The world is small, but sometimes I don’t think we realize just how small it is. I was recently talking to a friend in Israel when that realization hit me like a ton of bricks.
I was speaking via phone from my office in Alabama with Rabbi Shmuel Bowman, Executive Director of Operation Lifeshield, about some of the needs he is addressing in Israel. Operation Lifeshield provides shelters to protect Israelis against rocket attacks. Many Birmingham families have helped fund shelters throughout Israel through the Birmingham Jewish Federation.
Rabbi Bowman literally saves lives and we were talking about how to save more Israeli lives in the aftermath of an attack in Jaffa, which resulted in the death of Vanderbilt University student Taylor Force, pictured above. Taylor served in the US Army for five years before enrolling in graduate school and was visiting Israel on a school trip.
Ten other people were severely wounded by the Arab man who pulled a knife and wreaked havoc that day. In the US, many were outraged by this incident. A young, American man who had served our country in the most meaningful of ways had been murdered while visiting our beloved Israel.
How would this make Americans feel about traveling to Israel? Would our country assume that this was, in some way, Israel’s fault? Will the world of academia rethink sending students to Israel despite the amazing technology, science and business lessons the country has to offer? All of these questions were running through my mind, as well as many other minds in the Jewish world.
The fact that Taylor Force attended Vanderbilt connects his murder even more deeply to those of us in Birmingham. Many students from Birmingham attend Vanderbilt which is in Nashville, about three hours away.
TENSE 24 HOURS
As we ended our phone conversation, I asked Rabbi Bowman what the atmosphere was like in Israel and he said that the past 24 hours were very tense. People are nervous, he said, and upset by the attacks, especially the death of an American. He told me that these attacks are not random — they are carefully calculated by those who are conducting them. They are intended to create feelings of terror and fear.
We hung up and I went about my day, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Taylor Force. He was around my age and visiting Israel, from where I had just returned three weeks ago. Every time I had a break in my work day, I googled Taylor Force, reading more about him and those he left behind.
And then, I received another call from Rabbi Bowman. He wanted to tell me that the place that Taylor Force was killed was right outside of where Rabbi Bowman had met some Birminghamians for lunch just a few weeks earlier.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that my conversations with Rabbi Bowman gave me. Here we were, having a “normal” discussion about saving lives and losing lives. It hit me that, in some ways, this is what Israel is all about.
Israel is often the first responder in times of crisis all around the world; the technological and medical contributions this tiny nation has given the world are astounding. Yet, despite saving so many lives, Israel is often losing lives at the hands of those who hate Jews and want to destroy the Jewish state.
The world is small and so is Israel — perhaps that is where our intersections, not random, come from: why some of our own were in the exact spot a few weeks before this brutal murder was committed.
These are not coincidences. These are reminders; events that connect our lives with one another, binding us as Jews and Americans.
When we lose one of our own, we in the US experience just a fingernail of what Israelis experience routinely. Can you imagine how it would feel on a daily basis to lose Americans to the insatiable hatred and murderous brutality that drives those who want to destroy you? What bravery it must take to remain steadfast.
Let us remember and learn from the tragic death of our fellow American, Taylor Force.