Chaim Steinmetz

When Your Wife Asks About Your Life Insurance Policy…

Last night, my wife Lisa asked me about my life insurance policy.

This was very much out of the ordinary.  Thank God, I am in good health, and I’ve always maintained my life insurance up to date.  But last night was different, because I am taking a flight to Israel today.

With hundreds of rockets raining down on Israel from Gaza (as well as a few from Lebanon), Israel seems to be a rather frightening place right now. And the fact that I am not only going to Israel, but will also visit the south which is the center of these attacks, is reason enough to give even the most dedicated supporters of Israel pause. Undoubtedly, Lisa wants to know that God forbid, just in case, she has a handle on our finances. I thank her for being so supportive, as always.

So why am I going, if it seems so frightening? Well, before we get to serious answers, I do need to offer a disclaimer: what I’m doing is not reckless. Statistically, spending time in Beersheba or even near the Gaza border is safer than driving down the highway. Millions of Israelis have been under attack for a week, and there have been a few light injuries; one cannot say the same for the 401, the highway that links Toronto and Montreal, which had a tragic fatality this morning. And the car fatality rate in Quebec, 6.1 per 100,000, is the equivalent, for a population the size of Israel, of 9 fatalities a week! So being a casualty of a car accident in Quebec is a greater probability than being a casualty of a rocket attack in Israel. That being said, I understand Lisa’s worries. The rocket attacks are classic acts of terror; loud booms, scrambling to shelters, and uncertainty about what is next leaves everyone stressed and traumatized.

Terrorism does terrorize. Which is precisely why I’m going.

I’m going because my family in Israel needs me to visit.  When deciding whether or not to travel, my eyes came across a powerful phrase in the coming week’s Torah reading:

הַאַחֵיכֶם, יָבֹאוּ לַמִּלְחָמָה, וְאַתֶּם, תֵּשְׁבוּ פֹה.

“will your brothers go to war, and you sit here?”

Once I glanced at this verse and the decision was made. When you’re part of a family, you have responsibilities. And I cannot stay at home when my brothers and sisters in Israel are hiding in bomb shelters, alone in the world.  Our job is to let them know we are there with them, we are thinking of them, we are supporting them. How could I stay here and not visit?

And so I’m going this afternoon, with Lisa’s blessing. In the back of my mind, I remember a similar trip I took in August 2006, while Hezbollah was raining rockets on the north of Israel. One evening, after touring the North, I had stopped into a jewelry store. The woman behind the counter said all the tourists are cutting their trips short, and remarked to me that I was also probably leaving early because of the war. I explained to her that I had actually come specifically to express my solidarity. At that point she started to cry. She told me her brother had just received a “tzav shmonah”, an “order eight” to report immediately for reserve duty. Her life was turned upside down, and she was extremely grateful for my visit.

It’s those tears that have drawn me back to Israel. Right now, people drive with their windows open to hear sirens, and take showers in middle of the night to avoid peak rocket launching times. And 40,000 young soldiers have received a tzav shmonah to report for duty. Their parents and spouses sit at home and worry. We need to let them know they are not alone.

Our responsibility, our tzav shmonah, is to visit our family in Israel to tell them their brothers and sisters around the world worry about them too.

And that is why I’m going to Israel this afternoon.

About the Author
Chaim Steinmetz is senior rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City. Rabbi Steinmetz has been a congregational Rabbi for over 20 years, and has previously served pulpits in Montreal, Quebec and Mount Vernon, New York.