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