A few days ago I downloaded the "Code Red" app to my phone that Israelis use to follow the thousands of rockets being launched over the border from Gaza. Over the course of thirty minutes the phone sounded more than 10 times. And while it merely prompted me to glance over at my phone, and not have to gather four kids in the middle of the night, and get all of us safe in less than a minute, it was an exercise in empathy.
On July 8th when this recent conflict began, we were in the car on the way to Ben Gurion Airport just as the first sirens of immanent rockets were sounding in Jerusalem. Our family trip was wonderful, and we moved around the country with ease and relative calm. The obvious tensions were high following the kidnapping and subsequent murder of three Israeli teens, followed immediately by the murder of a Palestinian youth by the extreme elements within the Palestinian community and in Israel. But we were not prepared for what was to come, nor can I do anything else, it seems, since my return from Israel, but read and listen to the news, while my phone sounds an alarm every few hours of missile alerts in Ashkelon, Sderot, Sha'ar Hanegev, and Tel Aviv, but does not wreak havoc in my life.
I have been posting articles, videos, and sharing my anguish on Facebook and in emails, and yet, sometimes I feel like I am in an echo chamber, when the only thing I hear back is the sound of my own voice. Amidst so much social media sharing, sometimes my posts go un-responded to, or even opened, and I feel alone with my thoughts.
How can I convey at this time of war, my love, my connection, my pain, my sadness, my anger, but most of all, my commitment to the people and land of Israel? How can I do it without sounding shrill?
I find myself straddling a divide I have not known. For as long as I can remember, I have comfortably placed myself politically in the peace camp. A liberal Zionist through and though, I could always count on my Libra sensibility to be measured and balanced when commenting about Israel and the conflict with the Palestinians. In previous conflicts it has been easier to take the middle road and call for an end to hostilities by everyone. No one could disagree with my calls for prayer, negotiation, seeing the face of God in the ones with whom we disagree.
And yet, over the last two weeks, as the ground incursion began, as Israeli soldiers began dying, and the flames of anti-Semitism ignited at rallies in Paris, Antwerp, Los Angeles, Boston, even at a soccer match in Austria, where Maccabi Haifa players were accosted on the field, something began to shift in me. I found myself incredulous at the lack of outrage over the depravity of the more than 30 tunnels found burrowing underground into Israel created with the intent to attack Israeli civilians. I am beside myself that when missiles are found stored in not one, but two UNWRA schools, the missiles are returned to Hamas and there is no outcry. I am unmoored by the near silence of the International community over the thousands of dead in Syria, the still missing girls of Nigeria, and the downing of the Malaysian plane with no grounded airlines as a result.
At the same time, the near thousand Palestinian deaths, many of them children is heart-wrenching and tragic. It is nearly impossible to take in the loss of life and the real trapped nature of the Palestinian existence in Gaza. Trapped by geography, trapped by their choice of Hamas as their leaders, and trapped by their historic choice of violence over diplomacy. I am furious that the outrage on behalf of the Palestinians is not also pointed back at Hamas and the millions of dollars spent on building tunnels into Israel instead of bomb shelters for schools. I am not immune to the criticism of the IDF or Prime Minister Netanyahu's mission and exit strategy. But when I find myself explaining the difference between a tragic mistake and a war crime against humanity, I can barely hold it together.
Some of you might be saying, "It's about time rabbi," even while others of you cannot identify with Israel's actions. As a proud Zionist I believe in the profound miracle that is the State of Israel, its right to live and thrive and defend itself, but I also recognize and understand the Palestinian right to self-determination and a state of their own. This war is agonizing and deplorable from every side, and yet I know and believe that there are quiet heroes of this conflict, and when I read about them amidst the barrage of words, for a few suspended moments my balance is restored.
As Israeli singer-songwriter Noa (Achinoam Nini) wrote this week:
I wrote these words, and sang them together with my friend Mira Awad. They stand truer than ever today:
"When I cry I cry for both of us, my pain has no name.
When I cry, I cry to the merciless sky and say:
There must be another way"
I have not completely lost my bearings.
I find myself clinging to the words of a song by Ehud Manor in 1982: ein li eretz acheret, gam im admati boeret -- "I have no other country, even if my land is aflame; Just a word in Hebrew pierces my veins and my soul - with a painful body, with a hungry heart, here is my home."
What will come of this conflict? None of us has a crystal ball unfortunately, and we can only hope that the capacity for mercy and compassion has not disappeared entirely. Indeed, even the Book of Lamentations, read by Jews on Tisha B'Av (the ninth of Av), August 5, when we recall the destruction of the sacred center of the Jewish people will remind us: "The kindness of God has not ended; God's mercies are not spent." (Eicha 3:2)
The walls of my soul are crumbling, and I can only hope that as the month of Av turns towards the month of Elul, and we anticipate the beginning of a new Jewish year, so will the reality of so much loss turn towards a new reality of rebuilding and renewing our people for a future of peace.