Chana Pinto
Am Yisrael Chai

A Light Unto the Nations?

Beach in Israel, taken by the writer -Summer 2022
Beach in Israel, taken by the writer -Summer 2022

I am really happy living in Israel. One of my taglines on my profile on this blogging platform states that I “moved to Israel in 2005 and have never looked back”. And though I often claim that I have acclimated to life here very well and that I can speak Hebrew and even think like an Israeli, there are still times when I stand back and observe an “Only in Israel” moment in amazement. Sometimes those are surreal moments, such as in times of emergency, when there is a terrible accident or a terrorist attack, G-d forbid. Everyone jumps in to help, and through the fear, anger and sadness that we all feel, we can all agree that Israelis are looking out for each other and will drop everything to assist. It’s truly heart-warming, and it is at times such as these that I feel that we, the Jewish people- Am Yisrael, are a “Light unto the nations” of the world, and other people should look to us as an example.

But…there are other not-so-proud moments. Like what happened on Tuesday and Wednesday on the beach in Ashkelon. Though we don’t as yet have all the details, from what I have read and seen in the news, it went something like this:

Due to the stormy weather that we just experienced here in Israel, several (anywhere between three and nine, according to reports) cargo containers tumbled off a ship that was anchored off the coast of Ashkelon, and washed up close to the shore. I don’t know who saw it first or how word got out, but in seemingly no time at all, hundreds of people from all sectors of Israeli society were racing to the scene to collect the loot. They brought drills, wire-cutters and crowbars to break open the massive metal shipping container doors, which contained thousands of items, such as toys, baby accessories and even appliances.  The crowds went crazy, collecting as many things as they could. People were seen helping each other haul a refrigerator up to the beach from the shallow water. Videos on Twitter and online news sites showed men in their underwear, not wanting to get their clothing wet while they retrieved items from the ocean.

According to reports, the containers contained electronics, jewelry, kitchen appliances, cleaning products, baby supplies, and plastic items. One person told Ynet that “It is a mitzvah to collect this stuff. Either it will get thrown out or it will pollute the ocean.” Another looter commented that “It’s a once-in-a-generation event,” and yet another added that this was happening because of (the last government’s Finance Minister) Avigdor Liberman, who had raised prices all over the country, and now “G-d gave us a gift”.

Well, I guess that’s one way to look at it. And for those who seemed so concerned about the disastrous environmental effect this would have on our oceans and sea life, I wouldn’t go so far as to calling it a “mitzvah”. They should just admit that G-d did not actually give them a gift; they were actually stealing it. Yes, stealing.

The containers do not belong to the looters. These people had nothing to do with the importing or shipping of the contents within. A storm-related accident occurred, and the containers fell off the cargo ship. Does that make them hefker (unclaimed property)? Why did these shnorrers think that these items were up for grabs? Not only that, but they went so far as to break open the seals on these containers to take the items inside. This is plain thievery, and totally wrong. This is the opposite of a “mitzvah”, rather it is a transgression of the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal”. These actions are despicable and shameful. A real chilul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name) and an embarrassment for Israel and Jews worldwide.

Did I even need to point this out? When I read what was going on, it seemed like a really bad joke. But it isn’t a joke. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time. On the same day as the container fiasco, a Google screenshot post went viral across social media about an online dictionary definition of the word “jew”. Needless to say, it was extremely offensive and stereotypically antisemitic. Within hours, Google changed the dictionary entry, but how long had it been online and how many Jew-haters had seen it? The irony of the pathetic looting frenzy on the beach occurring on the same day as the uproar over the Google definition of “jew” should not be lost on any of us. Very very sad.

Screenshot of the offensive Google definition prior to it being changed.

Yet, I see hope. This week at work, a colleague and friend of mine asked me for a favor. She had been at a store last week and paid for one specific food item. When she got home she realized that there were actually two of this item in her bag. She knew that I frequent this establishment and asked me if the next time I am there,  would I be so kind as to give the cashier 4 shekels on her behalf (which she promptly handed me), and to explain what had happened. I agreed to do this for her, with pleasure.

This is honesty. This is how a Jew should behave, how all Israelis should behave. A Kiddush Hashem, and a “light unto the nations”.

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Chana Resnick Pinto made aliya from Toronto in 2005 with her family and has lived in the Sharon area of Central Israel ever since. She earned a BA from Yeshiva University and an MSEd from Bank Street College of Education in New York City. Chana works at Eric Cohen Books in Ra'anana and loves living in Israel. She encourages everyone to stop and smell the flowers and always appreciate the small things.
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