “normal” as possible. Not one day of school or summer camp was cancelled, even as Sderot has been one of the most heavily bombed communities in Israel. In Tel Aviv I met with the long-time mayor who spoke of an inevitable agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, long as it will take for such an agreement to be reached. He did not envision such an agreement in his lifetime and perhaps not in mine also. But at some time “the Palestinians will come to realize that co-existence is their only way; it will be at a time when they believe that they have much to lose by perpetuating war and hostility.”
I met with a former pilot and brigadier general at the site of an Iron Dome. This highly complex weapon is responsible for blowing up almost a thousand rockets that were intended for Israeli populated areas. It has had amazing effectiveness, and is greatly responsible for Israel being able to endure the barrage of rockets and missiles that have been sent into Israel from Gaza, intended to kill.
My last experience that I will share here (though there is much more to follow in coming weeks). I visited wounded soldiers at Soroka Hospital in Beersheva. What a painful tragedy to see beautiful young men; one with the side of his head smashed in, another with his face reconstructed, and others who were in comas. Very touching for me was when one mother asked if I would go into her son’s room and recite a prayer for his recovery. And no, it didn’t matter in the least to her that I was a Reform rabbi.
Were there times when I felt that I was in danger? No! Did I hear any rockets or alarm sirens? No! In truth, it was somewhat embarrassing to repeatedly be told how much my visit meant to people, and how they yearn for gestures of support and unity with the larger Jewish world especially.
I have so much more to tell, but for now, please understand that Israel has taken every possible step to avoid civilian casualties, much as the media focuses upon the tragedies of war, rather than the morality of the Israeli army, even in war. This message was repeated by soldiers, commanders, pilots, politicians, and people of all political leanings. Israel is an incredible place, comprised of people with great moral strength and devotion to their home. There is a “Jewish ethic” that they embrace and seek to perpetuate, even as they are attacked, and even as there are those who seek their destruction.
My message: Go to Israel and see and hear for yourself. Go to Israel and realize that Israel represents the “front line” for all of us who cherish not only Judaism, but a world rooted in civilized and humane values and ideals. Go to Israeli and realize that this tiny country stands courageously for all of us, and it is ours also.
Rabbi David Greenberg