One of the terrible ironies of October 7 is that Hamas slaughtered and took hostage some of the Palestinians’ greatest supporters – Israeli peace activists, living in border communities, who worked tirelessly to promote a non-violent solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and even saved the lives of everyday Gazans by helping them secure life-saving treatment in Israeli hospitals.
Their stories need to be told. If told by Gazans themselves, the impact of such testimony could be extraordinary in helping to end, or at least ease, Palestinians’ seemingly intractable hatred of Jews.
Naama Levy, age 19, joined an organization called Hands of Peace, which brings Israeli and Palestinian youth together because, in her own words, “I wanted to hear the other side. We live so close to each other, but we never actually get to talk to one another.” She was brutally kidnapped on October 7, and as of this writing she remains in captivity. According to the Hands of Peace web site, Palestinian alumni of the program are being asked to advocate on her behalf.
Vivian Silver of Kibbutz Be’eri was deeply involved in helping Gazans. She co-founded Women Wage Peace, a grassroots organization dedicated to giving Palestinian and Israeli women a greater role in negotiating an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. She gave tours of the Gaza border to help Israelis better understand the plight of Palestinians. She drove Palestinian patients and their families from Gaza to Israeli hospitals. Just three days after she organized a large women’s peace rally in Jerusalem on October 4 – at the age of 74 – she was murdered by Hamas terrorists in her home. Because they burned her beyond recognition, it took more than a month to identify her remains.
Yocheved and Oded Lifshitz, ages 85 and 83 respectively, were among the founders of Kibbutz Nir Oz. They too were peace activists, and regularly volunteered to transport Palestinians from Gaza to receive medical treatment in Israeli hospitals. Both were kidnapped on October 7. Yocheved was released about two weeks later, but as of this writing her husband remains in captivity.
Sprinkled throughout Gaza are hundreds, probably thousands, of Palestinians who literally owe their lives to people like Vivian Silver and Yocheved and Oded Lifshitz, to the Israeli doctors who provided them with life-saving medical treatment, and indeed to the Israeli army, which facilitates border crossings for such treatment. If those Gazans would only have the courage to speak out, it could change everything, as this week’s Torah reading shows.
This shabbat, in synagogues around the world, Jews will begin reading the story of the biblical Joseph’s release from Pharoah’s prison. One morning, Joseph saw that two of his fellow prisoners – Pharoah’s former baker and sommelier, who had both fallen out of favor with Pharoah and were also imprisoned – were distraught. Under the horrible conditions of an ancient Egyptian prison, it would have been understandable if Joseph had minded his own business and ignored their bad mood. But, seeing their distress, he demonstrated his concern and asked them what was wrong. When they responded that they were upset by confusing dreams, Joseph volunteered to help by interpreting those dreams. Later, after the sommelier was released from prison and restored to Pharoah’s court, Pharoah also had a confusing dream. The sommelier suggested he consult Joseph. Joseph explained that Pharoah’s dream presaged seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Pharoah released Joseph from prison and appointed him to implement a complex plan to stockpile food so that Egypt could survive the famine.
Rabbi Reuven Fink explains the incredible power of this story. Had Joseph retreated into himself (which would have been understandable) — had he not asked the baker and the sommelier why they were distraught — he never would have interpreted their dreams; he never would have been called upon later to interpret Pharoah’s dream; he would have died in prison; and millions of Egyptians would have starved to death. From this story, we learn that even a single kind word has the power to change the world and save lives.
It is important to keep in mind, though, that immediately following his release from prison, the sommelier “did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.” Although Joseph had begged him to “do me the kindness of mentioning me to Pharoah, to free me…because I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews and did nothing wrong,” the sommelier ignored this plea and went on with his life. It took two full years before he remembered to mention Joseph to Pharoah. Despite the awful delay, Joseph was ultimately set free, and he architected and executed the plan to save Egypt.
Let us pray that Naama Levy’s friends in Gaza, and the Gazan beneficiaries of the kindness shown by Vivian Silver and Yocheved and Oded Lifshitz, do not wait two years. Their silence to date is maddening, but Joseph’s story should give us a glimmer of hope that, like Pharoah’s sommelier, they will eventually remember and speak up.