A local rabbi recounts her experiences traveling in Israel when the Gaza conflict erupted and her belief that lamrot hacol, in spite of everything, we must stand by the country as it defends itself until all citizens in the Middle East can live in peace.
When I first arrived in Israel in early July, it was glorious. But soon the mood began to tense up like a spine in spasm.
The bodies of three innocent Israeli teenagers — Eyal, Gilad and Naftali — believed to have been kidnapped by Hamas terrorists, were found dead, left like stray dogs under a pile of rocks. Soon afterward, news that a Palestinian boy, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, had been burned to death on Israeli soil hung in the air like radon. Everyone was praying that Jewish boys were not the perpetrators of the horrific crime. That later became a heartbreaking reality, and a pall fell over the landscape. Rockets launched by the terrorist group Hamas from Gaza landed in a continuing barrage over southern Israeli towns.
I heard the first siren warning of an impending rocket two days later at dinner with my friend in Tel Aviv. She motioned, “We’d better get away from the windows,” as we followed a rush of people down the stairs to a safer space. It was surreal.
“This is how we have to live in Israel," my friend lamented. “Ein milim.” This phrase, "there are no words," is her constant refrain.
A few minutes after the all-clear signal sounded, we were back at our table eating. I worried aloud that perhaps I should go home because my family would be consumed with angst watching the news. My friend bristled at the notion of my leaving. She’s told me before how abandoned Israelis feel when people flee at the first sign of impending danger.
“We don’t go home amidst violence perpetrated on us by terrorists," she said. "We are home and we have to stay — lamrot hacol," in spite of everything.
I stayed the course. Two more rockets sent into Jerusalem that night were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system. As we arrived back at the Jerusalem hotel where I was attending a conference, our group was hustled in the door with instructions about what to do if we heard a siren. My friend and colleague moved into my room, which was on a lower floor. We each packed a bag of valuables that we left by the door to grab in case we had to flee to a bomb shelter in the allotted 90 presumably safe seconds.
Three days later, on the day I was to leave, I met another longtime friend for dinner at the Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem. As we hugged hello we heard the now familiar wailing of sirens. Quickly, we headed into the hotel’s bomb shelter. Shaking our heads, we stood together in near silence. The all-clear siren sounded quickly and we made our way to the top of the hotel to eat dinner. We looked up to see the dust of a detonated rocket intended to kill innocent civilians form a cloud the shape of a snake in the azure colored sky.
“Maybe we shouldn’t eat in a restaurant so high up,” my friend suggested.
I headed to the airport later that evening to fly to Philadelphia to participate in a good friend’s son’s wedding. I was thrilled to help build a Jewish family, but it was excruciating to leave Israel.
Since I’ve been home, the situation has deteriorated beyond imagination. A steady blitz of rockets continues to soar into Israel. As troops are mobilized and reservists are activated for the defensive Operation Protective Edge, soldiers are called to participate in a war they didn’t initiate to protect all of Israel's citizens, not just Jews, from Hamas’ attacks.
The economic, spiritual and human toll on both sides with enduring bloodshed is devastating, especially since Hamas uses its citizenry as shields and puts them in the path of death. And Israel is accused of being immoral? Lacking in humanitarian values? She is also the villain, the occupier, the aggressor and Goliath? Really? Why isn’t there worldwide outrage and sympathy for the Israeli position instead of constant gratuitous, irrational, vitriolic condemnation?
Like every other nation, Israel is an imperfect being, but how can she always be perceived as unconditionally wrong? With the virulent rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist rhetoric spewed all over the globe, particularly in Europe, and hate crimes against Jews occurring in plain sight, most notably in France and Germany, it’s a scary time for anyone who believes in freedom and democracy.
I pray for a time when Israel and all of her neighbors — Arabs, Jews, Christians, Druze, Bedouins and Muslims — can live in peace. Where shared time and money is spent on finding cures for autism and Alzheimer’s, not weapons and anti-weapons. Where children bury grandfathers and grandmothers and fathers and mothers, not the other way around. Where all Middle Eastern citizens and tourists can pass freely into neighboring countries and enjoy the blessings of a common heritage.
Until then, lamrot hacol, in spite of everything, we must stand by Israel to defend herself. And lamrot hacol, in spite of everything, she must prevail.
Rabbi Lynnda Targan is a community-based rabbi who teaches at Gratz College and in the Women’s Midrash Institute, which she co-founded. She also blogs and runs a website.