I am sure we are all following the news from Israel closely and with great concern. It’s disheartening to see how the world doesn’t protest when Hamas continually shoots rockets at Israel, but immediately gets stirred up when Israel fires back. Hamas’s behavior is like the story about two kinds fighting in the schoolyard, and the excuse of one was, “He hit me back first!” In order to give a specific context for what the barrage of rocket attacks means for everyday life in Israel, I want to share with you two reports sent from Rabbi Mauricio Balter, who is the rabbi of Congregation Eshel Avraham in Be’er Sheva. Whatever my opinions are, they are not worth as much as actual eyewitness testimony from within the target zone. I have also included a number of links to help you understand the situation (and give you talking points for explaining it to your friends).
War Diary — Letter 1 — Wednesday, November 14
This is my third time writing a “war diary”: the first one was during “Lebanon war 2”, the second time was during the attacks towards Beer Sheva last year and today, with the beginning of the operation ‘Amud Anan’ (pillar of cloud).
This afternoon, as IDF first reacted we realized that we were about to face something important. Chaverim [friends], during the last four years 11,000 missiles were fired at Israel. No, I didn’t add any zeros by mistake. I am not the kind of person who is pro-attacking anyone. But this is not a way to live!!!
Today we had to cancel the activities in our Kehilla [congregation], an act that started a line of dilemmas…A ‘shivah’ – what should we do? The family needs the ‘shivah’, inviting people puts them in a risky situation because the way is not safe. At the end we decided not to invite but have the ceremony with those who still came by their own initiative. 30 people came and our Tefilah [prayer] was rather quiet. As soon as we were done and started deliberating what to do tomorrow the first alarm started. We went to the protected area, soon we heard 8 explosions; they sounded really close. We were all really quiet. We are experienced at this situation, we already know what we have to do. No one complains. In the middle of this situation, one of our Kehilla members decides to leave, while ignoring the alarm.
Each one of us went his own way while I was designated to drive two elderly members of our Kehilla to their houses because it’s too difficult for them to walk. About 500 meters after we started the drive – another alarm. I stopped the car and looked around to find the closest building to have as a shelter, I began running…but then I realized that the other two can’t run, even worse: they can’t even climb the stairs that separate us from our semi-shelter.
WHAT SHOULD I DO? Run and protect myself or take a risk and wait for them? I am no hero, but I couldn’t run alone, so I went back for them and together we walked to our improvised shelter. The alarm was soon over so we continued our journey. About 1 km ahead another alarm – and the same situation, the same nightmare. Thank G-d I got home.
Life confronts us daily with dilemmas about life and death.
May G-d give us the strength to take the right choices during the most critical moments.
Him who Makes peace in His heights may He make peace upon us, and upon Israel and upon all humanity. Amen.
War Diary — Letter 2 — Saturday, November 17
A few minutes ago Shabbat ended, and I’m sitting here writing the second entry into my war journal. The first one I wrote four days ago, and it feels like ages ago.
I would like to share with you the experience of Shabbat. In our community, we decided to announce that the synagogue would be open for prayers and that I would be there.
The idea was not to invite or encourage people to get out of the house when we are in war. I would remind you that it is the moments of moving from place to place that are the most dangerous. Because when the sirens go off, you have to quickly find cover, which isn’t always easy. In these circumstances, leaving the house is everyone’s independent decision.
Yesterday, at 5PM I opened the synagogue (prayers start at 5:30). At 5:15 there was a siren. Many people who had been on their way to shul turned and went back home. In the end, we were nine people who prayed together and went home.
The night passed with tense quiet and no sirens. That is, until 7AM this morning when I got a glimpse of how the rest of the day would look.
We started prayers with three people and I thought, again we won’t get a minyan. In the end, more people came and we ended up with a group of 15. During the time of Torah study, at 10AM, there was another siren. We moved quickly and quietly to the shelter (please G-d we’ll be getting our new shelters in ten days). I asked the people there to tell stories of how they have been dealing with the sirens of the previous days. One of the women told of an argument she had with her mother about the possibility of going to Tel Aviv for the day on Thursday. She said, “In Tel Aviv, we can have some peace and quiet.” But on that day, at 6:30PM, when they were in the middle of an art workshop, there was a siren in Tel Aviv, too.
Others told stories as well. In the end, I told my story of what happened on Thursday, when I returned from visiting my mother who is in a rehabilitation hospital. A siren sounded right when I stood at an intersection between two main roads in Beer Sheva. Following instructions, I immediately began looking for cover. I looked at the four corners of the intersection: On one corner there are two petrol stations (not a recommended place to find cover), on the second corner they are building a mall, on the third is a playground and sports equipment, and on the fourth, very far away with a high fence, was a building. What to do??? Where to run to????
The sound of the siren is piercing, and I realize that I must find cover. But there is none to be found! Suddenly I see a huge truck stop at the intersection. The driver gets out, stands between the wheels, and calls me to stand next to him to take cover. He says to me, “It’s better here than outside!” I look at him and thank him. After a few seconds, I say, “What’s your name?” He smiles and says, “Pinni”. I say, “My name is Mauricio”. I figure, in case something happens, I should know who my new friend is.
This is how we live. We are friends in our shared destiny and try to protect one another. We are not a perfect nation and there is a lot to fix. But we are definitely a nation with solidarity, and the mutual help is felt every day anew. It finds expression in many little things that we are experiencing these days.
Pinni, the truck driver who invited me to take cover next to him, is our neighbor. Yesterday, when he saw that my daughter Maya is in advanced stages of pregnancy, he went and brought her challah for Shabbat. Hundreds (I am not exaggerating) of telephone calls and emails from people around the country calling and offering to host people for a few days, people who they don’t know, to find some rest from the tensions, they are all a source of tremendous pride for me, to be part of this nation and this country.
Today there is another source of worry: Reservists received their “tzav 8” [an emergency call for military service] orders. It’s a very small country and the army is the nation itself. Neighbors, friends, acquaintances. On their behalf: Go safely and return home safely!
May the One who makes peace in the heavens bring peace to us and to all of Israel and the entire world, and say Amen.
Links, with an emphasis on what you can do to support Israel: Be informed and advocate for Israel to your friends and neighbors
Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) just announced a new Israel Terror Relief Fund
The JCRC of San Francisco has a good summary of things we can do.
On our Federation’s web site, a briefing from the IDF.
A short film from AIPAC detailing differences between Israel and Hamas (It’s appalling that we even need to do this, but such is the world we live in). Something to share with non-Jewish friends
Here is a video from the Israel Defense forces describing how they strive to limit civilian casualties (which, as we know from the news is very difficult and sometimes impossible):
And its worth noting how in the midst of all this Israel maintains its humanitarian commitments.