Some Personal Thoughts as
“Operation Protective Edge” Continues
Rabbi Stanley M. Davids
July 19, 2014
As the tragedy in Gaza and throughout Israel continues to unfold, it might be helpful to share some of our personal experiences and feelings. You certainty don’t need our letters to get the latest facts on the ground, though it is obvious to us that much of what is being reported as facts by multiple sources throughout the world may fall short of reaching the status of objective truth.
Wherever we go, public buildings have neat little signs pointing out where the nearest bomb shelters are to be found. This is comforting, of course. It’s also quite disturbing for those of us who are trying to pretend that we are really going about living life as normal. We were shocked to discover that that are many housing units throughout Israel that do not have bomb shelters near at hand. Some of our kibbutz cousins in the Negev, well within reach of Hamas (Iranian?) missiles, have only an entrance hall which is somewhat secure.
By the way, denial is an effective defense against reality for only a limited amount of time. We have pretty much passed that limit.
I headed north on Friday to meet up with my cousins for the annual memorial service for the family. Several times during the two-hour ride we passed by caravans of armored personnel carriers headed south. Those caravans certainly did not give a hint that there was any expectation that the conflict would end soon.
Resa did not accompany me on this trip. She expected that the highways we would travel would have those caravans on them, and she just didn’t want to see them. And though most of the missiles are not falling in the north, Resa just wanted to stay close to home.
All Israel TV news channels broadcast a constant supply of useful information. For example, we are continually informed that there is a special radio channel that can be left on 24 hours a day, and which is totally silent unless there is a need to broadcast an emergency message. Not only can one go to sleep without fear of not hearing a warning, but also those observing Shabbat do not have to touch any electronics in order to be certain that they know what is happening.
Every region of Israel has been assigned a three-digit number. If that number is flashed on the screen, those living in that region know that they have been targeted for a missile attack.
There are special help and information lines open for various populations within Israel: for parents with children serving in the war zone; for parents of children with special needs; for individuals who require regularly scheduled visits to medical facilities; for people who are experiencing trauma.
The search for normalcy, though increasingly difficult to achieve, was quite evident on Friday evening. We were staying at Kibbutz Mizra in the Jezreel Valley. After Shabbat Dinner in the dining hall, the entire community was invited to a gala pool party. Music was playing, watermelon was loaded onto serving tables, bowls of goldfish cracker snacks were on every table, beer and soft drinks and coffee/tea were freely available, as were the ever-present nachos. Kids and adults were laughing and splashing in the pool.
Surreal. A war was going on not that far south. Were these people oblivious? Not nearly. At the height of the evening, a kibbutz spokesman took the mike and with warmth and love greeted Israeli refugees from the South who had been welcomed into this kibbutz family until the hostilities would end. We were told that kibbutzim throughout Israel were offering such respite to those who are living under constant bombardment. We were reminded of the teaching: “Every Jew is responsible for every other Jew.”
At poolside I was talking with family members whose personal service in the IDF in years gone by is a source of pride for them, and who have supported their own children as they have taken on particularly challenging and dangerous roles in the IDF. One leaned over to me and with a quiet voice said, “I wouldn’t be honest with you if I didn’t tell you that I was happy that my son broke his ankle a month ago and couldn’t be called up right now. He is very frustrated, but I’m not.” Parents love for their children agonizingly encounter deeply engrained patriotism.
That is what it means for real people to live in Israel in July 2014.
By the way, the Jewish Agency is doing an absolutely amazing job of providing summer camp opportunities for children from the South, along with making available an amazing array of other support and human services. The Jewish Agency receives the bulk of its funding from the Jewish Federations of North America. JFNA receives its funds from gifts that you make. ‘nuff said??
The size of public gatherings has been severely restricted by the government. Many summer concerts and cultural events have been cancelled.
Israelis seem fully confident regarding the capacity of the Israel Defense Forces to carry out its mission with highly disciplined skill, and with a serious commitment to protecting civilian life in the target zones. But no amount of media effort to present a balanced picture about what is going on here can deny the ugly and bitter reality that Hamas (Iranian?) missiles are solely targeted at Israeli civilians, and that Palestinians in Gaza are being used as human shields, hoping to deter Israelis from attacking appropriate military targets.
This is a terribly sad time. It is also a time of wall-to-wall Israeli unity. We pray that the missiles will stop raining on our cities; we pray that the tunnels of terror and death will be destroyed and never be rebuilt; we pray that the men and women of the IDF will be crowned with success; we pray that when a cease-fire is put firmly in place, leaders on all sides of the conflict will find the courage and the wisdom to make the decisions that can lead to a permanent, secure and just peace for all.
Rabbi Davids lives in Jerusalem.
Day 8: Update on Operation Protective Edge and Federation Response
from JFNA President/CEO Jerry Silverman
July 15, 2014
When we went to sleep last night, reports swirled that there would be a ceasefire this morning. Unfortunately, our hopes and prayers for a respite for Israelis from the eighth straight day of rocket fire were dashed. We woke to the news that while Israel had agreed to the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire terms, Hamas had not. In fact, nearly 50 rockets had been launched overnight from Gaza as well as Lebanon, bringing the total number of rockets Israelis have endured to more than 1,150.
And so began a new day.
Today, we joined 1,000 children from throughout southern Israel at the Shefayim Water Park, where they were enjoying a day of fun far from Gaza, thanks to The Jewish Agency for Israel. By the end of the week, more than 10,000 children and teens will participate in activities like this. Their smiling faces inspired us, though we were all aware that by the end of the day they could very well be returning home to more sirens.
I don’t think there is a single person following events here in Israel who doesn’t have the number 15 etched in their mind, the 15-second warning that many Israelis have to sprint to a safe space. We are so focused on the speed with which Israelis must act that it is easy to forget what happens to those who can’t run from harm’s way.
JDC’s Center for Independent Living in Beer Sheva is the main facility serving people with disabilities throughout all of southern Israel—Jews and Bedouins. There, we heard the heartbreaking story of one client who has had to relocate into his concrete safe room. He can’t leave it, even to go to the bathroom. If a siren sounds, he’s not sure he’ll make it back in time. But with a portable toilet from JDC he can maintain his independence and dignity through long days and nights in the shelter.
The Israel Trauma Coalition is focused on providing trauma-related services to entire communities. In a briefing at one of their centers in Sderot, we learned first-hand about some of the challenging cases they are dealing with around the clock. While ITC has focused its resources and expertise in the south, they are now expanding their services to newly affected areas in the center of Israel’s most populated regions.
I continue to be overwhelmed by what our community can achieve when we all work together. We are thrilled that the Reform and Conservative movements have joined our Stop the Sirens coalition. Rabbis from both movements joined us last evening and shared with us the depth and impact of their important work throughout the country.
For all of us on this whirlwind mission, the last two days have been quite a journey. I think Deborah Corber, CEO of the Montreal Federation, summed up the experience best:
“I was somewhat ambivalent about the very idea of a ‘solidarity mission’. I worried that Israelis would view it as an opportunistic move, a ploy to get a few good photo ops, or worse: that we would be seen as voyeurs, just like the people who cause infuriating traffic jams on the highway so they can get a good look at the accident on the side of the road.
“I couldn’t have been more wrong. To a fault, every single person I’ve encountered in the 32 hours since I arrived has been grateful for our visit…by this demonstration of solidarity, by the knowledge that Jews all around the world are paying attention, are concerned, and are committed to helping them weather this storm.”
Wishing peace for Am Yisrael,
President and Chief Executive Officer, Jewish Federations of North America