I have been thinking about how to talk to you about Israel when there is no simple statement to be made. Then I received a beautiful letter that Rabbi Mark Bloom of Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland wrote to his congregation. I got his permission to share it with you here. I was particularly touched by his acknowledgement that not matter what he said or didn’t say, he was sure to offend someone — and that hurts too.
I just came from a briefing with Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor (who will be speaking at our synagogue on Saturday, February 21), and I wanted to share some of my thoughts on the situation in Israel and the Gaza Strip.
My heart is torn with both support for Israel’s right to defend itself and compassion for the loss of innocent lives, whether we’re talking about Israeli families in Sderot being bombed daily by Hamas or innocent Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire of what Israel calls “Operation Cast Lead.” Secondly, I know that whatever I say or don’t say offends at least some members of our community, and that pains me greatly. Nevertheless, I feel that I need to share my thoughts with you as the Rabbi of Temple Beth Abraham.
1. My first concern is with family and friends in Israel. Many of us have relatives who live in Israel and/or serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. We also have several college age students over there, and I am worried about their safety as well as their peace of mind. A friend, who is an educational psychologist and family therapist working in a trauma center in Ashkelon, wrote her thoughts in a letter about working in the heart of an area bombarded with rockets. It is heartbreaking to read her account of working with children who have literally been scared speechless.
2. I am also greatly concerned with anti-Semitic fallout, both worldwide and in the Bay Area. Anti-Semitic attacks have become almost a daily occurrence in France, and the San Francisco Holocaust Memorial has been vandalized three times since the conflict began. Rest assured that, at the synagogue, we have had no threats and are in constant contact with the ADL about security concerns. There is also a great deal of hate speech directed at both Jews and Israel at rallies throughout the Bay Area. Most of the rallies are filled with people who are simply against war at all costs, and it behooves us not to lump all protesters together in our words and minds. However, there are some horrific words uttered against both Israel and Jews at many of these rallies, and most of us are not aware that there are over 60 organizations in the Bay Area with a budget of approximately $20 million dollars dedicated to fighting what they believe is a pro-Israel bias in America. Much of that is done through their organizing these rallies.
3. The question on many people’s minds is why Israel is using such strong force right now. The main answer is that the majority of Israeli society has finally said “enough is enough.” You will hear that line quoted often by Israelis in interviews. When Israel literally ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip in 2004 by removing 9000 of its own citizens, many of them forcefully, they hoped that it would be a first step toward peace. However, more than 3000 rockets and mortar shells were fired in 2008 alone, many of them during the “ceasefire.” To protect its citizenry, Israel feels it needs to do more, especially since Hamas unilaterally ended the cease-fire after 6 months and still calls for the ultimate destruction of the entire State of Israel. I’m getting into real specifics here, but it’s not only the number, but the range of these rockets that matter. Hamas now has the ability to fire longer-range rockets that can land in bigger Israeli population centers such as Tel Aviv. Israel’s military objective is to wipe out this capability before it is a reality. I was reminded today by the Consul General that Israel takes more pains than any other army in the world to avoid civilian targets. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was quoted as saying that Israel has made 90,000 phone calls asking civilians to leave certain areas at particular times. Nevertheless, dozens of innocent people have been caught in the crossfire, and it should stir compassion in all of us for these Palestinian victims.
4. Israelis want to feel they are not alone. If there is one sentiment that I hear over and over again from friends in Israel it is that they are not going through this alone. Israelis often feel that the entire world is against them no matter what they do. Certainly the pullout from the Gaza Strip brought them neither safety nor long-term world support. They want us to imagine what we might do if the Bay Area were attacked with thousands of rockets, to sympathize with their plight. You can help by calling friends and relatives you know in Israel, writing letters to the editor, calling into radio talk shows, discussing the issue, as hard as it is to do, with friends and neighbors, and, of course, by praying for them. Locally, there are several events you can attend as well, though many are on Saturdays so I can’t officially recommend them. There is one this Saturday at the Civic Center and another in Oakland (a counter-rally to the Women in Black.)
5. I believe everyone in our community is both pro Israel and pro Peace. We differ on how best to achieve those objectives. Just because a person defends Israel’s right to try and wipe out Hamas does not mean he/she does not support a peace process. By the same token, just as not all of us approve of every action the United States takes, not all of us approve of every action Israel takes. The synagogue has to be a safe and supportive environment for a broad spectrum of beliefs. I just ask that you be aware that, particularly in the Bay Area, there are many people whose anti-Israel actions are underscored by anti-Semitic roots and feelings.
If any of you want to talk to me about your feelings, feel free to give me a call. Until then, let us hope and pray for peace in Israel and the world. “Adonai oz l’amo yiten Adonai yivarech et amo vashalom.”
Rabbi Mark Bloom
Temple Beth Abraham, Oakland, CA