"For Israel, a nuclear Iran is not an option. If diplomatic action will fail, then we will take action," said Efraim "Effie" Eitam, a Knesset member and retired general. That remark prompted applause from most of the roughly 115 people who attended the Feb. 25 morning program at the Glazier Jewish Center in Newtown, home of Lubavitch of Bucks County.
The program was organized to raise awareness and funds for Beit Halochem, a system of rehabilitation facilities in Israel that help wounded veterans and terrorist victims rebuild their lives. The centers, including a new complex in the Negev region, receive some government funding but rely heavily on private donations.
Eitam was joined by Dr. David Shashar, an Israeli physician wounded in last summer's war with Hezbollah. The Jerusalem native spoke about his extensive rehabilitation. He still has not regained use of his right forearm; he's not yet been back in the delivery room but has returned to doing medical research. He hopes that one day he may regain partial use of his forearm and hand.
"Beit Halochem is helping out people who are young, who have no power, who have no self confidence to move forward and get back to a normal life as much as possible," said Shashar, who was wounded in an August 8 explosion that killed 9 Israeli soldiers in Lebanon.
Eitam and Shashar also appeared together later in the day at a Wynnewood event, although turnout there was lower due to snowy and icy weather conditions.
The 53-year-old Eitam grew up on a secular kibbutz in the Galilee but became Orthodox in his late 20s, partly due to a number of battlefield experiences that he said couldn't be explained logically. The father of eight delivered a sprawling speech where he laid out his worldview through a combination of political and military analysis, combat stories — including near-death tales from the Yom Kippur War and the raid on Entebbe — and family history, including details about his grandparents deaths in the Holocaust and his mother's service to the Soviet Army during World War II.
He argued that providing security to the world's Jews remains Zionism's most powerful tenant. Further, he said that if Iran were allowed to possess a weapon capable of destroying six million Jews, it would mean the failure of Zionism.
"It is possible for us to succeed because the alternative would be impossible," said Eitam. "This evil will not pass. The Jewish people will do what they have to do to defend the only Jewish state on Earth."
Eitam — whose party currently sits in opposition to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's governing coalition — said that the army had performed poorly in the recent war, and that the upper echelons of the political and military leadership had failed to set clear goals for the war. The army is currently revamping itself and will be far more focused in the next war — be it against Iran, Hezbollah or some other foe — assured Eitam.
He lamented that far too many Israelis are now growing up without any sort of connection to their Jewish heritage, and that helps undermine the national will to continue the necessary fight against external threats.
"God is here. God is not some abstract presence in our lives," said Eitam.
Jim Galloway, a 57-year-old resident of Abington Township, said he was both moved and alarmed by the talk. Like Eitam, he also felt it was nothing short of miraculous that Israel has survived up until this point.
Galloway stated that "Just the existence of Israel — I see God's hand."