Gaza conflict – a letter to Temple Adas Israel, Sag Harbor

August 11, 2014 by

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Dear Friends,

I remember when August would roll around in Sag Harbor, and our synagogue’s Rosh Chodesh group meeting would focus on Tisha B’av (the 9th day of the month of Av) – the holiday that animates the Hebrew month of Av.

I would always frame the conversation by saying how out of sync the Jewish calendar felt with the Gregorian one. August is the height of summer fun – the beaches and BBQs, summer evening dresses and dinner parties. And in the Jewish calendar cycle Tisha B’Av represents the low point of the Jewish year. We sit on low chairs, we fast – in collective mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temples, the loss of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel, and so many other calamities that have befallen the Jewish people. For me, most years the sense of mourning feels forced.

This year, it felt real. We needed Tisha B’av, to give ritual expression to the collective pain that we are all feeling about the war with Hamas.

1) Sitting Shiva – This Tisha B’av Leon and I went to Tzion, the new synagogue in which we are becoming more active. We sat in a member’s apartment, on the floor and listened as Eicha (the book of Lamentations) was chanted with its ancient cadences. From the balcony we could also hear the commentary of news broadcasters from neighbors’ TVs.

The story of destruction is an enduring one. The historical context felt grounding. Someone mentioned that there are families who are sitting shiva right now, for their sons and husbands the soldiers in the IDF who gave their life to preserve the life and safety of me and my family from Hamas terrorism. By sitting on the floor we identified with them.

In our break-out discussions, my study partner commented that the verses from Lamentations describing the destruction of Jerusalem, led her to images of the destruction in Gaza. I agreed. I so appreciated being here, in Jerusalem, with sensitive fellow spiritual seekers who could embrace the nuances of this war and be saddened by loss of life and destruction in Gaza while identifying with the pain that Israelis are feeling for our losses too.

2) Creating a new language – When I follow what is happening in communities throughout Europe and the West, and the kind of anti-Israel sentiments that are emerging, I am shocked. I don’t love needing to be a public advocate for Israel because, as with everything in life, things are complicated. I have no doubt that this war was justified and that Hamas poses a real threat to Israel. I also have no doubt the majority of Gazans would want to put the funding they receive toward rebuilding Gaza’s infrastructure and not to building terrorist tunnels and weapons. Extremists who spout vitriol and hate get much more media attention than the peacemakers.

Our friend has a Palestinian colleague who runs a center for non-violence in the territories. He brings Jewish settlers and Palestinians together to dialogue. This friend is organizing a benefit next week to learn more about the work and to raise money for the organization. Transcending the platforms, positions and slogans and attuning our ears to the nuance and human stories of this conflict is a first step in creating a new language.

3) Being Vulnerable – My sister and her family have been living in Israel for the last seven weeks. It has not been an easy seven weeks. The war, the threat of Hamas and the tunnels. Random terrorist attacks in Jerusalem (including a drive-by shooting of a soldier walking by the road and in a separate incident a Palestinian tractor driver who overturned a public bus.) But in spite of it all they sent their kids to camp, traveled, enjoyed the touristy stuff and drank up local life too.

The other night she shared with my how hard it was to leave. While others might jump at the chance to leave Israel for quieter shores her impulse was to stay through the crisis. “It is like leaving someone who is in the hospital” she reflected “I am someone who stays and helps people through.” And it is so true, she does.

The last month and a half has been very stressful indeed. We have all been keeping up a good face and have been resilient and positive for our children (and ourselves) as we hear about the heart wrenching news coming from the neighbor’s radio of all the young soldiers who would be buried that day (on that particular day I found myself putting sunscreen on my children a lot more carefully, stroking every limb).

There is something about vulnerability that I am thinking about. It is an age-old Zionist thought. Am I safer here, sitting in Israel with an army and a government that will protect me and the values I hold so dear (the values of democracy, Jewish life, a free press), or in the States where I don’t feel threatened at all physically but ultimately could feel vulnerable as a minority group (especially with all of the anti-Israel/ anti-semitic rhetoric swarming)?

4) We all live with a healthy level of denial. Esther Perel once gave a talk about denial. We all live with it – without it we wouldn’t be able to get up in the morning, get in a car, send our kids to elementary school. We are in denial that anything bad could happen to us. Now that there may be a ceasefire (as of this morning, Hamas has already broken it), Hamas still continues to boast about these ‘attack tunnels’ that enter into Israeli territory, I am trying to cultivate a sense of denial and feel safe.

5) Kol Hakavod – literally, “all the respect,” – it’s the phrase that we hear most often when we tell people that we made aliyah. “It’s a really good thing that you came,” they tell us. Yesterday when I went to buy a new sofa for our apartment, the owner of the store who immigrated from Belgium 35 years before threw in 3 extra decorative pillows as our little aliyah gift. Gestures of caring are all around.

There’s a great tradition that on the afternoon of Tisha B’av you wash your floors. I learned this from an Orthodox roommate I had when I was in my 20’s. The Messiah is meant to come one day in the afternoon of Tisha B’av (and God forbid if he came to your home and your floors were dirty!) I love this tradition. It transforms a lofty concept into a domestic ritual. We clean our homes in preparation — and in hope — for what’s to come.

Life goes on.

The other night I was walking in Jerusalem at the restored train station. It is a beautiful public space – with restaurants and stores, gelateria’s and coffee shops and a public square where movies are screened and live performances held. And on Friday evenings different musical groups welcome Shabbat. Wednesday night was Swing Dance night. Young and old, danced, laughed and enjoyed the spirit of being out and coming together. A taste of a messianic time.

Please God, may this Shabbat bring quiet, security and a promise of a peace that is yet to come.

Shabbat shalom to all.

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