Reflections on being in Israel

It's different this time.  Even though it seems that Israel has faced this kind of situation before with Gaza. It is different this time.  The people of S'derot, Ashdod, and even Beer Sheva have bravely faced the barrage of rockets.  Living and courageously carrying on their lives under the dangerous skies.  Their normal is not normal. And no one we know in Los Angeles would be as brave as these communities have been. 

But it's different this time because Hamas has amassed more sophisticated missiles and rockets.  Nowhere in the country is free from the terror and the threat of hearing Red Alert Sirens. 

I have been in Jerusalem for two weeks now.  In part to attend the annual Rabbinic Torah Seminar at the Shalom Hartman Institute and then joining the first ever Rabbinic Mission to Israel sponsored by AIPAC. This has been an eye opening and heart wrenching time for me here in Israel.  My Red Alert app chirps continuously warning me of incoming missiles and rockets.

When I arrived Eyal, Naftali and Gilad were still missing.  And then within a day their bodies were finally discovered by the IDF, murdered in cold blood.  I listened to the chilling Moked 100 call, Israel's 911,  made by Gilad Shaar,jumping out of ,y own skin as the gun shots rang out silencing the three teens forever.  Israel was a country in deep mourning with a million questions. For 18 days from their kidnapping to the discovery of their bodies their parents and the country and the world prayed for their safe return and believed they were still alive and yet all along the government had a tape with the sound of the gunshots that killed them.  Both their deaths and the Moked 100 tape brought the country into deep mourning. The trauma and brutality of their deaths and the grief of their family and the nation left all here reeling.  Including many questions a bout whether the government and military knew they were dead as they went door to door in Palestinian towns and villages.

And then the unthinkable.  The results of ever increasing hate speech and racism from Jews led Jewish thugs to try and take things into their own hands.  First they tried unsuccessfully to abduct a nine year old but then they kidnapped and burned alive Muhammed Abu Khadeir.  He was just sixteen.

His brutal murder just days after the funeral of Eyal, Naftali and Gilad sent the country into a second wave of trauma.  Revenge? The murder of teenagers?  These are the kinds of questions Israelis were asking themselves.  And we too as the Jewish people mus ask ourselves. Whether on the right or the left, secular or religious, questions about the moral core of Judaism and the values that we hold dear are measured against this horrible moment.  Cold blooded murder is not part of a Jewish equation of revenge or an eye for an eye.  The Rabbis of our Talmud long ago proved to us that this is inhumane.

And the rockets began to fall with even more intensity. I have spent much time in Israel. I lived in Jerusalem during the first Lebanon War.  I came regularly leading trips during the worst of the Second Intifada, sometimes my delegation was the only one in the hotels.  I spent the summer of 2006 in Israel during the second Lebanon War and have been here often during tense times.  But this time, the time of the murder of Eyal, Naftali, Gilad and Muhammed and Operation Protective Edge there is a feeling of sadness, grief, intensity, introspection, hurt, trauma, fear, and hopelessness for any kind of peace or reconciliation in the future. Several speakers warned that peace is far off.

The sirens blaring in Jerusalem, Red Alert, Red Alert beeps on my phone app, and we try to take cover in the stairwells of the hotel.  Buses empty, and a few minutes later as the all clear is given life returns to a kind of weird normal.  And the country as a whole knows what S'derot has known and lived with for so long.  Anxiety is palpable, the chattering talking heads on television talk to try to analyze the next steps, to predict the future but no one knows what lies ahead.  Troops are called up. And the debate rages about whether the ground war in Gaza should happen.  Is this the time Hamas should be finally trampled?

Israel as a nation is at a precarious moment in its 66 years.  The Middle East is melting around it.  Syria is aflame,  Iraq is no longer whole as ISIS has declared a new Caliphate. Lebanon is weaker than its ever been. Al-Sissi in Egypt would like to see nothing better than Israel get rid of Hamas as he consolidates his power and Jordan is overwhelmed by Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

And yet, here in the midst of the Zionist project, our beautiful Israel, our family and friends try to go on living life, one day at a time. They duck for cover as rockets fly. And even if not religious, pray for their children's safety as they are called back to military duty.

It is easy to sit in front of CNN or a Fox News account and dictate what Israel should do.  Make peace not make peace. Withdraw from Judea and Shomron or annex it.  But here there is only one thing to do. Continue to build. To build the Jewish state as a strong Jewish and Democratic  nation and live each day. 

But let us not confuse strength only with weapons of war. Strength is  also the need to live by our values.  To learn to love our neighbor as ourself and at the same time Hate Evil and Love what is good.  Both are our Jewish values.  Our challenge as Am Yisrael and the Jewish people is to learn to live them both at the same time.

Rabbi Denise L. Eger is the founding Rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami. She is a past President of the Board of Rabbis and President Elect of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Follow her @deniseeger on Twitter or on her blog