Several years ago, before we made aliyah from Canada, we were friends with an older Israeli couple who left Israel so their son wouldn’t have to go to the army. One day our phone rang and whoever was on the other end told us that the son had been killed the previous night. He and a business associate were moving diamonds from one location to another somewhere in Toronto and they were intercepted by some bad guys. He was 23 years old. The most memorable thing about his funeral and shiva was his mother crying out in anguish: “If we had stayed in Israel and he had died (presumably during his army service), at least he would have died for a good reason.”
That moment popped into my head on Wednesday morning when my daughter knocked on my bedroom door and said “Noa’s fiancé was killed last night in Gaza.” Instantly all the air was sucked out of the room. He was sitting in my kitchen four weeks ago laughing at whatever seemed funny at that moment. Well there is no laughing now and I can’t stop wondering if anyone feels better that their loved one died for the “good reason” of protecting their country.
He is not the first to die in this existential war and unfortunately, we all know, he won’t be the last.
There are many benefits to being Jewish in Israel, not the least of which is feeling safe to be a Jew. You don’t have to observe Jewish rituals, but you can. You don’t have to celebrate Jewish holidays, but you know when they take place because grocery stores and shopping malls advertise their holiday sales. And no one asks you if you are still going to ignore your annual military service obligations and leave the country for good – because of the judicial reforms – as soon as the first siren blows. Or when that message from the army pops up on your adult children’s phones: “Drop whatever you are doing and come immediately.”
That sounds like a “good reason.”
In the past 28 days, most of the country has mobilized in one way or another. One man showed up where soldiers were positioned, with portable showers and clean underwear. Another man arrived later with portable washing machines and dryers. Lots of ad hoc community groups have sprung up and pulled off miracles. There are too many to list here but one of my favorites was the Friday morning message on my synagogue’s WhatsApp group. Here’s the gist of it: a group of 480 in the north did not receive its Shabbat supplies and they need food. We need volunteers to cook and, after dropping it off at a designated pick-up spot, we need someone to drive it to them before sundown when Shabbat begins. And do you know what? They did it. All while preparing for their own Shabbats.
International news watchers probably doubted that Israel could pull itself together after the mess of the past three-quarters of a year. Of course they were wrong because somewhere deep inside of us we know that we are stronger together than we are apart. Any and all differences fell away when Israel realized it was fighting for its life. At the end of the day, we are all we have.
No matter how much we contribute to the well-being of the world; no matter how many Nobel Prizes our talented people win; no matter how many times our medical teams race into the world’s danger spots and natural disaster areas to help out; no matter how many technological and medical breakthroughs our scientists and hi-tech people make; the world does not want us and they truly believe that they would be better off without us.
So does it matter if a sweet, kind 24-year-old young man (Ariel Reich z”l), who responded to the message from the army on his phone four weeks ago, in the middle of Shabbat, who just wanted to marry his girlfriend and build a life with her, died to save us all? Israelis will honor him and others like him forever, even when the message from the rest of the world is “you didn’t have a good reason.”