For the Love of Family

As a community of Jews in the Diaspora, we are like one big family. A complicated family, to be sure. We come from Ashkenazi parents, Sephardic parents, Mizrahi, combinations of the above. We come from gay couples and straight couples and intermarriages and so much more. We know that our strength is in our diversity. And we know that families argue. They disagree, each member feeling she knows what is best for the whole. We get it. Times are complicated.

Hadassah, The Women’s Organization of America, Inc. (HWZOA) is concerned that Israel’s new Nation State Bill adopts language that differs from the language of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which states, “The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the ingathering of the exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants…”

Lately, it might seem that what divides speaks louder than what unites us. In this difficult time, let’s have our disagreements. But like a family, let’s come together and bolster each other. Israel needs us to speak louder about what unites us, which is undoubtedly greater than what tears us apart.

A little over a week ago, thousands of Israelis spent Shabbat in bomb shelters and stairwells while 200 rockets and mortar shells rained down from Gaza. According to a study by the Journal of Adolescent Health, over 40% of Sderot’s children suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder due to significant war-related exposure. Hamas operatives continue to deploy kites and balloons fashioned with incendiary materials and explosives into Israel, scorching thousands of acres of agricultural land and nature reserves. On July 20, IDF Staff Sgt. Aviv Levy, aged 20, was killed by sniper fire near the Gaza border.

As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces move to take over the last rebel-held strongholds near Israel’s border, its close friend and financial backer, Iran, becomes emboldened. In May 2018, over 20 Iranian rockets were fired from Syria into Israel. Since February, several drones, some armed to attack, have been flown by Iranian forces into Israel.

This is the reality on the ground in Israel. We in the Diaspora have the luxury of contemplating specific Israeli policies and politics, and indeed we must. However, we must not forget or downplay that our brothers and sisters are literally fighting for their lives, for the existence of the country that is part of all of us.

And while Israel fights the flames in the south, and reinforces its troops in the north, it continues to be a light unto the nations. Just days ago, the IDF was responsible for evacuating 800 white helmets (volunteer medics) and their families facing imminent danger in Syria to Jordan. Israel continues to provide humanitarian aid of all sorts to the people of Syria through the IDF’s Good Neighbor program.

Hadassah’s hospitals in Jerusalem have so far treated seven Syrian civilians with complicated conditions, including two year old Layal who recently had an operation at Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem, to heal a congenital heart defect. These civilians have to covertly cross the border into Israel at night with help from the IDF.

Let’s not forget the recent news from Thailand, when all twelve boys and their coach who were trapped in a cave for weeks were saved with the help of Israeli technology that allowed radio and visual communication between the trapped soccer team and their rescuers.

We just commemorated Tisha B’Av, when we mourned the destruction of the first and second Temples. It is also a time to contemplate the violence and tragedy that exist in our world today. At the end of this week, we will celebrate Tu B’Av, the Jewish day of love. This juxtaposition offers us a deep spiritual and practical knowledge: even in times when things seem the darkest, love is what gets us through.

I urge us all to advocate for what we believe in. I am worried that Israel is being attacked on two borders. I’m worried that the headlines too often don’t reflect the whole picture.

I’m going to keep standing up for Israel, for a strong US-Israel relationship that takes the safety and security of all people in the region into account. I’m going to keep talking about the positive works that Israel is undertaking for the world, while simultaneously being threatened from north to south. I’m going to share my love of Israel with our whole family.

About the Author
Ellen Hershkin is the 26th National President of Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. (HWZOA) after having served in numerous key board and committee positions for over four decades. As part of a fourth generation Hadassah Life Member family, her service to Hadassah encompasses her passion for Zionism, advocacy, and medical research. Ellen has been a two-time recipient of the Woman of the Year Award from the Dix Hills Hadassah Chapter in 1977 and from the Hadassah Suffolk Region in 1984. She was also recognized by the Dix Hills Chapter with the National Leadership Award and the Love of a Lifetime Award. In May 2006, the Suffolk Council of Jewish Organizations bestowed its highest honor on her for leadership, commitment and dedication to Jewish life. In addition to her work for Hadassah, Ellen has served on the boards of the Jewish National Fund, the United Israel Appeal Board of Trustees, the Suffolk Council of Jewish Organizations and was a member of the American Jewish Congress Women’s Roundtable. She serves on the executive boards of her local civic association and of the Friends of Israel Sports Center for the Disabled in Ramat Gan, Israel, of which she is a founding member.
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