When I read about terrible events happening in foreign countries every day, whether caused by war or sickness, or climate catastrophes, we react with empathy and sadness. We may wonder what charity we can click on to send money. But it’s so far away.
I don’t know what it’s like to be in India now, where the air is thick with the ashes from countless funeral pyres. I don’t have any experience being hunted by my government like rebels in Syria. I could add endlessly to all the experiences I have not – and will never have. I don’t know the streets of Kabul or the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, or the alleys of Lagos.
But over the past week, I’ve been reading about the current war – and it is a war – in Israel. The fish restaurant that marauding Arab rioters torched? I’ve eaten there. I know the guy who owns it. The loud demonstrations in Yafo? I’ve stayed at my friends’ apartment there and walked in the flea market and bought ice cream at the best ice cream shop in Israel from the Israeli Arab owners. I’ve spent time hanging out on the beach in Bat Yam, where a bunch of Israeli thugs pulled an Arab from his car, beating and kicking him.
I’ve been there. I know the cities and the towns and the people. I have friends whom I love and visit. I’m a Jew. Israel is a part of me, which is why the current situation cuts so close to my soul.
I’m swiping back and forth between the Haaretz website and the Times of Israel. I toss and turn, checking the news at midnight, 4 am, and then all day. I wonder what may happen next. It surely seems that a ceasefire is not at hand. The possibility that the war might expand from Gaza to the streets of Israeli cities feels perilously close.
There is so much fear in my heart: for my dear friends. For the Yad b’Yad schools we’ve visited. For all the innocent adults and children, Arab and Israeli, caught in a cycle of hatred and anger.
Palestinian irridentism, Israeli political ineptitude, feckless leadership in Israel and Palestine, long-simmering Palestinian rage after 50 years of occupation, the blind hatred of Hamas – all of these and so many other factors created the perfect storm of war. But casting blame is never helpful. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past year in our country’s political history, blame needs nowhere. It must be about action and amelioration.
I have a long list of grievances and bitter commentary about the situation. There is so much that is so toxic that just keeps playing out, over and over. When will it stop? “I lift my eyes to the mountains and wonder from where will my help arrive?” While there may or may not be a spiritual answer, there must be a political answer – and I don’t know how that will come to be.
In the meantime, I worry. I read. And then worry some more. And yet… I saw a news piece, easy to lose in the endless barrage of missiles and the rain of bombs. And it touched me. Now maybe this is just another manifestation of my babyboomer antiwar marching days. You can call it naivete or projecting a privileged white guy’s conception of hope. I almost didn’t mention it at all. But I must be hopeful, even while I am not an optimist. There was a gathering at a major traffic junction in Israel today before Shabbat. Hundreds of Israelis and Arabs held signs that said: “Jews and Arabs Together Against Violence.”
I know. A small crowd. A far-fetched motto. A tiny speck of calm amid shocking brutality. But it’s something, some hook upon which to hang a vague sense of possibility. “Od yavo shalom aleinu.” Peace may yet come to all of us.
PS Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to Zoom some conversations with folks in Israel. The first one will be with Yonatan Shimshoni . He knows so much about every aspect of the current conflict. I’ll also be connecting with Adele Raemer, a wonderful woman who lives miles from Gaza. Our temple teens Israel trip visited with her last year. We’ll hear from what it’s like to be in an active war zone. That conversation and some others in the works will be announced soon.
PPS Read this piece to get a sense of all the moving parts in this terrible fight.