Yonatan Sredni

Speechless in Israel

Israeli flag  Creator: sezer ozger 
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Israeli flag Creator: sezer ozger Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

I make my living as a writer, but right now I am speechless. I have no words.

Three months ago I had successful surgery to remove a cancerous growth around my right kidney (they removed the kidney too) and physically I could not bring myself to a computer to write for nearly two months. Thank God I have recovered, but after the horrific events in southern Israel this past Shabbat (Saturday), I find myself unable to write again – I just can’t.

Each week, for the last decade or so, I have sat down at my laptop and written a short blog about the weekly Torah portion. I draw from my personal experiences of the week, from Torah insights I find online, and often tie in something from the news and/or pop-culture. My goal is to be inspiring. My greatest joy is sharing an idea that my readers like enough to consider sharing at their family Shabbat table.

But this week, as we heard the reports on the news, as rockets rained down on all parts of Israel, as reservists were being called up to the army – not just friends and neighbors, but also my brother, my nephew (who was injured, but now Thank God is recovering at now home and is doing well), and other family members too, I simply can’t bring myself to write something inspiring.

I tried to escape reality for a couple of hours on Monday morning. I had taped the Sunday night American football game between my hometown San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys (the Niners beat Dallas handily 42-10), but I could not fully enjoy the game because something was amiss.

The broadcast, shown on one of the Israeli cable sports channels, was the NBC sports feed of the game, but usually the cable channel has an Israeli sports commentator (or two) in a studio somewhere in the center of Israel speaking in Hebrew over the American broadcasters. Normally, I find this Hebrew language commentary annoying, but this game had none of that, it did not even have Hebrew commercials for the Israeli sports network shown during commercial breaks. That’s when it hit me. The Israeli commentators were also probably called up to serve in the IDF and that’s why they were not calling the game in Hebrew. It was a sobering thought.

This week’s Torah portion is Bereshit, the first Torah portion of the first book of the Bible, Genesis. We all know the story about how God created the world in six day and rested on the seventh, we know about Adam and Eve and the snake, we know how Cain killed his brother Abel, we know about how the generations that followed were so bad that God decided to destroy the world with a flood (which is described in next week’s portion, Noach).

But there is a verse at the very start of next week’s portion that feels all too real, like it is a headline straight from the horrible events of last weekend:

ַתִּמָּלֵ֥א הָאָ֖רֶץ חָמָֽס

Va­timale ha­aretz hamas ­­ The earth was filled with Hamas.(Gen. 6:11)


Translations of the word “hamas” in the Torah in this context include words like: corruption, violence, theft, (including murder, rape) etc.

The word “ha’aretz“, in the context of this particular verse in the Torah, means “the land” (in general), but think about how we (and the Torah later on) refer to the land of Israel, we call it ‘Ha’aretz‘.

So, now let’s reread the verse in the context of what happened this week when droves of Hamas terrorists stormed into Israel.

Va­timale ha­aretz hamas -­­ (The land of) Israel was filled with Hamas.

Gives you the chills, doesn’t it?

There’s more. In the story of Kayin & Hevel (Cain & Abel), after Kayin kills his brother and God asks him where he is and Kayin flippantly answers, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

God answers angrily (Gen 4:10):

!מֶה עָשִׂיתָ? קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ צֹעֲקִים אֵלַי מִן-הָאֲדָמָה

What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!

Need I say more? The blood of our innocent Israeli brothers and sisters cries out to us now.

Perhaps, we can take solace in the Haftorah reading this week, the special reading for Machar Chodesh (Rosh Chodesh eve)? However, there too we find  King Saul fly into a rage and seeking to kill the future king David, condemning him to death, to which David’s loyal friend Jonathan (Yehonatan), who is Saul’s son asks his father, ”

?לָמָּה יוּמַת? מֶה עָשָׂה

“Why should he be put to death? What has he done?”

This is the same question we are asking about the innocent Israeli men, women and children murdered by Hamas this past weekend, “Why should they be put to death? What have they done?”

The answer is of course that they have done nothing wrong. They were killed simply because they were Jewish people living in Israel.

But, can’t I find something positive to write? Anything?

I mentioned this before in passing. After the first murder in history was committed when Kayin (Cain) killed his brother Hevel (Abel), the first recorded sarcastic comment is also uttered when God asked Kayin where his brother is and he pleads ignorance, saying,

?השומר אחי אנוכי’ “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

THIS, my friends is the difference between Israel and Hamas. Hamas does not care about human life – not their own, not the Palestinians, and certainly not Israelis-, but when Israelis, when Jews, when good people around the world are asked this question, “Are you your brother’s – and sister’s – keeper?” we answer with a resounding YES!

If you watch Israeli news these days you will see nonstop coverage of the gruesome aftermath of the terror attacks last weekend, BUT you will also see how Israelis bond together to save the lives of others, to help soldiers, to help displaced families from the south by opening their homes, by supporting one another.


I guess I was able to write something after all.

About the Author
Yonatan Sredni is a journalist and editor at CTech by Calcalist. With degrees from the US and Israel, he has a background in journalism, public relations, and creative writing. In addition to TOI and CTech, his articles have been published in The Jerusalem Post and on NoCamels and Israel National News.
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