Former Chief Rabbi of England Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote this morning, “What do you do when terror strikes, when all sense of security is lost, when you feel yourself surrounded by hate, when the voice of reason is drowned out by the clamor of rage, when all hope for the future seems lost and the world around you has turned dark?”
I write this week’s email with anger and sadness. This continues to be a very difficult time for the people of Israel. Reading (distorted) news reports, and watching horrifying videos make me cringe. The nature of the current violence has forced every Israeli to worry about their personal security, and that of their family, friends and neighbors. This is an extremely stressful reality and one which is quickly changing the mood of an entire country and its population.
Here is a firsthand account from a community member who just returned from visiting family in Israel:
I just returned from Israel yesterday and had a wonderful visit with our family. However, as you can imagine we have a very heavy heart. Jerusalem is a battlefield. We experienced constant sirens, helicopters, black smoke from the surrounding Palestinian neighborhoods and a constant police presence that kept increasing by the hour and day. We never made it to the Old City. In fact, we were heading there the night that the young family was murdered. We ended up with a longer good-bye at a relative’s house and played on an art installation and then a barrage of police cars (the new normal) began.
The concern of many in Israel is that we in the US are virtually unaware of the current escalation. It is a blip in the headlines. However, it is oppressive there. I have never been to Israel during a time such as this and experienced it through different eyes. I believe some of the agencies we support through the Federation’s Overseas Special Projects committee are some of the keys to diffusing future escalations and working toward some vision of a peaceful co-existence.
Kibbutz Eshbal, one of our long-time OSP funding partners is an educational kibbutz in the Central Galilee focused on improving Israeli society and co-existence. This week, five Molotov cocktails were thrown at the kibbutz. Thankfully nobody was hurt and only minimal damage was caused. The investigation concluded that one or two people, probably from Sachnin (a local Arab village), entered Eshbal in the middle of the night with the intention to harm.
Sadly, the five firebombs were thrown exactly at the spot where just last week a Peace Sukkah was standing in which over 100 Jewish and Arab educators sat together and discussed how to promote tolerance and shared values amongst the area’s youth.
Members of the Eshbal community, educators and students alike, are working to digest the incident and its implications. Their boarding school students express many signs of stress and fear. They struggle to fall asleep at night, but they are showing an amazingly mature resilience and slowly processing and overcoming these emotions.
Eshbal’s Director, Gilad Perry wrote, “No matter what, the lives of our members, staff and participants are our first priority and we are making every effort to ensure their personal safety during all of our activities. We hired a security guard to patrol Eshbal 24/7 for the next few days until the tension dies down. In addition, we are holding daily sessions with the students to deal with their fears, emotions and stress.
Unfortunately, the current violent flare-up is not a one-time event, but rather a new round in the cycle of violence in our region. In light of these events, once again the need comes into sharp focus for long-term and ongoing dialogue between Jews and Arabs who see themselves as responsible for Israeli society and willing to stand together against the extremists who wish to continue the conflict and hurl society towards violence and racism.”
Jewish Federations across North America, including ours, have for decades invested in helping Israel respond in crises like these. Thanks to your financial support of our Annual Campaign, the Jewish Agency for Israel established the Fund for the Victims of Terror, which is a standing resource that provides immediate and direct assistance to those directly affected by recent attacks. If you would like to contribute directly to this fund, please click here.
And if the news in Israel was not troubling enough, Wednesday morning we learned that hateful graffiti was painted on the side of Ahavath Achim, the Sephardic synagogue on Barbur Boulevard. Rabbi Michael Kaplan of Ahavath Achim wrote, “We covered the graffiti until the police arrived to take a report. While we were covering it up with a sheet, a man arrived with two canisters of white spray paint to erase the message. Apparently, he had passed by earlier and saw what had happened, then went to the nearest hardware store and picked them up for us to use. People kept on stopping by while we were painting it over to let us know that whoever did this does not represent the majority of people in Portland. I have continued to get emails and messages via social media with similar messages.” It is frustrating to see that this type of anti-Semitism and vandalism happens in our own city, but also reassuring to see the broader community does not condone such behavior.
I feel so deeply troubled by these acts of terror which seem to only escalate. My heart aches for the victims and their families as there is no justification for this senseless violence. We should all recognize that with each of these attacks an entire family is shattered and will never be the same. May there only be peace and calm in the days ahead.
Rabbis and leaders of the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist movements have all designated this Shabbat a special Sabbath of Solidarity with Israel. May we all continue to stand in solidarity and have a Shabbat shalom.