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Red Alert : Israel

07/09/2014 06:34:11 PM



I had set aside time this morning to write the first of what I hope will be several posts about my upcoming trip to Israel. As mentioned in my last letter, I am very much going on this trip, with my fellow Reconstructionist Rabbis, as your rabbi. I had wanted to share with you more details of my itinerary so that in some small way my own trip might help be a bridge to Israel for our congregation, so that you might have a better chance of sending me questions or comments that could better help me represent you and help me bring back my experience when I return.

However, with the ongoing missile attacks from Gaza and the recent responses to those attacks from the Israeli Defense Force, my mind is in a different place.  Last week a Bnai Keshet congregant shared with me an [Apple] app called Red Alert : Israel which I encourage you to download. This app alerts you with a brief alarm any time a red alert is sounded anywhere in Israel. If you were in an area hearing this alert you would have sometimes only seconds to seek the safety of a bomb shelter. For the residents under red alert this is needless to say a harrowing experience which reverberates long afterwards. Having the alert on my phone was a minor inconvenience. Sometimes the app woke me in the middle of the night or interrupted a meeting, but it forced me to mentally exit the safety of Northern NJ and to face the challenges of living with red alerts. I find my mind wandering to my own experiences during past years spent in Israel of incursions and attacks. My colleagues, some already in Israel, have shared with me what it feels like to have their day interrupted and instead of hitting mute, to quickly find the nearest bomb shelter.

Though reports vary, over the last week there have been over 250 missiles fired from Gaza. Thank God, there have been no casualties. Though the IDF’s initial response was restrained, since Monday they are reported to have struck 150 targets. These targets are described as tunnels used for smuggling weapons, locations used to store and fire rockets. These targets are what most of  us would call legitimate when facing similar attacks and Israel often exceeds international norms in efforts to warn civilians about such strikes. Still, it is sobering and painful to hear that since Monday’s airstrikes at least 29 Palestinians had died. I am not aware of an app that monitors the Palestinian experience of such strikes. (A couple of sources: Leaflets - NY Times and Rocket Jerusalem Post)

I remember once before a congregational discussion about the situation in Israel commenting to a Bnai Keshet member that I hoped that with proper effort it would be a thoughtful dialogue. That despite airing of real differences in opinion we could do so without angering each other. He stopped me mid-sentence saying, “Forget it! Impossible! As soon as you publicly say the word Israel, someone will be mad at you.”  The truth of this observation speaks to the emotional, spiritual and political importance of Israel in Jewish life and as a part of Jewish identity. Just saying the word Israel to Jews often touches our feelings about Jewish survival, the Holocaust, the nature of our religion, our core values, and the list goes on.

It seems inevitable that the more I write to you about Israel the more likely I am to make some of you angry. I want to apologize in advance for this. It is precisely because it is so important and so central to the future of Judaism that I think our synagogue and by extension your rabbis must feel like safe places to freely engage in discussions, fears, hopes, and questions about Israel. It is my hope that my own comments will serve to initiate just such conversations. But I know that no matter how careful I am, something I say might lead to you, a congregant I serve, feeling alienated. I hope that you will give me the benefit of the doubt, that my thoughts are shared with respect. I hope that if this happens you will seek me out and that we will find the time to sit together and regardless of any differences of opinion, work toward repair.

I also want to apologize because, as your rabbi, our relationship to Israel is but one of the things that connects us. I also want to be fully present with you for study, prayer, pastoral counseling, tikkun olam, lifecycle events and more. Because I hold this work as sacred, I try to be particularly careful when I know something I say might be agitational. If I am risking saying or doing something that might temporarily distance our relationship, I want to be certain that it is toward a goal that serves our community, the Jewish people, and/or humanity.  Especially when it is unintended I hope that any agitation my comments cause nonetheless serve such a high purpose.

All this being said, over the next few weeks I will error on the side of being forthright rather than guarded.  It is an experiment. I hope that you will take my thoughts and observations as opinions worthy of your time. I hope that my comments will model, however imperfectly, how to engage in such a conversation. It is my hope that such musing will be offered with a tone of inquiry rather than judgment. I hope that this effort will be a small step in our ongoing dialogue as a community. As with any experiment we will learn as we go.

So my itinerary will wait, but hopefully not too long.  I want to share it with you not only so I can bring your questions but because I feel like too often our discussions about Israel are projected only through the lens of conflict. But Israel, in its glory and in its challenges, is far more than this.  It is why so many of you, like me, have gone to Israel and keep going to Israel. We love Israel for all its diverse impacts on Jewish life and the world. And loving Israel means far more than coming to its defense and/or seeking peace only in relationship to its conflicts.


Rabbi Elliott

Tue, June 2 2020 10 Sivan 5780