I was in the US the first two weeks of the ground portion of Operation Tzuk Eitan.  I spent time in Chattanooga, Atlanta, Chicago and New York. Everywhere I went, I was asked the same three questions:

Is it hard to be away?

Is it safe to go back?

What can we do?

I was amazed at how consistent the questions were, both the phrasing and the order in which they were asked.

I am home, and I’m ready to answer.

Is it hard to be away?

Yes.  It is very hard to be away from home.  I was in Jerusalem through the first day of the ground war.  Despite the occasional red alerts in Jerusalem, I felt safe.  I called friends to see if they received emergency call-up orders.  I followed my former campers and summer shlichim from Ramah to see if they were being called up.

I was here. I was home. I was safe.

While in the US, I experienced immense feelings of being cut off despite the incredible resources available on the Internet.  I listened to Reshet Bet from Kol Yisrael and Galei Tzahal via TuneIn Radio.  I watched the news on the Israeli Channel 2 App.  I checked Facebook and Twitter. Nonetheless, the physical disconnect from the land was intense.  I know others in the same position who experienced similar feelings. The time difference didn’t help either, especially when checking in on those called up or those in Gaza.

Is it safe to come back?

Yes!  I arrived at Ben Gurion airport last Friday, learning about the deaths of Staff Sergeant Liel Gidoni, Major Benaya Sarel and Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin just before we landed.  I didn’t know any of the three and still I felt profoundly sad.  Here, it doesn’t take six degrees of separation to find a connection to someone else.  It usually only takes one or two degrees maximum.   Someone is either the friend of a friend or the best friend of the brother of your favorite waiter or waitress at “your” cafe.

There are fresh graves on Mt. Herzl and fresh tears around Jerusalem, and even so, it is comforting being in the land, at home, when crisis strikes. People you don’t know give you the “Are you doing ok?” look.  Your friend, owner of the dry cleaner, wants to know how you fared during the war. You want to know if any of her friends or family were called up.  You want to be sure they all came home alive.  You find out that the son of your “makolet guy” spent three weeks in Gaza.  You see him for the first time and want to not only shake his hand but also give him a hug.  He is so young and shouldn’t have to see what he saw or do what he had to do.

Here, family extends far beyond blood relatives.

Granted, Jerusalem has had a very quiet war in terms of red alerts and missiles. The Southern communities surrounding Gaza,  Ashkelon, Ashdod etc took, and continue to take, the brunt of this war.  They need to be sure that they are always within fifteen seconds of a bomb shelter.  Their houses are those that are most directly threatened. Businesses in their area are losing money constantly because everyone is afraid to travel. Here in Jerusalem, however, we feel safe – sad but safe:

Sad for the deaths of our sixty-four soldiers killed in action.

Sad for the civilians killed in Israel.

Sad for the innocents that died in Gaza.

Sad that we are in this war in the first place.

Sad that the world still seems unable to grasp the danger Hamas presents not only to us but to them as well.

What can you do?

At times like this, it is important to do lots of things: send money, send gifts for the kids who live in the South, send pizza to IDF soldiers, etc.  They are all important. But, the most important thing you can do now is listen to the advertising campaign of the Ministry of Tourism from the early 1980’s:

“Come to Israel, come stay with friends!”

And please, come visit as soon as possible.

We feel alone, not just the result of international condemnation poured on us for defending ourselves but because so many groups, mostly Jewish groups, cancelled their visits when the missile launches started.

I am so proud of the participants on Ramah Israel Seminar and USY Israel Pilgrimage, all of whom stayed here, up to the scheduled end of their respective programs.  Sadly, lots of other trips cancelled, intensifying our sense of aloneness.

Israel needs bikkur cholim visits.  The injured soldiers, the traumatized residents of Sderot, all the families who are worried sick about their children called up to fight in Gaza need you to visit. They need the warm embrace of family members who love them.  They need the comforting look that doesn’t comfort nearly as well over Skype.  Your extended family, Israelis, need you to fulfill the mitzvah of bikkur cholim – visiting the sick.

We also need you to fulfill the mitzvah of nihum aveilim – comforting the mourners – for the families of the sixty four precious lives, IDF soldiers, taken by Hamas during this phase of the war.  The extended Jewish family living throughout the world should be here to comfort these families.

So…

Was it hard to be away?  Yes.

Is it safe to be home? Yes

What can you do?

Come to Israel, come stay with friends!

Rebecca and I are already setting your place at the table. Ok, we’re making the kids set the table. And there is always room for one more.

So,

Come to Israel!

Come stay with Friends!