Heavy Days, Heavier Nights

The mood deepens as the days go by. Each morning my apartment-mates and I sit at the breakfast table in our apartment, scouring news sources for the latest information from the hours during which we shut our eyes. Last week’s discovery of the bodies of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel plunged Israel into a deep collective sense of grief. Clearly in some corners that grief turned to calls for revenge. On the heels of the horrific news of the three Israeli boys’ deaths came word of the heinous kidnapping and brutal murder of a young 16-year Palestinian boy from East Jerusalem, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was burned alive. It’s simply hard to absorb these rapid-fire events without feeling the weight of the events taking place just miles from where I spend my days and nights with 150 colleagues and educators studying our tradition’s teachings on War and Peace. What a bizarre irony that the texts we read in our study at the Hartman Institute are leaping off the page with each day’s news. I wish I could say that I was taken by surprise that Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were founded murdered by Palestinians, or that Mohammed’s death came at the hands of young Jewish fanatics. I’m sad, but I’m not surprised.

Four young men, four deaths, countless numbers of futures wasted and squashed out of hatred. I find it hard not to think of the story in Genesis chapter 4 where we read: “Cain said to his brother Abel . . . and when they were in the field, Cain set upon his brother Abel and killed him. The Eternal One said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ And he said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Then the Eternal One said, ‘What have you done? Hark, your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!'”

Indeed, the blood of all four boys cries out to us from this ground, held sacred by so many. But there is so much noise, yelling, screaming, wailing, arguing, and posturing that it’s no small wonder that the cries of their blood fall without reaching the ears of the leaders of Israel or the Palestinian communities. And now those sounds have been joined by the sound of wailing sirens and bomb blasts.

At the point at which I went to bed last night, over 40 missiles had been fired from Gaza in nearly an equal number of minutes. Hamas threatens to bring Israel “to the gates of hell” as Israeli leaders debate options ranging from re-taking the Gaza Strip to inflicting enough damage upon the Hamas arsenal so as to provide “a long period of quiet.”

Sitting with my apartment-mates (and my son, Aaron who visited with us) last night, watching the reports of the intensified launches of missiles from Gaza along with Israeli mobilization I remarked, “I fear we may awake tomorrow morning to the reality of a full-blown war.” Morning came and we realized that we are indeed there. Just before this morning’s study session a friend showed me that there is even an “app” (an “application”, that is) for your IPhone or IPad which notifies you when a Tzeva Adom, a “Code Red” alert is issued regarding the launching of a missile from Gaza towards one or another of Israel’s communities. Last night marked the first time since the Fall of 2012 that the alert was sounded in Beersheba.

The news of these alerts took me back to a trip to S’derot, on the border with Gaza about 4 or 5 years ago when I was present for an alert, during which we were told to crouch under our seats on the bus as there was no time to make it to the shelter a few steps away. Nothing happened that day. It certainly gave me pause to think about the compounded effect of these alerts over time upon the residents of those communities closest to the line of fire. At the same time, the protests I witnessed outside of the Prime Minister’s Residence on Saturday night during which I listened to Israeli Jews screaming “Death to the Arabs” left me speechless. As the deaths of the four boys who were buried in this land last week should have taught us, and as the Prime Minister and President of Israel have both stated in recent days, “There is no difference between Jewish blood and Arab blood.” Indeed, this is a core teaching of our Jewish tradition, which instructs us that each and every human being is created b’tzelem Elohim, “in the image of God.” The most powerful image of this insane and violent week may well have been that of the relatives of Naftali Frankel and Mohammed Abu Khedir comforting one another by phone over their common sense of loss.

POSTSCRIPT: Walking home from our long day of studies at Hartman this evening, my friend Rabbi Jacob Herber and I were taken aback as we heard sirens wailing, alerting Jerusalem that a missile had been fired towards the capital. As we were walking along the street, we took shelter in a nook behind a brick wall. As the sirens continued their piercing sound we decided it was best to hurry the few blocks to our apartment. As we turned onto our street we heard the sound of Iron Dome, the anti-missile defense system provided to Israel by the United States, doing it’s work as we heard the sound of a missile exploding somewhere.

Entering our building we found neighbors crowded into the tiny shelter on our building’s first floor. We assured them that the sirens had ceased and that we had heard Iron Dome in action. Now we sit, like folks in what I imagine includes many Israeli homes, watching the news on television. As my friend, Rabbi David Thomas put it, “I don’t know if we will get much sleep tonight.” I know that as I have for many nights, tonight my head will hit the pillow with a prayer for peace.

As Rabbi Aaron Panken, President of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said at the beginning of his remarks this evening: Oseh shalom bimromav . . . Let us pray that the One who creates peace in the high places will cause peace to descend upon us, upon all Israel . . . and indeed, upon all humanity.” V’imru . . . Ameyn – let us pray, it will be realized soon.

2 thoughts on “Heavy Days, Heavier Nights

  1. Bette Shornick (Jackson, MS) says:

    We join you in prayer from near and far!

  2. Howie Sholkin says:

    Rabbi, thank you for your eyewitness account. What a contrast to the relative safety in the US! I hope more sane minds work for a cease-fire but that’s not the history of the Mideast. I wish you and your son the very best in a difficult situation. I”m praying for your safety and an end to hostilities.

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