Tears. Free flowing tears.
I was just witness to such pain, such ravage. I’ve been here before. But this time overwhelmed even more. It’s one of those encounters that rabbis hold onto for Yom Kippur sermons. But this real moment is not a story for me to choose to use at my leisure. That is the definition of privilege, and life is too short.
I just met with 3 Syrian refugees being treated at the Galilee Medical Center. Please, take a moment and say that out loud. Israel has brought in 3,000 Syrian refugees in need of medical treatment. We spoke with these 3 men, each of whom has suffered serious injuries and is recovering under the care of Israel.
And it is actually Israel, the government of Israel, that made the decision to offer this care at this scale. This is a government-owned hospital. I’m so very proud of my homeland for demonstrating these middot, these deep humanitarian values.
The three patients were willing to share their stories with us, and I saw their faces change as they related their awareness that they had nowhere to turn for help but the country they’d always been taught was evil. And we took them in. The second person we met was an artist. I’d sensed his gentleness when we first walked into the room, but his eyes, so very expressive, triggered my own tears. He has been there, receiving treatment for deep injuries to his arm for a year. A year. The person next to him has had more than 17 surgeries to date to reconstruct his face from a shrapnel injury.
Does this answer everything for me? Friends, we must — I must — work to hold Israel’s deep imperfections in the larger framework of her national life. Our ancestors dreamt of this homeland because we were refugees, strangers in every land because we did not have one of our own. And today we are welcoming the strangers in pivotal ways. Yes, the Sudanese and Eritrean refugees in Tel Aviv and the Holon Detention Center demonstrate that we are not applying these values consistently. But the Arab Israeli medical director of the Galilee Medical Center who led our visit today calls any one-dimensional caricature of Israel into question.
This morning, we met with Natan Sharansky, who exemplifies the Jewish leaders Israel needs. And has.
This past Friday night, Rabbi Tamar Elad Appelbaum of Zion: An Eretz Yisraeli Community, led Shabbat services for a community she leads including Muslims, Jews, and Christians. She embraced each in her arms as they entered the room. She also rose to welcome another Israeli hero, Alice Shalvi, whose pioneering feminist work has defined Israeli education for decades. Alice’s Israeli rabbi (and mine, to be clear) is a Jerusalem-born female rabbi whose expansive Judaism embraces all. My teacher, Rabbi Daniel Gordis, went so far as to suggest after services that the State of Israel was only founded so that there would be a Rabbi Tamar Elad Appelbaum. I agree.
Friends, please pause. Violence and hate, intolerance and inadequate justice, is not the whole story. Not even close. There is beauty and wonder, goodness and love, spirit and hope here. This national home, the beginning of the flourishing of redemption, is a complicated miracle worthy of deep Jewish pride. Beginning of flourishing means that Israel could use some watering. Today, I willingly offer her my own tears.