ISRAEL ON OUR MINDS (C)
Rabbi David Nesson
Morristown Jewish Center
The events of the last several weeks, the last several days, the last several hours, have been on the minds of all of us who love Israel as the homeland of our people. The news that one moment there seems to be hope for a cease -fire, followed by a rejection from Hamas, followed a few days later for another attempt at a cease fire, and another rejection from the terrorist organization of Hamas, has put us on all on a roller coaster.
I am sharing with you some of the remarks I made at services last shabbat. I hope these thoughts will help you bring some perspective to what you have been seeing and hearing, and I hope you can use these thoughts to help speak with your neighbors and friends.
I am indebted to the insights of my brother Joel Nesson who has lived in Jerusalem for 45 years, as well as the Rabbinical Assembly for their timely information and for arranging up to date conference calls with ambassadors and spokesmen for Israel. I am indebted also to the insights of Rabbi Jack Reimer, to Rabbi Maurcio Balter who lives in Israel, and to other colleagues who have shared their thoughts
This has been one of the most emotionally draining times that I can ever remember or Israel and for the entire Jewish people. It has been a time of ups and downs, and then of ups and downs again, a time in which we have been on an emotional roller coaster, a week in which the military, the political and the spiritual situation have changed radically from day to day, and even from hour to hour.
And so it is about Israel that I want to say a few words today. And there are at least three reasons why.
First, because we know that the Palestinians and the world media are constantly making a case against Israel, and so it our responsibility to make the case for Israel, not only for ourselves but also for our neighbors and friends.
Second, because the reality today in Israel at this very moment call us. In the past three weeks, hundreds of rockets and missiles have been aimed at our family in Israel, reaching now throughout the entire country. In the coming days, we also know that from every corner of the world, Israel will be criticized for it’s very right to defend herself.
And third, I feel that we need to speak about Israel today because we have been asked to by those who live in Israel and by Jewish around the world.
In an email from my brother Joel who lives in Jerusalem, he wrote this week: It is important to
make as many as possible understand that Hamas is not a government in any sense
of the word. It is a terrorist organization which is holding its own population
(as well as Israel-not just the south of the country but now the entire country
up to 160 km from the border of the Gaza Strip) hostage. Those who cry gvalt
and blame Israel for its “aggression” need to wake up and learn the truth. The
terrorists have an arsonal that allows them to terrorize the state of Israel and
to reachb75% of its population, for a very long time.
>> I believe –Joel writes, that your vocal support is important to Israel and to Jews around the world
There are those who say that the current situation started with the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens. But let’s remember that there is a broader context. For two weeks before this kidnapping, hundreds of missiles began to fly out of Gaza and into southern Israel. Ands let’s remember the even earlier context, that these days have been in the making for the last 9 years, when Israel withdrew from Gaza and gave the Palestinians there the possibility of creating an infrastructure for it’s people. Yet for the past 9 years the answer of Hamas has been rockets, missiles, aimed and shot at Israel.
I am going to ask you to join me in a short exercize. Please count out loud with from 1-15. That is the amount of time that person living in Sderot in southern Israel has to run and find a shelter from the time they hear a siren to the time that a misile may hit. ( let’s do it again—that is all the time) Image for yourself if that was your daily life and then remember that this has been the reality of living in southern Israel for nine years.
Right now, 75% of Israelis have no more than 90 seconds to reach a shelter when they hear a siren announcing a missile is on the way, and that
thousands of Israelis are sleeping in shelters at night to be safe. No country in the world could live under these conditions without responding.
Let’s ask ourselves why these events are happening right now. There are those who see a direct link between what is happening with Hamas, a client of Iran, and the breakdown of talks between Iran and the West as it concerns nuclear weapons. Iran is arming Hamas as a distration for it’s own purposes
But let’s say for a moment, out of context, that the current situation did start with the kidnapping of those three young Israeli boys. Let’s bring ourselves back to what happened
Hundreds of people came out and volunteered to search the West Bank in order to help the army and the police find and rescue these three boys. Every Israeli whose kids have ever hitchhiked—which means every Israeli—identified with these three kids. “They could have been ours”—no, they WERE OURS—that was the feeling that swept through the country on that dreadful day.
And then there came the funerals. It was a significant moment in the life of Israel. Rarely have the people of Israel felt as unified as they did on that day. Politics were forgotten, as tens of thousands of people came to the funerals from every corner and every community of the country..religous and secular, right and left, Thousands of people went to pay shivah calls to these three bereaved families during the week. For one rare moment, all Israel was one.
And then came the murder in Jerusalem. If the reports are true, six Israelis—some of them youngsters—some of them students in yeshivot—cruised the streets of an Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem until they found a teenager, and they shoved him into their car, took him away, set him on fire, and then dumped his body in the Jerusalem Forest.
And when they did that, all Israel shivered with shame.
Jews who took the law into their own hands??? Jews who claimed to be religious violated the law in the Ten Commandments that says: “Thou shalt not murder”? Jews picked up an Arab teenager at random and murdered him in revenge for what was done to those three Israeli teenagers?
Shimon Peres, the President of Israel, was right when he said that, if this is true, if this is what really happened, it is a day of pain and shame for all Israel and for the whole Jewish people. Bibi Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, was right when he said that an evil like this simply cannot be done in Israel. Rabbi David Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Israel was right when he said that, if this is what happened, then what was done was a desecration of the Torah.
There were Jews who, just a few days before, had paid a shivah call to the families of the three Israeli teenagers who were murdered who now paid a shivah call-or the equivalent- by phone and email, to the parents of this Arab teenager in Shuafat. The three Jewish mothers who were sitting shivah for their own children called this bereaved Arab family to express their condolences on their loss. The Prime Minister of Israel extended his condolences personally to this family.
And then hundreds of missiles went off from Gaza, and this time, they not only struck against Sderot, and the cities of the South, which is something that, though I don’t know how, Israelis living in the south have become somewhat used to. This time the rockets reached all the way to Tel Aviv, and to Hadera, and to Zichron Yaakov, and to Jerusalem, where no missiles from Gaza had ever been able to reach before. This time air raid signals went off in Holon while a bride and groom were under the Huppah, and everyone who was there had to run for the shelters in the middle of the ceremony! And for the first time in this conflict, a Israeli was killed while delivering food to soldiers at a border crossing
And this is a dangerous change in an already dangerous part of the world. To say it succinctly, today, all of Israel, north and south, east and west, are in striking range of Hamas or Hizballah, and every Israeli, as they entered this Shabbat, entered it not with a feeling of Peace or contentment, but rather with a feeling of
This time. kassams even reached close to Dimona, which is the most sensitive and the most closely guarded place in all of Israel with it’s nuclear power plant. This time, there were terrorists who landed on a beach in Israel and tried to reach out and cause destruction from there. Fortunately, they were caught in time, but all of Israel, and all who care about Israel, were horrified by these events. This time Israel has intercepted drones on their way to do attack Israel’s civilians
The Prime Minister of Israel is doing what the leader of any country would do if his people were attacked this way. He ordered up the reserves, and he unleashed a campaign to bomb the factories where the missiles are made, and the places that they are fired from, and the homes where the leaders of Hamas live. He said in very clear and in very blunt terms: “If the Hamas wants peace, all they have to do is stop the missiles. And if they want war, all they have to do is keep firing them. It is for them to decide. We are ready for either choice.”
And Hamas keeps deciding, it keeps deciding with more missiles
You should know that Israel’s goals are clear and simple. Israel wants to live in peace with her neighbors. Israel’s goal is simple and clear. Shimon Peres, Israel’s President, usually known for his more dovish opinions, has made it clear that Israel can not rest, that the opertation can not stop, until Israel restores peace to it’s cities and to it’s civilians.
If I may share with you another part of my brother’s email from Jerusalem:
We are all fine. We live in Pisgat Zeev which borders Shu’afat,
where all the excitement took place last week in Jerusalem. What is going on, as
disturbing as it is, is not new to us. That does not mean we are anesthytized
but we have lived in this city for 45 years and have experienced it
all….buses, shootings, stones, rockets, homicide bombers, …. It’s quite a
And call ups are all part of our world too…..once it was just me going off to
the army, now it’s my children (who have all served) and my son in law….I wish
this cycle could be broken what life is
here- for all of us- personal and so so sobering. All of Israel is now ‘the
front’. We have all, in a sense, been ‘called up’
As a father of a son who has just now been called up, I pray for a swift,
just, and viable end to this situation. His son, and my grandson, has now seen
his father go off to protect him! Just as my son saw me go off to protect our
family and the house of Israel many many times.
In a conference call with Rabbi’s around America on Friday, with Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador, he expressed that Israel does not want to enter Gaza in a ground battle, but is willing to do so if necessary.
The military truth is that Israel has no margin for error, certainly not like other countries, and every decision is measured.
You should know that Gaza is one of the most crowded places in the whole world, and you should know that the terrorists deliberately put their missiles in places where women and children are to be found, and so there has been some collateral damage—which is a euphemism that countries use—which means that civilians have been killed. That happens in every war. It is happening in Iraq and in Afghanistan. It happens whenever and wherever armies fight. And it is happening in Gaza.
Let’s also be clear about the difference between Israel and it’s enemies. Israels policies and procedures does more than any other army in history to try to prevent civilian casualty. Israel has policy, called knocking on the roof, which Israel will call a family or a house and give them warning to move out of the way, that a strike is on the way. The goal of Hamas is completely different, it is to purposefully and indiscrimatley target civilian populations with no warning
Here is the distinction so dramatically expressed by Prime Minister Netanyanhu….Israel uses it’s missile to protect it’s civilians, while Hamas uses it’s civilians to protect it’s missiles.!
Yes, It is painful to see the pictures of Arab women and children being carried to the hospitals by their relatives, and no one in Israel enjoys these pictures, but there is a simple way to stop these pictures, for hamas to stop the rockets and for hamas to move it’s military out of the homes of woman and children.
So what can say when we feel that we are now watching a tinder box that may be about to explode. I don’t know if anyone on either side really wants war, but the momentum towards war is increasing hour by hour, and I don’t know if anyone on either side will be able to resist the pressure to escalate until it is too late.
And what does the Torah say to us—- to us and to Israel—-at this fast changing, bitter and brutal moment?
As suggested by Rabbi Reimer, are two truths that are found side by side in the Jewish tradition that speak to this moment. One is the teaching that affirms the need for justice. The other is the teaching that denies the wisdom of revenge.
There is a teaching that is found within the Jewish tradition- that justice and revenge are two very different things. Revenge is senseless, for it only leads to counter-revenge, which only leads to counter-counter-revenge. Hillel the Sage understood that truth long ago. He saw a skull floating in the water, and he said: “Because you drowned someone, you have now been drowned, and because someone has drowned you, the person who did this will someday be drowned as well.” That is why the Torah says: “Lo tikom v’lo titor”—You shall not take vengeance against any people
But rest assured that Israel remains a civilized and a law-abiding country. It is a people under stress. It is a people under attack. It is a people that is being sorely provoked many times, and in many ways, and yet it is a people that distinguishes between justice and revenge, and it is a people that somehow remains committed to not giving in to Jewish racism, or excusing Jewish acts of terrorism at the very same time that it fights against Arab racism and Arab acts of terror.
Israel is the country that caught and is prosecuting those who killed an Arab teenager, while Hamas celebrates and rejoices in the deaths of three Israeli teens.
Second, The Talmud teaches that “if someone comes to kill you, you are permitted to kill him first”. That is right, and that is moral. The law of self-defense is found in every civilized society, and it applies here no less than it does anywhere else. So long as the people of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and Sedorot, of Haifa and Ashkeon and other cities are under attack, as long as the terrorists in Gaza and in southern Lebanon, continue to rain down destruction upon the civilian population of Israel, the army of Israel has the right and the duty to strike back as forcefully as it can.
It is not an easy path that Israel has had to walk at this moment. It is up to us to support Israel by making her case to our friends and neighbors It is up to use to donate to our Federation’s Israel Emergecny Campain. Israel is suffering tremendous financial loss as the rockets fall. Our emergency money has already relocated thousands of children living in the South to other parts of Israel
I ask you also to contact our congressman and senators and let them how important it is for them to sign on bills making their way through the house and senate, that affirm Israel’s right to defend herself against daily barages of missiles.
Our Federation is also planning a rally to support Israel. Please watch for information about where and when that will take place and plan to be there
We all pray for an end to this violence, but let us do more than pray, let us act on Israel’s behalf, as her spokesman, and let us support Israel with our words and with our deeds.