Do Israelis Know How Much We Really Care?

Some mid-summer reflections:

I wonder if Israelis know how emotionally involved many American Jews are with the current fighting in Gaza. Do they know that for those of us who love Israel, Gaza is the only thing we seem able to talk about when we go out to dinner or stay home with the family or speak on the phone? Do they know that we weep with them at the loss of each IDF soldier, or that the news from Israel is the first thing we turn to in our newspapers (and rue the unfair coverage) and the last thing we Google about before going to bed? Do they know that we can almost hear the rocket sirens go off in our heads and feel the rush of fear they experience as they run to shelters?

I don’t think they know this. When I speak to friends in Israel, they’re grateful for my phone calls, but they talk of being isolated in a world that has become increasingly hostile to them. “Why aren’t American Jews marching on Washington?” an Israeli friend railed after the FAA briefly banned flights to Israel, making Israelis feel ever more isolated. There hasn’t been a march on Washington, but American Jews have held rallies and solidarity gatherings and recited prayers for Israel’s troops in every synagogue in the country. I’m not sure my Israeli friend knows about these things, because they’re rarely reported in the media. Attracting more attention are anti-Israel protests and “disproportionality” accusations about the country’s response to the missiles menacing it.

I don’t think most Israelis truly understand how strongly we identify with them even living as we do outside the land. There is always a thread of tension about why we are here and not there. I once interviewed an Israeli historian who shouted at me, “You might observe Shabbat and kashrut and all the rest, but even if I eat a ham sandwich on Yom Kippur, I am a better Jew than you, because I live in the Land of Israel.” He might be right; his grandson, not mine, is picking his way through a treacherous tunnel in Gaza; his family, not mine, is on the front lines of defending the Jewish state. But he needs to know, as do all Israelis, how deeply we care about their well being. So we need to keep phoning, e-mailing, and texting to show our support.

Within Israel, people are more united than they have been in years. True, the nation always comes together in war time, but the fact that rockets have rained down on all parts of the country, not only the south, has pulled them nearer to each other. And the shocking extent of the Hamas tunnels has united them in the determination to keep going, to destroy as many tunnels as possible. An Israeli scholar I know compared the shock of the tunnels to the shock of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. At that time, Israeli intelligence kept predicting a “low probability” of war even as Egypt and Syria moved closer and closer to launching hostilities against Israel. This time, although Israeli leaders knew about the tunnels for years, they were still stunned to discover how complex the entire network is. In the 1973 war, Israelis felt their existence was at stake. That is not so now, but nobody doubts the dangers those terrorist tunnels pose as entry points into Israel. 

Speaking of`1973, I have noticed some famous quotes by Golda Meir, Israel’s prime minister then, surfacing on the social media, sometimes with no recognition of their source. One, “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us,” had been criticized by some over the years as insulting to Arab parents, who surely love their children. But when we learn that Hamas used Palestinian children to help build their tunnels, with a reported 160 of them dying in the process, and is still using teenagers to fight Israeli soldiers inside the tunnels, those words take on significant meaning. Another quote, “When peace comes we will perhaps be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons,” can be seen in a new light with Hamas’ cowardly use of Gaza’s civilians — sons and daughters — as human shields. 

One more thought in this difficult summer: Anti-Semitism has recently become rampant across Europe. Newsweek magazine a few weeks ago chronicled the violence against Jews in France, Belgium, Hungary and other countries, with numbers fleeing their homes. During the 1930s, Europe’s Jews had no place to go. Today there is Israel, the Jewish homeland, to be valued more than ever, especially now, under attack.

Francine Klagsbrun’s book “The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day,” is now an e-book. She is currently writing a biography of Golda Meir.

About the Author
Francine Klagsbrun, a Jewish Week columnist, is the author of more than a dozen books, among them Voices of Wisdom: Jewish Ideals and Ethics for Everyday Living. She was the editor of the best-selling Free To Be You and Me, produced by Marlo Thomas and the Ms. Foundation. Her newest work is an in-depth biography of Golda Meir to be published in September 2017 by Schocken Books.