As American Jewish families sat around our dinner tables to celebrate Thanksgiving, the Jewish Democratic State of Israel burned. We ate turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce as 75,000 Israelis evacuated their homes. We sliced pie while hundreds of Israelis and volunteers from friendly nations – and the Palestinian Authority – put their lives at risk to fight hundreds of fires that have displaced tens of thousands. It was certainly a challenging year to give thanks around our Thanksgiving tables as Israelis suffered half way across the world.
Yet, all of this heartache from the horror of the fires – allegedly and potentially caused by acts of arson – provides all in the Jewish diaspora a reason to be partially thankful.
We are thankful that not one life has been reportedly lost due to these fires, unlike the 40 lives lost due to the Carmel fires of 2010. Innocent people, regardless of their religion and race, were injured. Homes were destroyed. The environment was harmed. Government sources have announced that several of the alleged arsonists have been arrested and that they may be charged with acts of terror.
The damage to property and our Jewish homeland is immeasurable.
We can condemn those who allegedly started or incited the fires. And we can condemn the thousands that celebrated the disaster across social media. One man’s misery should never be another man’s joy. But we can remain partially thankful because we know that Israel will endure. Am y’israel chai.
Our spirit cannot be threatened with acts of arson. Our love for Israel will not be lost and fear will not consume us.
We will be thankful that we have a State of Israel. The only Jewish majority nation in the world. The only nation in the world that was created and sustains itself through Jewish values.
At the conclusion of the Macy’s Day Parade in New York City, every year, is a float with Santa Claus. This provides a transition for Americans from Thanksgiving to begin to think about the holidays – namely Christmas. Although most Jewish-Americans do not celebrate this holiday, except for those from intermarriage families, our first night of Hanukkah this year will be on the same day as Christmas Eve. And therefore, across America, we saw many Jewish-Americans embarking on Black Friday shopping after Thanksgiving.
I had no plans for my Black Friday shopping this year. I didn’t need to run out and buy a laptop, big screen TV, or this year’s hottest toy for my wonderful niece. I didn’t need nor did I leave my family Thanksgiving dinner to wait in line in the cold before the stores opened. But on Friday morning, I drove by a big box retail store, and decided to just stop in and walk around. As I pushed a cart around the aisles, I noticed that the retailer had SodaStream machines on sale.
I don’t drink soda, but I decided to buy one as a small gesture to support Israel while Israelis needed support as their country burned. I then drove home and went on the website of the Jewish National Fund where I purchased and donated trees to be planted in Israel. We have many that need to be replaced there now since the country burned. I then went on the website of Israel Bonds and purchased two – donating one to the Friends of the IDF and the second to the American Friends of Magen David Adom – to thank the fearless men and women fighting the fires that burned the country by supporting the organizations that support them. And then I went on Amazon Smile, ahead of Cyber Monday, where I made additional purchases for myself and for holiday gifts while selecting B’nai B’rith International (America’s first Jewish communal organization whose first lodge opened in Jerusalem in 1888) as the recipient of a charitable gift as a percentage of my purchases.
Tikkun olam tells me that the world is inherently broken and it is up to each of us to do our small part to try to repair it. These are small gestures to try to repair the world. You all can do the same.
I am saddened that the Jewish Democratic State of Israel remains a target for individuals who want to wish it harm. Setting a country ablaze does not bring peace. It does not bring understanding. It does not bring compassion.
I remain thankful that Israel will endure. And I want to thank all who actively or passively took steps to support Israel in her time of need. From those volunteering to fight the fires, to those sharing Facebook posts and tweets about stories about the fire response efforts – since most American media were not reporting on it – I thank you.
Since American media was not widely reporting on the story of Israel burning, I thank Israeli media and social media for providing regular updates to concerned Jewish citizens around the world.
I thank the Cyprus and Greek governments for being two of the first nations to send assistance to Israel:
I recall a heartfelt statement by one of the Greek pilots who left his family to volunteer to fight the fires in Israel. In describing the Greek people, the pilot said, “we are your friends, and we are always here for you.”
In the week prior to the fires starting in Israel and the Greek pilot sharing a message of friendship, I sat on a panel in the shadows of Newark-Liberty International Airport in New Jersey at a conference held by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation on the “Future of Hellenism in America.” As a guest panelist, I was asked to speak about the Jewish diaspora experience and how it relates to the Hellenic diaspora experience in America. I was joined on the panel by the previous Greek ambassador to the United States, Greek-American academics, and Greek-American business/civic leaders.
The statement of the Greek pilot was not made in a vacuum. The Greek and Cyprus communities are the friends of Israel and the friends of the Jewish people. And that is mutual. The Jewish community in America and the Israeli community are friends of Greece and Cyprus too. It was evident in the conference and it is evident a week later with the Greek and Cypriot response to Israel’s fires.
Therefore, on this upcoming #GivingTuesday, I encourage you to make gifts to the Jewish, Israeli, or Greek organizations – like the American Hellenic Institute – that are meaningful to you since the world is inherently broken. And we must all do our small parts to repair it one mitzvah, or good deed, at a time. Whether that be rebuilding Israel from these fires one tree and brick at a time or for thanking our friends who helped us in our time of need.