I am moved to be here, humbled to have been invited to share my voice with you all on behalf of Israel and all her inhabitants in the midst of a truly trying time.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of co-chairing an AIPAC trip to Israel for Progressive Rabbis. I learned that almost every week AIPAC has a trip to Israel for members of Congress, college students, African American Leaders, Latino leaders, and others. As we speak there are currently 9 members of Congress on the ground in Israel now on one of these trips, which bring home for us all here in America the reality the State of Israel faces.
A word of my experiences, images of which have kept me up almost every night since:
My trip was designed to visit Israeli and Palestinian human rights activists, Arab-Israeli civil rights leaders and LGBT activists, to engage in serious conversation about the balance between the need to deepen our humanity and the need to protect ourselves.
That first evening the theoretical conversation ended, as I and my colleagues and many others in Jerusalem were rushed into the steel-reinforced staircases of our hotel, the hotel’s miklatim, bomb shelters, when the azakot, the sirens went off in Jerusalem. We had 90 seconds to get to a shelter, and once we emerged, the hotel lobby became a frenzy of status-updating and family-contacting. I ended up supporting a tourist in shock who asked me “can you please just tell me what’s happening” with eyes that spoke her fear and vulnerability, emotions Israelis know all too well.
Another moment during the trip:
During meetings in Israel’s Foreign Ministry Offices with ambassadors and international development leaders, a siren went off, and we all huddled in the shelter together until given the go-ahead to exit. And then, when we left the building, we looked up into the sky and saw the plume of a missile that had been knocked out by iron Dome right over our heads. And then I looked at our bus driver, who had been waiting for us outside, and who had no chance to make it to a shelter in the first place.
That vignette pales in comparison to two others:
I remain, during these dark days, glued to social media and to my “Red Alert” app, through which I receive a text within seconds of every missile fired at Israel by Hamas. (While composing these thoughts last night, my heart jumped 9 times in 3 hours as missiles were fired at Israeli communities in Chof Ashkelon, Sha’ar HaNegev, and Eshkol. When I woke up there 12 more. While I waited my turn to speak at the rally this morning, 5 more went off.) Of thousands of images and posts, one posting remains fixed in my mind and in my heart.
One vignette: My brother-in-law tweeted from his office in Tel Aviv: “You just can’t get to a bomb shelter from the 41st floor.”
Another: My mother-in-law made aliyah 6 years ago. She was grocery shopping in Jerusalem when an azaka (siren) went off. She became flustered and couldn’t find a bomb shelter in time. So she just lay down on the sidewalk until it was safe to stand up again.
I literally owe my life and the life of my family to Iron Dome, as do countless Israeli civilians, since, as of Friday morning, 2,830 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza and more than 520 rockets have been intercepted by Iron Dome.
I want to take a moment and thank our elected officials for saving my life, and for standing by America’s strategic partner, the State of Israel. Todah Rabbah. Thank you.
But friends, I’m not a policy leader. I’m a faith leader. I’m an American rabbi. And I am worried and sad to my soul. Such hurt touches so many of us, regardless of politics, regardless of borders. Given what humanity is facing these days, it’s hard to breathe. I am crying all the time these days. And I believe God is crying too.
I cry for Jews, Muslims, Druze, and Christian citizens of Israel. I cry for the residents of Gaza, held hostage by Hamas, a group willing to martyr Palestinians innocents to win the international PR war against Israel, using mosques, UN-funded schools, and population centers as launch sites for terror.
Hear these two questions, asked by Israeli author and peace-activist Amoz Oz last week:
- “What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy in his lap, and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?”
- “What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?”
God weeps at every needless death and there have been far too many these last weeks. Israel has sacrificed her own children in an effort to minimize Palestinian civilian deaths. The funeral of 23-year-old Lt. Hadar Goldin z”l took place hours ago today in Kfar Saba, two weeks before he was to be married. God is surely weeping today.
Palestinians, created as much in God’s Image as Israelis, as much as me, as much as you, have been robbed of their dignity by terrorists who took massive amounts of building materials intended for societal infrastructure and instead tunneled under Israeli population centers with the intent to commit murder. These tunnels were intentionally built under Palestinian homes and schools and hospitals, so that destroying the tunnels would likely lead to massive losses of Palestinian life. Israel has lost dozens of her own children by staying true to moral principles in the midst of an impossible moral situation.
How can the very universe not weep in the face of this desecration of life?
There are some in our communities, like the activist with whom I shared a “conversation” on NPR this past week, who promise that the missiles will stop when “the occupation is over.” When asked to clarify what this means, as there is no occupation in Gaza since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, she responded, “when the occupation of 1948 is over.”
The goal of this terror, and the “peace” pursued by anti-Israel activists are the same and they are clear: Just like Hamas, those shouting hatred at us from beyond this rally’s boundaries and brandishing pictures of dead civilians, those staging “die-ins” in Boston, those who use the language of Anti-Zionism to commit violence against Jews in Los Angeles and Antwerp, to firebomb synagogues in Paris, to desecrate a synagogue in Belfast, to beat Jews in Amsterdam, their goal in all this is frighteningly clear. We dare not misconstrue it as either the pursuit of justice or the dream of peace. The threat we face today is the death of our family. The threat we face today is nothing less than the deaths of Jews and the destruction of the State of Israel.
And so, though my soul writhes in pain at the carnage in Gaza, I’m done mincing my own words in the face of this hatred. Permit me to close my remarks by clarifying my own response to the terror of missiles and the terror of words:
We declare today to anti-Israel activists here in the Bay Area, we declare today to Hamas, we declare today to the world:
- The State of Israel is not going anywhere.
- We are here and we are staying.
- We have built our homes, and we will not let anyone tear them down.
- For 2,000 years of exile the Jewish soul faced Eastward and yearned to be a free nation in our own land.
- We returned home 66 years ago, and we are here to stay.
- We pray for peace, but we will not apologize for our existence.
- The Jews are a proud, moral People, doing our best on behalf of all people.
- We do not apologize for Israel. We face her with tears in our eyes and declare to the very heavens: Am Yisrael Chai! The People of Israel Lives!
May the State of Israel and all people everywhere know peace.
May God bless the United States of America, and may God bless the State of Israel.