From Day Two of the CCAR Israel Solidarity Mission
It’s the 23rd day of the war in Gaza. This is a war. For Israel, it’s not a choice. It’s an obligation.
Though I feel physically safe, truly, I don’t bear the emotional weight that Israelis do daily. Sirens don’t disrupt my life; I return to New Jersey Thursday night.
Today we woke early to a full day. After a night of two sirens around 3am, we slept until 6:30, woke and met with Israeli Reform rabbis in Tel Aviv. We drove to Jerusalem to deliver packages to the Lone Soldier Organization. After lunch, we talked with leaders of Tag Mei’ir, the Light Tag an organization devoted to countering racism and hatred. Next we gathered at the Knesset and met privately with four Members of Knesset. Our final meeting was with the Director of a Coalition of Trauma Management Organizations. We ate dinner at 9pm.
And then I came into my room and turned on the TV to catch the news. Oy. It’s so depressing. Every foreign station – CNN, BBC, SkyNews – is anti-Israel. It feels as though we are living in two different worlds. Everything I have witnessed — every video and collection of photos we’ve seen; every person we’ve spoken with (and the selection as been quite diverse) have corroborated the same things. The rockets are embedded in civilian and humanitarian sites. The tunnel network is an underground city and extends 70 feet beneath the earth and out into Israel and beneath Israeli homes. Without a doubt: Hamas is intent on destroying Israel. What are the journalists not seeing?
Let me share two experiences from this lengthy day that uplifted me.
Tag Me’ir: Light Tag
Over and again Israelis have been sharing their concern over rising extremism.
In November 2009, three right-wing orthodox rabbis, including the Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba in Hebron, published a book published called King’s Law. It included all possible Jewish texts justifying the killing of non-Jews. The book ignited attacks on Arabs. In December that year, one of the authors added an article specifically relaying the idea of a price tag for Arab actions – a quid pro quo, but displaced. If an Arab anywhere hurt any Jew, any other Arab or Arab sympathizer was fair game for revenge. 34 churches and mosques have been defaced. A bomb was thrown onto a Palestinian taxi with a full family inside, all severely injured. Grafitti, threats, intimidation and violence have grown exponentially. These Jewish terrorists call themselves Tag Mechir, meaning Price Tag.
Outraged by the corruption of Judaism, other Jews created a counter organization, Tag Mei’ir, Light Tag. With the support of IRAC (our movement’s social justice and advocacy organization in Israel, directed by Anat Hoffman), they appealed to the Supreme Court. After three years, the Court determined that the book wasn’t inflammatory! Tag Mei’ir appealed. The Court agreed to another hearing – in February 2015.
So Tag Mei’ir gathered a coalition of 45 groups from across the religious spectrum to protest and raise consciousness that Israel will not be bullied by the extremists. Not prosecuting anyone has led to copycat behavior, leading to the recent murder of Mahmoud Abu Khadir, the young Palestinian killed in Jerusalem in revenge for the Hamas murder of the three Israeli teens.
Now, with the war, the entire Israeli population has moved to the right. So the extremists are even more so.
Just last week, three Arabs were severely beaten with iron pipes in south Jerusalem. When the police arrived, they didn’t rush the victims to the hospital. First, they interrogated the beaten men to see if they had brought this on themselves. Consider all the ways in which this harms everyone. So: Tag Mei’ir visited the men at Hadassah hospital, wanting to offer comfort and apologies. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the URJ, joined with them. Entering the hospital room, the patients flinched at the sight of their yarmulkes, certain this was to be another attack.
Tag Mei’ir brings another Jewish voice to the attacked communities. Members visit different Arab sites or communities impacted by Tag Mechir to show support, decrying Jewish terrorism. At each event, the media is invited, and the victims and the group dialogue publicly. The message: Jewish terrorism isn’t Judaism, and we are ashamed of that behavior.
More Voices of Hope
This afternoon, we spent almost three hours with four Members of the Knesset: Nachman Shai from Labor, Dov Hanin from Chadash, the Arab-Jewish party, Dov Lipman from Yesh Atid, and David Tzur, from HaTenuah.
It was enlightening and exhilarating. I have much to share but for now, let me tell you about MK Dov Lipman.
MK Lipman is an orthodox, American-born Jew from Silver Springs, MD. He came to Israel in the summer of 2004 for the first time. Everyone on the plane was making aliyah. The pilot said, “Relax, enjoy the flight, I’m taking you home.” In that moment, all became clear to him: he wasn’t running away, he was running to…
Dov Lipman traveled through Israel, and when he came to Bet Shemesh, he observed what appeared to be a very diverse community. He thought it would be perfect for his family. It turned out that it lacked that pluralism he thought he was joining. A horrible series of attacks on young orthodox girls came from extremist men who felt that the girls shouldn’t be standing on the street. Lipman wrote about it on Facebook. His post was picked up by a secular Tel Avivian, who arranged an interview on TV, which led to a huge rally in Bet Shemesh, organized by Lippman and the secular activist – and Lipman discovered the power of collaboration. That became his vision. When Yair Lapid asked him to join his political party, he agreed.
MK Lipman fights for the rights of all Israeli citizens. He’s an absolute enigma to the Knesset: a staunch orthodox Jew who cares about the rights of women, of secular Jews, of each and every Israeli, Jew and Arab.
My eyes welled and my heart filled as I listened to the integrity of his passion.
He declared, “It’s not just ‘how do we get along?’ We are Jewish and democratic. Yet we don’t agree on what is a Jewish state. Are ‘Jewish’ and ‘democratic’ even compatible? What worked in 1948 doesn’t work now. We now have extremes and we’ve pushed people away from Judaism. I have learned: you can have different ideologies. But we agree on 80% of the issues and should move those forward. Then we can discuss the remaining 20%, and we will work them out. Each of us will have to give up some. You have to pick and choose.”
We are different: reform, orthodox, men, women, straight, LGBT, Arab, Jew…But Israel belongs to us all. And it’s possible, if you are patient, if you are thoughtful, if you are smart and sensitive and committed, it is possible to realize the vision. Lippman absolutely inspired us. This is Israel. Our Israel. The field of hope.
Is there hope?
Today more rockets fell, more missiles struck ammunition piles amidst homes and schools, more tunnels were attacked and more terrorists and soldiers wounded and killed… It was a terrible day. More journalists condemned Israel. More Israelis questioned American understanding of the Middle East. Egypt and Israel are joined with Saudi Arabia in an attempt to squash Hamas. Quatar and Turkey are allied with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Isis and Hezbollah and Iran to achieve the extremist Islamic agenda. No one is certain of next steps.
But we have become certain that our coming here, our being in Israel this week means so much to each Israeli we’ve met: the politicians, the activists, the soldiers, the cab drivers, our friends, our families…
And this we believe: the Jewish State must be the home for all Jews. At the same time, it must not be racist, it must embrace all its citizens, it must strive to excel as a place of hope and dreams.
And in so many ways, Israel does.
Today, we learned that the front used to be on the border. Now the front is the home. Every Israeli man, woman and child must learn to be ready for the siren, to race into the shelter, to be disrupted at any time of day. It is nerve-wracking and debilitating. Every parent is afraid for her or his child, for each soldier who is someone’s child. Every person prays for a true peace — though hope for peace is low, and a ceasefire would suffice.
But every Israeli is not satisfied with merely living in a land in the Middle East. This is Israel, the land of hope, Hatikvah. No one is giving up.
Everyone is giving more.
Rabbi Elyse Frishman is the rabbi of Barnert Temple, in Franklin Lakes, NJ. She is also the editor of Mishkan T’filah, the Reform siddur.