The first indication that things are different emerges as you listen to the radio on the ride from the airport to Yerushalayim. Over and over again, the regular program is interrupted as a calm voice announces: “Tzeva Adom: Red alert- Kiryat Malachi; Red alert-Beersheba; Red alert-Ashkelon; Red alert-Ashdod; Red alert-Yerushalayim……”
And you realize what these announcements mean; city after city under attack; families, children, scrambling for cover; terror raining down haphazardly from the sky; no guarantees of safety anywhere…
I am here in Israel, as president of the Rabbinical Council of America, together with a delegation of rabbis from across the United States and Canada. The goals of our mission are clear. We are here to lend solidarity to the citizens of Israel at this critical time. We are here to experience, if only for a few days what the lives of our brothers and sisters in southern Israel have been like for much too long. We are here to learn how we can help Israel when we return. Above all, we are here because we do not feel that we can be anywhere else this week. We dropped everything to come, on a moment’s notice, because when your home is in danger, you don’t run the other way. You come home, even if, for now, it’s just for a visit.
Our first day here was filled with experiences that we will never forget. We visited Kiryat Malachi, the scene of the recent fatal rocket attack. We climbed up to the devastated apartment, recited psalms and then visited family members of one of the victims, as they sat shiva in memory of their loved one. We traveled to Moshav Shibbolim, a small town in the Negev that none of us had ever heard of, and visited in small groups with families who live under the constant fear of rocket attacks. During these visits, a Red Alert was sounded and we were all forced to find cover together with our respective families. We spent time with children attending programs in a bomb shelter, because it is unsafe for them to go to school. We spoke with Israeli citizens, from government officials to people on the street, sharing our wishes and hearing their stories.
Over and over again, they thanked us for coming. Over and over again, I objected. The thanks, I explained, go in the opposite direction. We are here to thank them for their courage and dedication; for fighting our battles, every day of their lives.
Perhaps I’m dreaming, but you get the sense that globally things may have reached a tipping point. There is a sense of growing consensus – not only in Israel but throughout the world – that the status quo cannot continue. President Obama’s words say it all:
The precipitating event here… that’s causing the current crisis… was an ever-escalating number of missiles; they were landing not just in Israeli territory, but in areas that are populated. And there is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians. And we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself.
Perhaps the world community will finally give Israel the space to do what it needs to do; whatever any other country in the world under the same circumstances would do…
As I write these words, Tuesday evening in Israel, uncertainty hangs in the air. The dilemma haunts each Israeli. Will there be a cease-fire or a ground incursion into Gaza? Should Israel risk the lives of its young soldiers in an enterprise that is certain to carry loss? Can Israel, on the other hand, stop now, without real, tangible, lasting gains?
We will see what tomorrow brings. But for now I know one thing. There is nowhere else that I would rather be; nowhere else that I should be…