What a Difference a Day Makes

“What a difference a day makes.” So goes the old song of Dinah Washington.

Being in Israel during this past week, but especially on one particular day, brought this home with a particular and peculiar force: Monday challenged and provoked, brought energy and despair.

There was firstly the historic opening of the American embassy in Arnona (following on the heels of Jerusalem Day ). At exactly the same time news of the deaths, rioting and  protests in Gaza was flooding in .And on the same day , Israelis and especially the young ,were celebrating the winning of the Eurovision Song Festival on the streets of Tel Aviv. There’s always an edgy energy and nervous tension in Israel, a curious mix of apprehension and celebration .On this day the fusion was as confounding as it was enervating.

As Israeli journalist, Eylon Aslan Levy put it :

“Israel was in the throes of an acute split personality disorder on Monday night, dancing on the edge of a cliff and trying not to look down.”

On Monday morning the clergy group -under the auspices of the visionary AIJAC organisation — that I was leading was visiting the Israeli town closest to Gaza- Sderot. As we drove close to the border fence we could see large palls of  smoke billowing from Gaza .Moments later the fields alongside our bus were on fire , the result of burning kites being flown from Gaza into Israel with the intent of causing as much damage as possible.A little later as we sat over lunch we watched the confrontation unfolding on the split screens: tires burning, thousands of Gazans marching, Israeli soldiers defending the boarders, the death toll mounting.It was unsettling, it was challenging, it was surreal-all of this just a kilometer or two away…

Being here and having immediate access to the Israeli media ,experts in the field and people in the street ,allows one to appreciate more fully the deep complexity of the confrontation . Evidence of Hamas controlling the riots, paying people to go out to the border, pressurizing women and children to place themselves in a dangerous situation , calling on the youth to riot was readily available. Hamas itself admitted that most of those killed were its members not ordinary citizens of Gaza ..And then I turned on CNN and thought I was observing a different reality:Here there were accusations of brutal force and ludicrous justifications that this was some type of peaceful demonstration along  the lines of Martin Luther King and Gandhi .As far as I know King and Gandhi supporters never threw rocks set fire to kites or carried Molotov’s..The death  of any innocent person is always  heartbreaking  but even the necessary killing of our enemies doesn’t fill us with joy. As the famous Midrash expresses it , God himself calls on the angels not to celebrate or sing when his creations, the Egyptians ,are being drowned  in the Red Sea. I have heard no Israelis celebrating the deaths in Gaza ..

On Monday afternoon the historic opening of the American embassy brought joy to most Israelis regardless.It was the confirmation of what they have always lived with – the reality of Jerusalem being their capital.And spending time in the city , our hotel window opening  to the vista of its ancient walls, its  layers of time and history, it’s golden light casting its spell over the hills ,spires and minarets I thanked God for being of the generation who could freely sing the songs and psalms of the city.

On Monday night, being in Tel Aviv,there was an obvious air of celebration. Crowds gathered at Rabin Square to welcome Netta Barzilai ,the deliciously eccentric and proudly Israeli winner of the song competition .She sang and did her signature chicken dance and was feted by politicians and the press. While this was happening our group met with an inspiring group of Israeli religious leaders – men and women driven by a sense of justice and bettering their society…

The Torah, from that fabulous first day of creation, to that awesome and ill-fated sixth day (with the rise and fall of Adam and Eve), not to mention the stunning Shabbat,has always appreciated what a difference just 24 hours can make…On Monday,I got a glimpse of this. I’m not sure what kind of actual difference it made (or will indeed make), but I am sure  that it was different from any other day that I’ve experienced..

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach from Jerusalem.

About the Author
Rabbi Genende recently retired as the Senior Rabbi of Melbourne’s premier Caulfield Shule and took up the position of Senior Rabbi and Manager to Jewish Care Victoria, Melbourne’s largest Jewish organisation. He was a senior Reserve Chaplain in the South African Defence Force and is now Principal Rabbi to the Australian Defence Force, Member of the Religious Advisory Council to the Minister of Defence (RACS), board member of AIJAC (Australian Israel Jewish Affairs Council) and member of the Premier's Mulitifaith Advisory Group. He was President of JCMA (Jewish Christian Muslim Association) and a long time executive member of the Rabbinical Association of Victoria. He also oversees Yad BeYad a premarital relationship program, is a member of Swinburne University’s Research Ethics Committee and of the DHHS ,Department of Health Ethics Committee and sits on the Glen Eira City Council’s Committee responsible for its Reconciliation Action Plan for recognition and integration of our first peoples. Ralph has a passion for social justice and creating bridges between different cultures and faiths. For him the purpose of religion is to create a better society for all people and to engage with the critical issues facing Australian society. The role of the rabbi is, in his words, to challenge the comfortable and comfort the challenged. In 2018 Rabbi Genende was awarded an OAM for his services to multi-faith relations, and to the Jewish community of Victoria. Rabbi Genende is a trained counsellor with a Masters degree from Auckland University. He is married to Caron, a psychologist, and they have three children and two grandchildren.