Israel became part of my active consciousness when I was 8 years old. In 1962, my grandmother's brother and his family came to visit us from Haifa.
They had gifts for all of us. Mine was a huge Passover Haggadah with beautiful blue velvet covers and dramatic watercolor pictures that combined the ancient story of the Exodus from Egypt with scenes of modern Israel and her struggle for existence. On the title page, my relatives had inscribed my name and a "from Israel with love" message. I still use that Haggadah at my Seder table every year.
I learned to stand with Israel even before I ever stood on the land itself. I have been there 17 times to study, to pray, to tour, to show my children, to visit old friends, to see distant cousins, to learn about Hamatzav -- the situation -- and to renew a connection with a place and a people I call my own. It's part of an ancient promise and a modern hope. A starting point and the point of return. A shelter, a home, a dream in the consciousness of a people awakening to its place in history.
At the center of the text of this week's parshah, Ekev, is the land of Israel. It's a snapshot of Jewish life from nearly 33 centuries ago and a statement about Jewish life today. The aging prophet Moses repeatedly reminds the people of the promise of the land of Israel. He calls it "a good land," a land with ample natural resources and a land with a remarkably varied topography and great natural beauty. But, most of all, Moses assures the people "not to be afraid" of their enemies and to be resolute in their defense of the land.
This summer, the words of Ekev and its call to be courageous in defense of the land of Israel ring out across the centuries and resonate in our ears, our minds and our souls. Not since the frightening days of early June 1967, and the horrors of the early reports on Yom Kippur in 1973, has Israel been more besieged from outside its borders than it is today.
Israel has a new, deadly, well-equipped and psychotically obsessed enemy in Hezbollah. Hezbollah is the child of Iran, a death squad with 12,000 or more rockets aimed at the heart of Israel and an ideology that seeks martyrdom for its adherents and anyone else they can use as human shields for their cowardice.
"Thou shalt not be afraid of them," Moses repeats to the people of the Exodus and to us. "Be strong," he encourages them and be sure of the justice of your cause. This is the time when all friends of Israel cannot allow ourselves to despair or be afraid. Now is the time to be strong and stand with Israel -- yet again, yet again.
Across the Jewish world, communities, organizations, agencies, synagogues and private citizens are organizing themselves to help the Jewish state at this perilous moment. I know of individuals who are giving unprecedented gifts to Magen David Adom and other worthy causes as an expression of concern and solidarity. One family from our synagogue has taken upon itself to collect hundreds of toys and sending them to bomb shelters in the north of Israel. Now is the time for you to find your way to connect, to help, to aid, to comfort, to strengthen Israel and the Jewish people.
With hope, prayer and determination, we can join in the final words of Ekev's Haftarah. "Joy and gladness shall yet be found" in Zion, the prophet Isaiah once assured us, "thanksgiving and the voice of melody." May it be so, and quickly, in our own day.
Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D. is the senior rabbi of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park.