Tell Me, Mr. President: What Would You Do?

Let’s ponder this situation: The Sinaloa Cartel, the largest and most powerful drug cartel in Mexico, has decided to launch a war on the United States. They can afford it; the net worth of their leader, Joaquin Guzman, has been estimated by Forbes at a billion dollars, making him the 63rd most powerful man in the world.

For months he has been stockpiling more and more powerful weapons through rogue states such as Venezuela. They are arrayed in major population areas, in churches and schoolyards and hospitals, in areas where the people are terrified to resist. And, unbeknownst to US border agents, his minions have been digging deep and elaborate labyrinths of tunnels that lead miles into US territory. The tunnels are ostensibly to smuggle drugs – Sinaloa distributes drugs all over the US – but they also serve a second insidious purpose. Despite the fact that the US is his biggest collective client, Guzman loathes the US for putting a multi-million dollar bounty on his head; he has designed a terrorist attack in which hundreds of his minions will come out of the tunnels at once, set siege to a half-dozen US border towns, slaughter hundreds of their citizens and kidnap others to use as ransom bait to get his mules released from US prisons.

As a preliminary show of his power, Guzman – whose cartel is largely responsible for 10,000 deaths in Ciudad Juarez in the last four years – orders the kidnapping and murder of three teenage boys in El Paso, Texas, leaving their bodies buried in a shallow grave. The rockets follow – volleys of hundreds and hundreds of rockets directed at a dozen US cities and towns, some of which sit miles from the Mexican border. The purpose is terror and death.

What would you do, Mr. President? What would you do?

The White House has castigated Israel for its use of force in Gaza in similar circumstances. The President has emboldened Hamas by laying the blame at Israel for attacking UN schools and hospitals that double as terrorist hangouts and rocket launchers. But what would our own government do if El Paso started to look like S’derot, a ghost town abandoned due to fear of constant rocket attacks from across the border? What would our own government do if the rockets became powerful enough to hit not just Nogales and Juarez but Tuscon and Phoenix and San Diego?

What would you do?

The American people would rise up as one, even those safely away from the border, and demand that the attacks stop by all means possible. They would demand the American military cross into Mexico, lay waste to the Cartel’s arsenal, blow up the tunnels, and accept civilian casualties in Mexico as the cost of keeping our country safe.

It is time for the US, but not just the US, to acknowledge that Israel is uniquely and perpetually at risk for its very existence because Hamas has been given free reign by the international community to build a network of terror instead of an infrastructure of prosperity. It is time to stop blaming the victims for standing up to a violent and bloody bully – one that the US itself acknowledges as a terrorist organization. It is time for our leaders to acknowledge that they would, given circumstances like this, do exactly what Israel has done. It is time.

©2014 Audrey R. Korotkin

When It Comes To Gaza, There’s Enough Blame To Go Around

As Israeli troops disengage from the Gaza Strip, the question remains as to what happens now to Gaza and who is responsible for its reconstruction. Israel is being called upon, within and outside the so-called peace talks, to reverse restrictions on travel, construction goods, energy, and other economic-building devices. But Israel should not be held responsible for the rebuilding of Gaza. Although the international community left it to Israel to root out the forces of violent terror ensconced in tunnels, hospitals, schools and playgrounds, the international community bears responsibility for what Gaza has become. Here’s a little look:

The United States: Our government has often mistaken elections for democracy, a foolish and dangerous conflation of an act with a belief system. When the Bush Administration demanded open elections in Egypt and Gaza, the results were predictable to everybody except the Bush Administration: The Muslim Brotherhood snagged 20% of the Egyptian Parliamentary vote in 2005, and in 2006 Gazans chose to oust the brazen thieves and incompetent administrators of the PLO in favor of Hamas. Secretary of State Condi Rice actually stated afterward that “nobody saw it coming … it does say something about us not having a good pulse.” Well, I saw it coming, and so did everybody I know. You can’t blame Egyptians or Gazans for wanting to rid themselves of leadership that cares more about lining their own pockets than building up their own people. But of course what they got was far worse than what they had.

Egypt: Yes, we’ll take back the Sinai but you keep Gaza. That seems to have been the message delivered to Israel when initiatives for peace began in the late ‘70s. The original Camp David agreements called for transition to independent rule in Gaza and the West Bank but that never happened after the UN balked at being left out of the talks. Israel clearly wanted to be rid of Gaza but couldn’t find anybody to take it off her hands.

United Nations: The UN has spent decades creating a self-perpetuating bureaucracy at UNRWA, which has employed tens of thousands of people committed to keeping the people of Gaza as eternally stateless. It is the only situation I am aware of in which the definition of “refugee” is multi-generational. The UN’s own original Resolution 194 was designed, in 1949, to deal with those directly displaced by Israel’s War of Independence – a war that would have been quite unnecessary if the Arab world had accepted the UN Partition Plan of 1947. It says nothing about future generations; it does not even imply that Israel has a unique responsibility nor that Arabs have a unique status.

European Union: Like the UN, the EU is complicit in keeping the people of Gaza as perpetual refugees, paying the freight while Hamas has built up massive arsenals literally right under their noses. The EU demanded Israel allow concrete and other building materials into Gaza without any oversight as to how it was all being used.

Much of Gaza is a wasteland now, thanks to the terrorists of Hamas who buried themselves in dense population centers, knowing that Israel would do what it could to protect civilian lives. Indeed, the IDF recovered an actual published Hamas manual showing its members how to use civilians as human shields – which should (but may not) stop any nonsensical talk about Israel being charged with war crimes.

That Gaza has come to this state might be the direct result of Israel’s right to defend herself against terrorists committed to the death of Jews. But the international community must accept responsibility for what Gaza has become and join together, with Israel, in a broad effort to demilitarize Gaza once and for all and create a structure and an infrastructure that is based on peaceful coexistence.

©2014 Audrey R. Korotkin

It’s Hard to Be A Jew: Reflections on Shabbat Masei, July 25, 2014

In my family of Russian and Polish immigrants, a new life in America a century ago meant truly becoming Americans. Losing the old ways of dress, the old ways of thinking, the old ways of speaking. Other than my Bubbie Rose, who clung to her Yiddish as a vestige of her past, and my grandparents who spoke Yiddish when they didn’t want me to know what they were saying about other people, English became everybody’s native tongue.

Except for one phrase that echoed in our family homes. That old Yiddish folk saying: “S’iz shver tsu zayin a yid.” It’s tough to be a Jew.

That’s what they used to say about life back in Russia and Poland. Where Jews could not own property, or serve in government, or hold jobs reserved for good Christians who ran the professional guilds. Where pogroms swept through hamlets and shtetls with regularity, Christian soldiers slaughtering Jews by the dozens. Where little Jewish boys as young as 11 or 12 were conscripted into the Tsar’s army and often never seen again. “S’iz shver tsu zayin a yid,” they would say. Which is why they left there to come here.

Jews who could, left by the boatloads in those years before an isolationist America closed its doors after World War One. Others made their way to Canada, or to British Mandate Palestine, or even to Western Europe and England, where they stood a better chance for a better life. Life might still be hard, but it would not be so hard to be a Jew.

“S’iz shver tsu zayin a yid.” It should not be so hard to be a Jew these days. Not in Paris, where Shabbat worshippers were essentially held captive in their synagogue by rioting thugs shouting “Death to Jews.” Where, for three days, pro-Palestinian protesters violently set upon unsuspecting Jews, tossing firebombs and shattering shop windows. Where the aftermath of the violence looked like Kristallnacht.

It should not be so hard to be a Jew in Austria, where this week members of the Maccabi Haifi soccer team were attacked by pro-Palestinian goons in the middle of a friendly little pre-season match against a club from France.

It should not be so hard to be a Jew in Calgary, Canada, where a family of six Israel supporters who were peaceably demonstrating were beaten by a crowd of 100 pro-Palestinian rioters spewing vitriol such as “Kill the Jews!” and “Hitler should have finished you off!”

It should not be so hard to be a Jew in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where they know something about the evils of hatred, and where a synagogue had its windows smashed on Friday night, and the replacement windows smashed again on Saturday.

It definitely should not be so hard to be a Jew in Berlin, where there are almost no Jews left. But that didn’t stop a group of Jew-haters from marching and chanting chilling slogans like “Gas the Jews!” And it didn’t stop a Berlin Imam from openly praying for Allah to annihilate every last Zionist Jew on earth.

“S’iz shver tsu zayin a yid.” It should not be so hard to be a Jew in Morocco, where a rabbi was recently beaten up, or in Amsterdam – Amsterdam – where the same thing happened.

Or in Chicgao, where anti-semitic leaflets were distributed in Pulaski Park, or in Connecticut, where a synagogue was sprayed with graffiti, or in Boston, where, three times this week, students supportive of Israel have been roughed up by mobs screaming “Send the Jews to Birkenau.”

“S’iz shver tsu zayin a yid.” It should not be so hard to be a Jew in Israel itself. Not in Moatza Ezorit Hof Ashkelon, and not in Moatza Ezorit Eshkol, and not in Moatsa Ezorit Sha’ar Hanegev, and not in Moatza Ezorit S’dot Negev, and not in Ashdod, and not in Kiryat Malakhi– all the places where the Red Alert sirens went off just during the time when I was preparing this sermon this morning.

Three-quarters of Israel’s population is threatened by the missiles being launched by Islamic terrorists in Gaza. And because Israel finally responded to those attacks, and because Israel has a missile defense system, and because Israel provides safe places for its population while Hamas uses Gazans as human shields – Israel is being villified – verbally and in writing – as a genocidal war criminal, while Jews around the world are being attacked for being Jews.

Let’s be clear about this. This is not anti-Zionism. This is Jew hatred. These crowds are not screaming “Death to Israelis.” They are calling for death to Jews.

If the crowds were so concerned about the killing of Muslim civilians, where have they been as Bashar al-Assad has murdered over 170,000 Sunnis in Syria over the past three years? Where have they been as Muslims murder Muslims in Darfur, where nearly half a million have died?

As Corey Feldman pointed out in a column this week in The Times of Israel, targeting people for slaughter simply because of their ethnicity is the very definition of genocide. Israel is not doing that. But Hamas – whose charter calls for the obliteration of Israel and the massacre of Jews – definitely is.

Within Israel itself, there are those who oppose the Gaza incursion. But even the extreme left, which regularly criticizes the Netanyahu government for its policies on settlements and peace talks, is starting to crumble. Israeli journalist Ari Shavit – the darling of the pro-peace left and the author of a book that challenges many fundamental Zionist myths – stated in Ha’aretz this week that, this time, Israel is right.

“Who are we fighting?” Shavit asked in his column. “A fascist organization that terrorizes the people of Gaza, oppresses women and gays, and shuns all democratic values of freedom and progress. . . . it is an organization of war criminals. By no means can they be allowed to win this difficult conflict, and by no means can we show any empathy for the evil they represent.”

The international community – which has been bamboozled by the PLO and Hamas and their ilk for decades now – bears responsibility for enabling what is happening in Gaza, for keeping Palestinians permanently in the status of refugees and victims. United Nations workers who have been on the ground in Gaza for years are now shocked – shocked I tell you! – to discover missiles in school-yards.

The European Union has been humiliated to discover that all the money and all the building supplies that they’ve been contributing to Gaza all these years have gone – not to build an infrastructure that will lead to a better life for the people – but to constructing elaborate, expensive labyrinths of tunnels that protect Hamas operatives and allow their killers to enter Israel with the express purpose of murdering Jews.

In fact, we’re getting confirmation this evening of reports that Hamas had planned an elaborate massacre for Rosh Hashanah, just weeks from now. The plan was to send over 200 terrorists through the tunnels and into moshavim and kibbutzim and communities in areas of Israel that are close to Gaza, slaughtering and kidnapping as many Jews as they could.

Israel has made many mistakes in its treatment of its own Arab citizens, in its settlement policies, in its lack of attention to the tunnels of Gaza until it was almost too late, in pursuing peace half-heartedly. But none of that mitigates the vile Jew-hatred spewing not only from Gaza, and Iran, and Syria, but from Paris and Antwerp and Amsterdam and Boston and Calgary and Chicago. It is real and it is terrifying.

This week’s Torah portion, which concludes the Book of Numbers and thus the wilderness narrative, spells out the settlement of the land, tribe by tribe and clan by clan, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. We may no longer lay claim to all of that land, but if nothing else, the violent expressions of Jew-hatred around the world this week prove how important it is that the State of Israel exists as a homeland of the Jewish people and as a haven for all Jews.
Again, I quote from the surprising column by Ari Shavit in Haaretz this week:

“Are we justified? Clearly. We’ve made terrible mistakes – politically, strategically and militarily. We were complacent and arrogant, and walked into traps with open eyes. But don’t get confused, friends. Don’t cross the lines, friends. We must stand strong against the evil tunnels and the wicked rockets that threaten us. We’ve forgotten how to say it, and sometimes it’s difficult to whisper it, but we’re right. In this sad, terrible story, we’re in the right. What we must do over the coming days is be smart, as well.”

“S’iz shver tsu zayin a Yid.” It may be hard to be a Jew these days. But it would be a whole lot harder without Israel.

Ken yehi ratson. Let this be God’s will and our own. As we say together: Amen.


Copyright 2014 Audrey R. Korotkin

Red Alert: Israel and Us. Reflections on July 15, 2014

I’m starting to hear that siren in my sleep.
Which, I suppose, is only fair.
Red Alert Israel

I loaded the “Red Alert: Israel” app onto my iPad last week so that I could know real-time where and when Israelis were being targeted by lethal rocket fire from Hamas in Gaza. (It’s not available in the US for my Droid-based cell phone, so I have access to it only when I’m in a Wi-Fi zone.) I had it by my side last Friday night at Shabbat services (where, thank God, it did not go off) and Saturday morning at Torah study (where it did, numerous times). I have it with me all the time at home (where there is rarely an hour that goes by without a siren) and at work (ditto). Here is what I’ve learned:
The sound of sirens going off is a frightening thing. It’s disconcerting during the day, when you are trying to go about your daily responsibilities. It’s disorienting at night, when you are awakened without knowing just what time it is. It is disturbing at all times, knowing that civilians in Israel have just a very few minutes to get to the relative safety of a bunker or a stairwell, before the lethal projectiles arrive, and especially when the sirens goes off in rapid succession – one after another, after another, after another.
As I write this on Tuesday afternoon, hours after Hamas rejected a cease-fire proffered by Egypt and accepted by Israel, here’s what my iPad shows: Within the last half-hour alone, there have been rocket attacks aimed at Beer Sheva, Mitzpe Ramon, Kiryat Malakhi, Moatza Ezorit Eshkol, Moatza Ezorit Hof Ashkelon, the Ashkelon industrial zone, and – just moments ago – S’derot. I’ve been to S’derot, which for years has borne the brunt of Hamas rocketry, and have seen the devastation and the way such a long siege can turn a bustling industrial hub into a ghost town.
But I cannot imagine the fear, the fatigue, the anger, the helplessness, with which Israelis shepherd their families, neighbors and friends – hour after hour, siren after siren – into the bunkers and stairwells. I cannot imagine it. Nobody can. No other nation in the world has had to bear what Israel has, hour after hour, siren after siren, barrage after barrage, year after year, decade after decade. No other nation has been under the very real threat of extinction that Israel has, since its inception.
The current battle to halt Hamas’s attacks is the embodiment of this existential threat: It may ease off for a while, but it never goes away. There’s always a Hamas, or an Islamic Jihad, or a PLO, or a Hezbollah, on Israel’s doorstep, armed with ever-more-lethal and sophisticated weaponry from Syria and Iran. There are always Jew haters, deluded peaceniks, and [Pardon the interruption: Red Alert has gone off; Hamas rockets are now attacking Moatza Ezorit Eshkol] paid publicists who will point to the devastation wreaked in Gaza’s cities by the IDF and IAF and complain about something called “proportional damage.” Which is to say: Palestinians are dying and Israelis are not, and somehow that’s not fair.
Thank God for Iron Dome, Israel’s sophisticated defense system provided with U.S. dollars, which not only detects rocket attacks but has intercepted and destroyed hundreds of rockets aimed at Israeli cities. Israelis thank God for it. Palestinians should too. It is because of Iron Dome – because it allows time for Israel’s leaders to plot out their defense – that thousands of Palestinian lives have been spared. As former ambassador Michael Oren pointed out in a conference call with rabbis this morning, if Iron Dome didn’t exist, and if Israelis were indeed dying, the IDF would have been forced to go into Gaza well before now, and with much more force.
That might still happen, of course. Israel is facing an enemy that has amassed approximately 10,000 rockets in Gaza, the express purpose of which is to kill Jews. As Ambassador Oren noted, Hamas is not just sworn to Israel’s destruction; its charter calls on the murder of Jews all over the world. For every one of us – in every one of our congregations and communities – the threat to Israel is a threat to us all.
“You start a war, you don’t know how to get out of it,” Ambassador Oren said this morning. That’s where Hamas is right now. He’s offered a plan: An immediate cease fire; American-led demilitarization combined with a massive infusion of international aid to rebuild Gaza’s ruined economy and infrastructure; the strengthening of what he called “Palestinian moderates” and the re-starting of peace talks that will blunt the Palestinian Authority’s move to seek unilateral recognition from the U.N.
Above all, Ambassador Oren said, it’s important to keep in sight what happens next. “Everybody always asks me: What’s your diplomatic end game?” he said. Yes, today, the world may act with revulsion at Hamas’s rejection of a cease fire. But tomorrow, or the next day, they will forget, distracted by the next wave of photos of death and destruction in Gaza. “We earned some time, but only some time, by accepting the cease fire,” he warned us. “We always have to go back to the diplomatic end game.”
It’s hard to try to employ diplomacy with an enemy that hides, like the cowards they are, in the vast network of tunnels and catacombs underneath Gaza’s cities, using civilians as human shields to conceal their vast array of rocketry – rockets that serve no defensive purpose at all, only offensive. It’s hard to employ diplomacy with an enemy for whom victory is drenched in Jewish blood. Israel should never have to apologize for successfully protecting its people. But, as Jews, we have a moral compass, an ethical code, a commanded purpose in seeking a peaceful resolution.
This weekend, I will be away from my congregation. I have been given the joy and blessing of officiating for an out-of-state wedding, the marriage of my very first Bar Mitzvah boy from my very first post-ordination congregation, to his beloved. But a Jewish wedding is not just a cause for celebration for a couple, or for their family, or even for their friends. The bride and the groom will circle each other three times, as a sign of their intent to bind themselves only to each other – a symbol of the way we Jews are bound together throughout history, and across continents. As part of the sheva berachot, the seven-fold wedding blessing, we will invite all of Israel to celebrate with the bride and groom, to dance with joy in the streets of Jerusalem as a new Jewish family is formed, as the perpetuation of Jewish life is affirmed.
This is the heart of Judaism. This is what, above all, we must sustain and protect – in the streets of Jerusalem, all of the Land of Israel, and all Jewish communities throughout the world. The sound of celebration, not the sound of sirens. It is our responsibility, and it is our blessing.
Ken yehi ratson. May this be God’s will and our own. Let us pray for peace in Israel. And let us say together: Amen.