Mori Sokal

Raise your hands

Machane Yehuda, May 2021

As a teacher, one of the first things you teach your students is to raise their hands when they want to speak or ask a question during the lesson. We do this to instill respect for others, both classmates and teachers, to increase patience and teach delayed gratification, and of course, so that we can get some teaching of the subject matter accomplished too. But raising one’s hands has other implications as well. Sometimes, we do it when we shrug, to show we don’t know the answer. Sometimes, we “throw up our hands” to indicate failure; we give up, we just can’t anymore.  And of course, I think it is universal to be told to put one’s hands up as commanded by police when they are arresting someone, so the person under arrest can show that they are not a threat.

There are other times we raise our hands also. We raise our hands when we reach out to someone for help, and they reach out to us in return, picking us up with their strength. Sadly, we also raise our hands in violence, although, as I remember being taught, even to raise one’s hand in a threatening manner is bad (sorry, baby sister). Also, even though this is not generally the Jewish way to pray, the ‘prayer emoji’ is two hands clasped together and slightly raised, and I know that it has become a symbol that we use as well to symbolize that we are asking for help from Above.

Tonight, I have plenty of other teaching work to do, but somehow when I opened Word, this flood of words poured into my head and out onto my “word processor.” I guess we all need a way to process when there is just so much happening.

It is quiet in my neighborhood now with just a few cars passing, some voices heard from other balconies through the window, although it is early. In fact, it is unusually quiet for such a balmy evening—no teens or kids in the park, no one at all. [When I mentioned the quiet to my husband, he remembered a summer evening during the war in 2014, Tzuk Eitan. He said the teens were hanging out in the park, talking and laughing. It was early—9pm. Suddenly there was a siren. And then, ten minutes later, the all clear. Yet somehow, the objective of the terrorists’ rockets, to cause terror, was accomplished—for the rest of the night, it was eerily quiet.]

It is not quiet in many other towns and areas in Israel and in Gaza tonight, or for the past two nights and days. Again, we head into the summer months gearing up for war. Again there is what feels like a never ending cycle of they did, we did, and all of the escalation- endless Red Alerts, rockets, riots, shooting, insanity. Is it not the definition of insanity to do the same thing again and again and to expect different results?

Just yesterday morning I was enjoying a trip to Jerusalem with my school, wandering around one of the older sections of the city on a treasure hunt of sorts. We ended by relaxing under the trees in Gan Sacher, our “Central Park.” I was thinking about joining the afternoon parade through the Old City, having been blissfully ignorant of the trouble (not a strong enough word, I know) that was brewing. Trouble, unrest- these words don’t paint a clear picture of what is boiling, festering under the surface. After a long, hot morning, I decided not to join the parade in the end, getting home before the shocking event of rockets being shot at Jerusalem. While we were there I was thinking about the first Yom Yerushalayim I can remember, just after the Gulf War. We had a lot to celebrate, like no more being woken by sirens in the middle of the night to run breathlessly to sealed rooms depending on which area you were in…right, that again. I had visited a friend up north for Shabbat and came back late that night by bus, joining the crowds as we marched from the Central Bus Station all the way to the Kotel to sing and dance. The other Yom Yerushalayim that came to mind yesterday was the very special celebration four years ago of 50 years since the reunification, when I had the opportunity to meet the three paratroopers from the famous picture where they/we won back the Kotel. As my high school students said of the soldiers today when I showed them the picture from 2017, “They look old!”- and I said “Yes, and aren’t they lucky to have gotten old?”- because our soldiers and citizens do not always get that blessing. I felt blessed to have had a chance to chat with one of them, Yitzchak Yifat, who seemed sweet and demure as he told me about his life’s work as a doctor, and said that he never understood why all this fuss was made about him, about them- after all, they weren’t special, so many soldiers fought and even gave their lives that day. As I explained to my students on Sunday, what Dr. Yifat seems to still be puzzled about is that, just like Jerusalem itself, he has become a symbol for the Jewish people. I think it was particularly the look of wonder on his young face in the picture as they reached the wall that still strikes a chord in all of the Jewish people, which is why they-he in particular-have found a place in our hearts like the Kotel itself. As Motta Gur, the chief of the armed forces (according to the Mizrachi video linked below) said that day in 1967, “I am not a religious person and I never was, but I am touching the stones of the Western Wall,” and then said shehechiyanu; it didn’t matter if you were religious- reaching the wall, the heart of our people, was so powerful, all the paratroopers were crying and reaching out to touch it.

Winning back the Western Wall in 1967 wasn’t about the Jews suddenly deciding to take a piece of land, to conquer. We were defending ourselves, which resulted in reunifying- bringing back together a city that had been separated for so many years, returning to our home.

We watch the videos explaining how the Six Day War was won, by our tiny country, against an astounding array of enemies. We watch how, unbelievably, and against Prime Minister Levi Eshkol’s request, Jordan joined the war- an aggressive action which itself was what opened up the possibility that became reality of our eventual conquering the Temple Mount. We watch as time and again, Israel wins.

Israel- we are not perfect, indeed, we are most certainly a dysfunctional family who can’t seem to agree on a government in the past two years. We make mistakes, and yet we keep trying to please everyone- even when it is not possible to make some people in the world happy with anything less than holding our breath and going into the Mediterranean. As someone posted tonight, somehow our having lower casualties seems to be a sign that we are the aggressors, even though mothers in Israel are also standing over cribs in the dark tonight, holding their breath and hoping not to have to run to the shelter with their babies.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the reunification of Jerusalem on Wikipedia, an open source website (without bias, it seems), and here are a few facts from there:

Demographic impact of reunification

Under Jordanian rule no Jews were permitted to live in the city, which was governed as part of the Jordanian rule West Bank, and the Christian population plummeted, falling from 25,000 to 9,000.[7]

Impact of reunification on worship

Reunification ended the programmatic Islamization of Jerusalem by the government of Jordan, a policy that had included the destruction of dozens of synagogues; the imposition of Arabic-language, government-issued textbooks in Christian schools; a ban on the purchase of property by churches; a ban on church funding of social and medical services, including hospitals; and a complete ban on visits to Jewish holy places by Jewish pilgrims.

Freedom of worship by members of all faiths was restored immediately following reunification. (Emphasis mine)

We didn’t even plan to take back the Temple Mount, as we respected the worship of other cultures, as we still do. But on the day after we celebrated our special city of Jerusalem with the famous words “Har Habayit B’yadenu” (The Temple Mount is in our hands), it hurts to think, yes, it was, but did it slip out of our raised hands? Did we give up too much, or not enough? You can read some of the underlying causes for this week’s rain of rockets and rage, but to me, it looks like an excuse. Yes, some of us did some things we should not have, and those wrongs should be addressed, but where are the proportions? How many empty office buildings will we bomb while they bomb downtown Tel Aviv? But at the same time, what can we do? What is right? Jews are good at asking questions, and we need to get to work on some answers. When I look at the two state solution, and then I look out my window at our Arab neighbors who are closer ot us than the other end of our town, I know that people proposing these ideas don’t live here, and don’t understand. On the one hand, I want to say get real—there needs to be a new plan that is both humanitarian and will also stop the insanity. And on the other, I am living here because I believe in our history; if I may steal a great line: Jerusalem, I love you three thousand—because the Jews have loved you for that many years.

On Sunday, when I taught about Yom Yerushalayim, even my students echoed the famous words “Har Habayit B’yadenu” as they played over the video clip. What I didn’t say to them, because it is hard to look into those innocent faces and tell them that yes, we have our miracles, whether they are a result of intelligence (both military and the usual kind) and planning or a Hand from Above, is that we have to win every war, every time. We give our children to our nation as soldiers with their consent, but we also put them in danger by where we chose to live. I still remember four-year old Daniel from the south, who died from a rocket attack not long ago. And today, my breath caught as I read my instructions about what to do on our large campus where I teach in a caravan removed from the main building—duck and cover. Yes, if there’s no chance of getting to safety in the extra-long (compared to Ashdod and Sderot’s 15 seconds) 90 seconds between the Red Alert siren and a rocket hitting our area, I am supposed to tell these children to go back to the 1950s, and get under their desks and cover their heads.

I really don’t know what to do with all of this.

In this video about the six Day war and the reunification of Jerusalem, Rabbi Doron Peretz of World Mizrachi tells us that Jews, no matter what happens, the Inquisition, the Holocaust…we get up the next day and dust ourselves off. It is hard to proceed as normal when it is anything but, even when we have done it over and over. Some of us here will be having school over zoom again, just when life was returning to a semblance of normality, and some of us will be at work or at school, running rocket drills with our classes. But we will get up, because that’s what we do.

Tomorrow (tonight) is Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the start of a new month, where again (for the third time in just a few weeks, the second time this week after Yom Yerushalayim), we say Hallel, Praise of Thanksgiving to Hashem. In it, we also have a special prayer asking for Hashem to save us and send us success.

So I, like many in our nation, am raising my hands in prayer, that we can say goodnight to each other and wake up in the morning, and go to work and go to school “like normal”, and that, in these days as in those, we will be granted the blessing of continuing to have our Jerusalem, and our lives, in our hands.

About the Author
Mori Sokal is a SIXTEEN year veteran of Aliyah, mother of three wonderful children (with her wonderful husband) and is an English teacher in both elementary and high school in the Gush Etzion-Jerusalem area. She has a Masters’ degree in teaching, is a copy editor, and has published articles in Building Blocks, the Jewish Press magazine.
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