Hayim Leiter
Rabbi, mohel, misader kiddushin, beit din member

Fire from above

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

My work days are not the standard nine to five. The schedule changes almost daily. It’s the reality of being self-employed. I usually have one, maybe two events in a day; be it a Brit Milah, a conversion or a wedding. However, the other day was busy from morning until evening.

It couldn’t have been a better day to travel the country. For some reason, unknown to all of us, it’s still cool in Israel. So, it was clear with scattered clouds and mild temperatures, my kind of driving day.

Midday, I had a meeting in Tel Aviv on my way to officiate at a wedding in Zichron Yaakov. As is my practice on long drives, I was listening to an “Honestly” podcast. This one was a recording of a live debate entitled, “Is Israel’s War Just?” Right up my alley. 

There were two panelists arguing in the affirmative and two in the negative. They were all over each other, passionately debating the issue, when someone said Israel should not be a Jewish State. She said all of the Arabs should have the right of return and Israel should become another democracy, much like America, devoid of its religious identity. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“CRITICAL- Rocket and missile fire” 

Suddenly, a Homefront Command notification appeared on my phone. This meant I had less than a minute to get out of my car and lay down with my hands over my head. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Rockets in Tel Aviv? The middle of the country had been quiet for months. 

BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! The explosions were instantaneous and directly overhead. I hadn’t even had time to pull over. I suppose sometimes the Homefront Command warnings are delayed. Thank God the Iron Dome response wasn’t. 

As the dust settled, my focus returned to the podcast. “The right of return is what will ultimately lead to peace,” the panelist reiterated. I wanted to yank her out of the radio and sit her next to me. I could imagine our conversation. “Do you see that?” I’d ask her, pointing at the smoke trails in the sky. “That’s a rocket. If we hadn’t had the Iron Dome right now we might be dead.” In fact, I later heard there was a woman injured by shrapnel not far from where I was. 

It’s so easy to argue these points from the safety of a social hall in America. People are certain they know exactly what’s happening here and how to fix it. They seem to know the root cause of the problem — and it’s almost always Israel. If only we’d done more of this or less of that, the whole problem would miraculously disappear. But very few people spend time thinking about what’s happening right now. They have no idea what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a Qassam rocket.

I managed to pull myself together, head to my meeting and subsequently to the wedding in Zichron. As we prepared to sign the Ketubah, my phone continued to ring with additional rocket warnings across the country. It’s unnerving knowing that the Huppah could be interrupted at any moment by air raid sirens. But somehow you press on, praying you won’t have to face that reality.

On the drive home, as I made my way through Or Akiva just after dark, I saw a massive fire. My heart stopped. Had a rocket struck the town? Were we under attack? Why hadn’t the Homefront Command warned me?

I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized it was Lag BaOmer. Once a year, children collect wood (in essence, anything not bolted down) and light enormous fires all over the country. It commemorates the end of the plague that took the lives of 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students some 2,000 years ago. 

At the same time as Israeli children lit their bonfires, Gazans were lighting their own. You may think they wanted to join in the celebration, but you’d be mistaken. The Gazans were celebrating news of Hamas’s capture of three Israeli soldiers. Baruch Hashem (thank God), this report was a lie. Another one of Hamas’s manipulation tactics. But the two communities’ reasons for igniting fires are telling — one choosing life, the other choosing death. I only pray that people like the “Honestly” panelist will soon see the difference.

About the Author
Rav Hayim Leiter is a rabbi, mohel, wedding officiant, and member of a private Beit Din in Israel. He founded Magen HaBrit, an organization committed to protecting both our sacred ceremony of Brit Milah and the children who undergo it. He made Aliyah in 2009 and lives in Efrat with his wife and four children.
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