Bonna Devora Haberman

Blood red alert: Siren in the Diaspora

Many of us in Israel have been receiving emails and calls from people who express their concern about the situation. “Please know that you are in our thoughts and prayers”, they say. Some add, “if there is anything I can do, let me know.”

There is something you can do. Now. And I am letting you know.

Israeli children in the south of our small country are spending their summer in shelters. My son went to help out yesterday. In Gadera, in a room the size of our small Jerusalem living room, fifty children aged three to twelve are confined daily. They were “bouncing off the walls”. The young people doing their National Service were not able to reign in the chaos. How could we really expect young people to engage fifty children under such conditions for hours on end? Even a visiting seasoned teacher with her magical powers, castanets, timbrels, and forty years of experience was not able to bring them cheer.

Child's Drawing Shelter
On the way to the shelter

There’s no choice. 15 seconds is not enough time to get fifty children into a shelter between the instant the siren screams and when the rocket hits ground. The panic of racing there is more traumatic than staying “safe”—packed inside an underground room instead of running and playing outdoors, summer camp, swimming, easy and lazy. What a way to spend summer vacation.

Operating rooms at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon run through sirens, treating wounded Israelis and Palestinians evacuated by our ambulances from Gaza.

Meanwhile, our grown children are summoned from their studies and work, from their own children and spouses. Gathering their gear, uniforms and boots, our kids bus off to their units. In scorching desert heat, they prepare for a ground assault into enemy terrain, houses and buildings booby-trapped with explosives, tunneled with secret passageways into which they might, heaven forfend, be snatched. An ultimate Hamas prize. They wait. With fear of unknown missions weighing on our hearts, each incoming phone call jolts. To hear precious words, “I’m ok”, we wait.

In another era of Israel-Diaspora relations, Jews flocked to Israel during hard times. In 1967 and 1973, planes were packed with volunteers. To pick fruit hanging ripe while soldiers served, to help families in distress, in hospital wards, to offer caring hands to frightened children, to support and patronize businesses, and to help ease the isolation. Reb Shlomo toured non-stop, singing his soulful melodies in hospitals, to soldiers, children, elders, listening to and soothing pain and fear. Hugging, crying, and smiling.

Regardless of political or religious views, our inextricable destiny was blatant. I recall the days after the 1967 Six-Day War when observant men in my small Diaspora Jewish community took off their hats and wore their kippot proudly in the streets for the first time. After 1973, and the rise of OPEC, I recall bumper stickers, “Kill the Jews, Give us our oil.” And the one on my brother’s car, “IsraelIsreal.”

Since its inception, Israel and our joint institutions come through for every Diaspora community in danger or with needs, from Yemen to Morocco, Europe, the former Soviet Union, and the Americas. Israeli soldiers—our children, siblings, spouses, parents and friends—risk their lives for the security and wellbeing of our People at every hour.

During the first Gulf War, we received more phone calls than visits. Today, people post messages of solidarity or self-righteous indignation to facebook, to the cyber-ether. Cancellations and postponements of planned visits are pouring in—until the situation stabilizes. “My family is too worried about my safety.” And ours?

Discussing a moral dilemma—is it better to kill someone or be killed?—the Talmudic sage Rava offers the following argument,

Who knows whether your blood is redder? Perhaps that person’s blood is redder. (Sanhedrin74a)

All blood is red.

Hundreds of thousands of Diaspora young people have come to explore Israel on sponsored trips, for good times. Academics come for sabbaticals. Many singles, families, and educators come to learn Hebrew and study Jewish texts, to explore and strengthen their Jewish identity, to celebrate a bat or bar mitzva, and to enjoy a range of Israeli experiences.

No matter what your politics—may fruitful, respectful, and caring disagreements flourish—let us sound a siren in the Diaspora. Call on your leaders, communities, associates, family, and friends to respond to this red alert. The probability of getting hit by a rocket in Israeli this summer is probably lower than dying in a traffic accident near your home. Nonetheless, the opportunity to offer support to the residents of the south is outstanding–to be present in the complexity of the Middle East, to be an emotional-spiritual Iron Dome. None of us planned to spend our summer this way either.

In short, we appreciate your prayers, your messages of concern, and your criticisms.

Please deliver them.

In person.

To a shelter near us.

About the Author
The late Bonna Devora Haberman is author of 'Israeli Feminism Liberating Judaism: Blood and Ink' and 'ReReading Israel: The Spirit of the Matter,' National Jewish Book Award finalist. Dr. Haberman taught at Harvard, Brandeis and Hebrew universities. In Jerusalem, she initiated Women of the Wall, a 25 year strong movement for women's full participation and leadership of public religious practice. -- Dr. Haberman died on June 16, 2015.