On Tuesday, my wife and I drove to Seattle to pick-up our children following three weeks at Jewish overnight camp on an island in British Columbia. We were very excited to see our children and hear about their experiences. They eagerly shared while talking over one another. Then my 13-year old daughter asked about the situation in Israel. They had spoken about it at camp (many of the counselors are from Israel) and learned of the conflict.
On the ride back home, as my children slept in the back seat, I thought about the summer. My children were at a Jewish overnight camp with 140 other Jewish children. They sang Hebrew songs, did Israeli dancing, celebrated Shabbat and enjoyed all aspects of camp. Their bunk counselors were young men and women in their late teens and early twenties. Everyone was safe.
Juxtapose that with the current situation in Israel. Safety is of utmost concern no matter where you go in Israel – remember, always be within 15-50 seconds from a bomb shelter or secure room. With the provision of Israel emergency funds from Jewish Federations across the country, over 50,000 children and their families have enjoyed respite day camps to escape the sirens and constant bombing in Israel (think of the logistical operation maneuvering hundreds of buses with children in the line of fire and filling the day with both fun and educational activities). Thousands across the country are receiving trauma support. I also was thinking that if in Israel, my children’s counselors would be serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
This summer for Israelis is not what it should be.
We can often feel distant from Israel here in Portland. We are not. There are many Portlanders living in Israel. We have several currently serving in the IDF. A high ranking IDF officer who was killed earlier this week has close relatives here. And many community members are currently visiting or recently visited during the conflict.
Sadly, to date 33 IDF soldiers have lost their lives serving their country. Two were from the United States – “lone soldiers” who went to Israel to join the IDF without their immediate families. And, as the Jewish world typically does, we mourned as a community. In fact, tens of thousands of people, most of who never knew these two men, left their homes and shelters to attend their funerals or make shiva calls to honor these soldiers. In reality, there is no such thing as a “lone soldier.”
I understand that there are a myriad of opinions surrounding the current conflict (I have received emails with a wide variety of viewpoints ranging from full support of Israel’s government to why isn’t Federation raising money to aid the Palestinians). Plus, I have been reading the wide array of articles with varying perspectives on the conflict. Typically, I tend to shy away from the political nature of these issues, but I feel compelled to share my personal thoughts.
This is not a war that Israel wanted. Israel asked nothing of Gaza other than to be left alone. This is a war in which the goal is to stop the rockets, the fighting, and the tunnels of Hamas. And, as every world leader has proclaimed, Israel has every right to protect herself.
At the same time, Israel is reeling in pain. It is the pain from a constant barrage of rockets and sirens. Israel is mourning for her children who have perished fighting for their country. And, Israel lives with the pain of knowing that innocent people, many of them women and children, are dying as Israel works to eliminate Hamas terrorist targets embedded in civilian areas.
Israel, too often, feels isolated. Right now, there are many in the Arab world silently cheering on Israel in her efforts to defeat Hamas. At the same time, many are critical of Israel and “proportionality.” (I would suggest that without the success of the Iron Dome system there would be a different conversation). In the words of Philadelphia’s Rabbi Neil Cooper, “we live in a world in which those who provoke war are the victims, those who use women and children as shields are morally superior, and in a world in which those defending themselves from unprovoked attacks are the aggressors, there is a pervasive sense of loneliness.”
And, in recent days, across the globe at rallies (including hundreds attending ones in Portland, Corvallis, and Olympia just yesterday), Israel is being demonized and delegitimized. That is why I believe it is so important that we demonstrate our support for Israel. To stand with the Israeli people is not about politics. It is not about right and left. Standing up for Israel in her time of need means to put aside for the moment those internal differences in order to come together and show that we are united in our support of and solidarity with Israel and her people.
We can do this in multiple ways. Share supportive messages via social media. Send letters of support. Visit Israel. And help people on the ground with trauma and respite services by supporting our community’s Israel Emergency Fund.
To date, we have raised over $47,000, surpassing our initial goal of $37,500. However, I was on a conference call this morning with our partners in Israel and more funding is urgently needed. In fact, Portland is being asked to raise $100,000 in total at this time. We all want a return to peace and calm, yet even though the rockets may stop, the longstanding impact remains. The people of Israel need our support! Please give generously.
Let me close with the words of Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel -- “While rockets continue to explode across Israel we receive terrible news about fallen soldiers. Yet, amidst all this sad news, we feel the resilience and the strength of spirit that unites Israel and Jews everywhere. We are proud and buoyed by the solidarity of the Jewish people and we are determined to keep Israel strong.”
Am Yisrael Chai.