I always love visiting my family. Having lived in Israel for 16 years, there’s so much to look forward to with a trip to the States. So when the time arrived to travel with my youngest daughter, there was plenty to be excited about. Little did I know how different things would be this time around.
I’ve only lived in two places in Israel; Jerusalem and Efrat. When tensions flare-up, and rockets start flying, those two areas tend to be less affected than the north and south. During these times, those of us who live in the middle of the country have to watch as those being terrorized run repeatedly to the bomb shelters. In fact, I’d say that we middlers have gotten a bit complacent — that is, until the last round of fighting.
I called my mother the afternoon of our flight to the US. “I’m not sure if we’ll be leaving on time,” I told her. Rocket fire was getting dangerously close to the Tel Aviv area. I could hear her nervously inhale on the other end. “It’s just how it is,” I said. It did not feel like a time I wanted to be leaving my wife and three other children behind.
Upon our arrival in Philadelphia, the tensions at home were far from settled. “Don’t worry, Ima, the rocket’s never come to Efrat. The Gazans don’t want to take the chance of hitting their brethren that live in the region.” I’m not sure why I said this. Even though statistically accurate, it seemed at least over-confident. But I didn’t want her to worry about her grandchildren.
I woke up the first morning of the trip to a message from a father of a Bris I had done a few weeks prior. “I hope you’re ok.” In my sleep stupor, I almost shot off a response of, “I’m fine, how are you?” But the weight of the question quickly became apparent to me. The rockets had been fired at my home.
I immediately called my wife. “We’re fine,” she assured me. I’ve always known how strong she is, but this went above and beyond. The only child who had been home at the time of the attack had been my eldest daughter. She and my wife nervously waited in the bomb shelter to find out the whereabouts of my two sons. During dismissal, our youngest had been rushed back into the school shelters as the sirens blared from above. My eldest son had hidden behind a wall near the baseball field his little league had been playing on. It was the best they could do.
Thank God, the rocket landed in a nearby field and no one was hurt. But the emotional effects are still reverberating in the community.
My younger daughter and I spent the first Shabbat of our trip with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law in New York. I attended Kabbalat Shabbat at their local synagogue, a well-known Zionist congregation I’d frequented many times in the past.
In between Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv, the rabbi ascended the Bimah to address the Kehillah. “There are many emotions this Shabbat,” he began. There was a death in the community that week, so the rabbi addressed the mourners. Many attendees were also eagerly looking forward to a large Bat Mitzvah scheduled for the morning. “And still, due to the cycle of violence, rockets rain down on our brothers and sisters in Israel,” the rabbi concluded.
At first, I was comforted that the situation in Israel had been mentioned. That’s not always the case in American congregations. I, for one, could not stop worrying that my family and friends were going to have to spend Shabbat running for safety.
But then the weight of the rabbi’s words came clear to me. This was one of the premier Zionist shuls in America and they saw no issue with describing our situation as a “cycle of violence”. My wife and children did nothing to instigate this aggression, nor had any of the other civilians in Israel. When I questioned a colleague the next morning, he assured me that no one deems these words to be loaded terms anymore.
The following week was Yom Yerushalayim. Having visited my parents’ home in Lake George, N.Y., I spent most of my time praying alone and I was hoping to find festive davening somewhere in the Philadelphia area. It may very well be the case that some synagogues did something to commemorate the day, but nothing was listed on any of their websites. Praying Hallel on my parents’ porch, I felt very far from home.
Toward the end of the trip, I received the Orthodox Union’s weekly email. I generally ignore it outright, but for some reason, the subject line caught my eye. “Halacha: Can One Receive Appliance Deliveries on Shabbat” it read. It felt as if this were the last straw.
I’m not one to wag my finger. I know that all halachic questions should be taken seriously. I am a rabbi, after all. But this felt beyond being tone-deaf. From the Dee family tragedy, which had occurred only a few weeks ago, to the bombs that rained down on Israel at the time, the distance between the two continents never felt farther in my eyes.
My community of Efrat, as well as Israel in the North and South, were under a barrage of rocket fire and it felt like the Jews of America, the ones who tend most to care about our homeland, were wondering whether or not they could get their stove installed on Shabbat.
We are in very different places. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with geography.