Saturday, July 26, 2014

Reflections on the War in Gaza

This is a tough time of the year for the Jewish people because shortly we will observe the fast day on the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av which commemorates our demise as a nation and a free people. Tisha B’Av reminds us of the Babylonian Expulsion in 586 BCE and the Roman war against the Jews in 70CE. We read from the biblical Book of Lamentations about God’s sorrow and pain to watch our exile.
Is it not equally painful for us today, thousands of miles away, to watch not only  Hamas’ war against the Jews in Israel but also frustrating to witness the propaganda war in the news media outlets, social media let alone what email someone sends us that points to Israel as the sole culprit in this conflict. The typical trajectory begins with criticizing Hamas for sending missiles to Israel and then the rest of the diatribes end up piling up on Israel for exercising its moral duty to protect itself. Yes there are injuries and deaths injuries on both sides. Yet what infuriates Jews and pro-Israelis is hearing the word proportionality in every news report referring to Israel’s actions in Gaza. Yet that same word does not seem to apply to hundreds of Hamas’ missiles that streak over the skies of Israel. Same old story.
History demands we are stand by Israel at this hour, even if we are feeling uneasy at the lopsided injured and death tolls on the Palestinian side. As always it is about survival for Israel. It has always been that issue and it continues to be about survival. That is part of the paradox for Israel, a nation which has accomplished miraculous achievements in its 66 years, yet, it still is vulnerable on a different level to the ravages of Arab and Islamic terrorism. Israelis have come to learn how to live with it and go on in their lives but do not be mistaken to imagine that it does not take a toll on the psyche and spirit of the people.
The question is; “What is required of us in America at this hour?” Going back to the old Siddur Gates of Prayer there is a petition to God to make it clear to us why we suffer and that if we must it should be for a high purpose. In other words, despite the doubt we feel about the future and especially the sufferings of our brethren in Israel there must still be hope to move forward regardless of our religious or secular perspectives.
“I do not know how to ask you, Eternal One, Sovereign of the world, and even if I did know, I could not bear to do it. How could I venture to ask You why everything happens as it does, why we are driven from one exile to another, why are foes are allowed to torment us so!  But in the Haggadah the father of the child who asked at the Passover Seder, the one ‘who does not know how to ask’ is told: “It is for you (the parent) to disclose it for him.”  And, Eternal of the world, am I not your son?  I do not ask you to reveal to me the secret of your ways-I could not bear it!  But show me one thing: show me what this very moment means to me, what it demands of me, what You, Eternal One, are telling me through my life at this moment. O I do not ask You to tell me why I suffer, but, only whether I suffer for your sake.”
Israelis know what this hour demands of them and they prove it every day and especially now not only in war but in peace as well. As for us, we watch it all happen through the prisms of print, television and social media. Despite opposing views, shall we not proclaim our unity with Israel as well. As the Psalmist said,
“Those who trust in the Eternal One are like Mt. Zion, which cannot be moved, but stands fast forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Eternal is round about the people Israel, now and always” (125:1-2).
This is our time to be the mountains that surround Israel in its time of need. At least in the war on words raging on in the public view, we too must speak out to our neighbors and friends to defend Israel. Putting not only domestic partisan politics aside but also holding off on Israeli partisan politics shall we do our part whether it is to send money or supplies to the people or to the soldiers? Do we need to plan another trip to Israel to bolster support for its people in any way we can?
We know better than most nations what it feels like to live on the verge of extinction. We understand what exile means and what history has taught us about being and feeling vulnerable. I imagine what it might have felt like to be Theodore Herzl covering the French protests in Paris against the French Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus accused of espionage. The crowds yelled out, “Death to the Jews!” It was at that moment when Herzl was transformed the birth of modern Zionism came to be. History has a funny way of replaying itself.
We understand what it means to feel isolated by and from the world particularly when people jump on the bandwagon to condemn us. We have been here before and will, sadly, experience war again. Yet, is it not incumbent upon us to be the mountains that protect Israel in the way we can here in America? Part of our role is to be defenders of the people and the faith even when we are not sure nor can we answer the question of why so much hate is channeled towards us?
The huge protests against us in Europe mark an end to a 50 year period when Europe forbade anti-Israel and Jewish rhetoric. Much of that emanated from guilt from the Holocaust. The thousands that march in European streets are blatantly anti-Semtic even though they use the veil of Zionism to cloak their froth full bigotry against all Jews.  What is required of us at this hour is to educate not because we can change the hearts and minds of our adversaries who would just as well see our destruction. Our purpose is to educate so that those who know no better do not fall prey to the onslaught of propaganda against Israel around the world. Our job is also to educate our elected officials about how we feel about Israel and it case to defend itself. Remember the consequence of silence. It is often understood as assent to the opposing position.
There is a certain irony with the forthcoming fast day of T’isha b’Av when we acknowledge the memory of the annihilation of our ancient Jewish homeland while at the same time we watch Hamas shower the skies of Israel with their missiles.   We have learned the lessons from the past. The question is whether we can stand up and tell Israel’s story knowing that others would shout us down? If we are the mountains that surround Israel then each of us, I pray, should remember that all of us has a role to play to defend Israel in the war of words. Words might be all we have right now.