Airport Reflection – Words I’m Taking to Tel Aviv

First entry in blog on my way to Israel. It’s been 6 years since I’ve been in Israel, but it feels like forever. I’ve been reading incessantly about the conflict, so much so that I’ve forgotten about the country. It’s been all IDF v. Hamas on the mainstream media and social media here, and frankly I haven’t dug deep enough into Haaretz, the Jewish Times, JPost to see more then the conflict– to see how Israel–how my colleagues, my friends, my people are doing. How is Israeli society coping? With what I would assume is more than 100,000 parents’ with kids in Gaza right now, how does that tension manifest in the air? I don’t see in the news the inspiring acts of gimilut chasadim, lovingkindness, for which Israel is so famous. That’s why I’m going, to see how the State is doing, given the the state of affairs.

I also am eager to hear from Israelis vis-a-vis the devastating humanitarian state in Gaza. I’ve heard the arguments about why this is Hamas’ fault, but that cannot be the end of the conversation. I recall the Midrash that teaches about God’s anguish over the drowning Egyptians, those who chased after the Israelites to bring them back into slavery. Do the people Israel still believe that God cries over the loss of all life?

I know, I have seen, and I still believe that Israel- for all its social illnesses– its extremist elements, its inequalities– is a society in which morality is a part of the dominant culture. It’s a nation that does see itself as a “light unto the nations,” however its interpreted (or misinterpreted). As I board the plane, I’m departing from a progressive community that is torn over what to make of this mess; some young adults emailing me and calling me, asking me how the mainstream Jewish community appears to have such tolerance for more than 1,000 dead Palestinians (not my perception or viewpoint); others who feel Israel hasn’t been aggressive enough, that so long as Hamas hides in Hospitals and Schools, they are the ones who transform the Hospitals and Schools into Military Bases worthy of full-scale attack (also not my viewpoint).

Complexity. Nuance. Humaneness. Stories. These are the words that I keep returning to, the words I’m carrying with me as I now close my computer to board the plane.

About the Author
Matthew Soffer is the Senior Associate Rabbi at Temple Israel of Boston, where he leads the social justice efforts, practicing congregation-based community organizing with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO). Matt serves on the Advisory Council of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, the Board of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA), the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, and the Rabbinic Council of Hand-in-Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel.