During my junior year of college in Jerusalem, I often had the opportunity to enjoy visiting our family friends in Tel Aviv. They had a son about my age in the Israeli Navy. As the school year ended that summer of 1982, I returned home to finish my degree, but my Israeli contemporary was assigned to a small boat that performed many military duties during the first intifada of the Lebanon War. A year later, I returned to Israel with great excitement to start rabbinical school and he returned home with PTSD ready to start his recovery. The dichotomy of our experiences in that one year, stirred in me a feeling of deep responsibility to uphold my duty to be a protector of Israel too. As with many in the Israeli army who are called up for miluim, for subsequent military reserve service in the IDF, today, I feel called to my duty again as a defender of Israel.
Lifting up their very name as the Israel Defense Force, Israel has held strongly to the values of Torah as the most moral army in the world. While the genocidal terrorist group of Hamas launches over three thousand rockets into Israel forcing 70 percent of Israel’s population into bomb shelters, Israel remains committed to the profound principle that every human being is created in God’s image—Jew, Christian and Moslem and Druze, man, woman and child, and seeks to protect the sanctity of life for all their inhabitants and even for those innocent people living in Gaza.
How do they do this? The Israeli military is not playing some children’s game of knock-knock when they send forth warning knocks on rooftops in Gaza to signal to the residents in the buildings that Israel will soon send real fire power to destroy the terrorists in their midst. Additionally, Israel makes phone calls, as if to make an appointment for when they’ll be bombing in that area once they have determined that residents have left, and concomitantly gives Hamas and Islamic Jihadist terrorists enough opportunity to retreat into their bunkers beneath densely populated homes, schools, hospitals, and office buildings that house international newsrooms. Consider also that the number of dead counted in Gaza includes those killed by the more than thirty percent of Hamas’ rockets that explode within the Gaza territory, and the targeted terrorists.
When international courts and European countries call upon Israel to exercise “a proportionate response,” surely, they cannot mean that Israel should similarly launch 4000 rockets targeting innocent Gaza civilians; or that Israel must allow its citizens to die in equal numbers. As Michael Oren said on a recent call to the Zionist Rabbinic Coalition, of which I’m a founding member: “It is disproportionate because Israel chooses to invest in Iron Dome and measures to save lives of its citizens while Hamas chooses to invest in tunnels and weapons, leaving their people exposed.” The IDF, the most powerful and moral army in the Middle East, deserves praise for using tremendous restraint. As one commentator described it, Israel is fighting in “low gear.”
While Israel is condemned for having developed the lifesaving Iron Dome defense system and bomb shelters to protect her citizens, Hamas is celebrated for using its people to protect its deadly missile launchers. Those who are complicit in celebrating the terrorist tactics reward Hamas, as Professor Alan Dershowitz recently wrote: “Hamas has been rewarded by the international community, by human rights groups, by the media, by many academics and by millions of decent people for its indecent double war crime tactic of firing rockets at Israeli civilians from behind Palestinian human shields. Israel has been significantly punished for trying to protect its citizens from these rockets.” As AIPAC recently published: There is no moral justification for terrorizing millions of Israeli and Palestinian civilians. There is no moral equivalence between Israel’s actions and those of Hamas.”
What’s as concerning is the internal fighting that has not been seen in past operations--the violence between Jewish and Arab citizens who have peacefully co-existed in mixed cities. My friend Rabbi Phil Nadel who serves a Reform congregation in Modiin—a city very close to the Tel Aviv airport; a city that bears the same historical name as the city from which Judah Maccabee and the Hanukkah story emanates, responded to my checking in with him and his family by reporting back: “Thank you…doing ok…but a mess here. The rockets are the least of it…the violence between Israel’s citizens is far worse!” Indeed, years of trust and co-existence in mixed Jewish-Arab cities is going up in flames with the six synagogues set on fire, Echoes of Kristallnacht, when Jewish businesses were destroyed and synagogues burned and people scrambling to avoid violence come to mind.
We grieve for all the innocent lives lost in this crisis, Israeli Jews and Arabs, and Palestinians and Gazans. And we pray for the peace and security of all those innocent people whose lives and livelihoods are being destroyed in this deluge of terrorist activity.
But we must do more than grieve and pray.
What can we do? We can take a lesson from the ancient Israelites who stood together at Sinai at the time of the giving of the Torah and answered in one voice Na’aseh v’nishma. Na’aseh means —we will do! In this critical time, we must count ourselves as part of the unofficial Israel Defense Force because our people are counting on us. I encourage you to take every opportunity to send more than prayers to heaven. Send notes to your Israeli friends and family. And here at home send notes of thanks to President Biden and his administration, and to your senators and representatives for standing with Israel and affirming Israel’s right to defend herself. Demand that those leaders who want Israel to give up on its own security to appease her enemies be held accountable. Encourage your family and friends to join you in speaking up for Israel and in using your words, your vote and your dollars to support the agencies that help Israel to defend herself.
You can speak up right now by texting a message to 73075. Type in ISRAEL, then follow the directions to send letters to your congressional leaders encouraging them to stand with Israel. You’ve begun to fulfil the Naaseh—the we will do.
And Nishma—meaning we will listen, or more accurately understand. Seek to accurately understand what is going on in the conflict. This crisis has almost nothing to do with the few homes in a small enclave in West Jerusalem—that’s a court matter and merely pretext. Nor is it about Jerusalem Day parades or the conclusion of Ramadan. These events have taken place peacefully for decades. Instead, look behind the splashy headlines of the moment, and you’ll discover that Hamas is threatened by the recent Abraham Accords that has shifted the focus away from the Palestinians who refuse to come to the peace table. Consider that Fatah cancelled Palestinian elections because they knew they would lose and have to cede control of the West Bank to Hamas. Recognize that Hamas is taking advantage of the difficulty the democratic state of Israel is having in forming a new government after its fourth election in two years.
Nishma--Seek to understand the inherent bias behind the news media’s reports that call Israel the aggressor or an apartheid state. Try to appreciate that though Israel is not perfect: she’s only 73 years old—and 73 years young and is still trying to work out what it means to exist in a democratic nation with notorious terrorists seeking its destruction from every direction. Keep in mind that bad actors from Hamas to Hezbollah receive funding and support from the most dangerous of all countries Iran as together they seek to create a country that extends –as their chant and charter assert--“from the river to the sea” which means they want to destroy all of Israel. Read articles and follow links that will help you be a good defender of Israel.
I admit I have a strong bias. I want it to say on my tombstone “Loved Israel unconditionally.” Love is an intimate and complicated emotion. Love does not mean always agreeing with every decision—sometimes the disagreements are over small matters, sometimes there are big difference to resolve. But unconditional love means Israel can count on me to be there for in her time of need and to celebrate with her on her festivals of joy. This is a moment when we need to shower Israel with the unconditional love of the Jewish people that has been nurtured since biblical times.
At the beginning of the book of Numbers that we read at this time, a census is taken that counts all the able bodies who can take up arms in defense of the Israelites as they make their way BaMidbar--through the Wilderness. Near the end of the Book will be another kind of census. This time, forty years later, it concerns an accounting of all the tribes of Israel as they prepare to enter the land. Two and a half tribes petition Moses to remain outside the land. Moses’ responds with harsh chastisement: “Are your brothers to go to war while you stay here?” Moses determines that their reluctance to join with the other tribes will demoralize the others. In response the two and a half tribes propose that their children stay safe across the river, but that they will serve as shock-troops until the Israelites have safely established themselves in the land.
As Israel engages in a fight for the security of its people, let us who dwell in relative safety on the other side of the Jordan or Atlantic ocean recommit to the value that the bibilical 2 ½ tribes were forced to acknowledge “Kol Yisrael aravin zeh b’zeh--Every Israelite is responsible for every other one.” In this time of existential threat to the State of Israel, we, too, must commit to engaging as part of the special forces to fight for Israel’s survival. For indeed Israel’s security impacts our own well-being and the future of the Jewish people everywhere.
In this week when we’ve just begun the book of Numbers and celebrated Shavuot, may we be counted among those who are the guardians of our people’s soul by continuing to study the values of Torah, and as the protector of our people’s bodies in committing to protect and defend them—especially because we have chosen to live outside the Land.