Jerusalemites have an age-old custom of ushering in the holy Sabbath earlier — a full 36 minutes before sunset — than anywhere else in the world. So, last Friday evening, I rushed through the Old City’s Arab souk, weaving my way past Christian pilgrims, Korean tourists and Israeli bargain hunters to reach the Kotel, aka the Western Wall. There, under the joyful supervision of Jerusalemite Rabbi Chaim Cheshin, I was about to usher in 25 hours of cellphone- and Facebook-free bliss.
At the Wall, Friday night prayers are all about joy, singing and — yes, even dancing — black- frocked Chasidim commingling with freshly scrubbed North American students. Lekhah Dodi is the poetic tefilah that welcomes in the Sabbath Queen.
“Come in peace … come in joy accompanied by you faithful …” rings out its final line.
In a nanosecond, any thoughts of peace or spirituality were erased. First a siren, followed by escalating bullhorn pleas from police for the hundreds of the faithful to rush for cover at the entrances to the ancient Kotel tunnels.
For this Friday night at least, the profane defeated the holy. Hamas had chosen to expand its deadly rockets to target the city holy to three faiths.
Later, when I reached my daughter’s place in Rehavia, in West Jerusalem, we adults had some explaining to do to my five grandchildren. “Why did Bubbe and Ema rush us to the bottom of the staircase?”
“Why are the sirens so loud?”
“When will the next azaka [alert] come?”
“Why are they trying to hurt us?”
Go explain Hamas to a child in Sderot, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba and, yes, even in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Go ahead, adults — explain to them how in the hell did the world allow these religious thugs to amass thousands of rockets, deploy them from among their own civilians? How is it that NGOs, Christian activists and tenured professors continue to bestow the mantel of victimhood on thugs who hide behind the skirts of women and in bunkers under hospitals? How come so many in the international media depict suicide bombings and thousands of Hamas rocket attacks as legitimate responses to Israeli “occupiers” who occupy not one millimeter of the Gaza Strip?
Most of all, explain to those children the source of Muslim Brotherhood-inspired hatred of Jews and Judaism not seen in the world since Nazi Germany.
But this not 1938 or 1942. Today, the Jews have a democratic state and a military that deploys drones, not to indiscriminately kill the innocent and guilty, but to efficiently target mass murderers and terrorists.
Israelis have had enough. They see what is happening in Syria, and right, left and center, Israelis have come together to tell the world they will not subcontract the safety of their kids or mortgage their future to the whims of a cynical and uncaring international community.
It’s an important message surgically delivered by the Israel Defense Forces.
We can only hope and pray that Israel does what it has to to remove Hamas’ terrorist threat once and for all — whatever it takes.
On Shabbat morning, I was speaking to a friend of mine who is the maître d’ at the King David Hotel. I asked him what his Friday night was like in East Jerusalem. He told me how his granddaughter started shaking with fright when the sirens went off.
There we were, two grandfathers looking at each other for a long moment, silently reflecting on the same question: What will it take for our grandchildren to be able to live in peace?
I have no magic formula, but this past Shabbat in Jerusalem underscored one uncomfortable but unshakable truth: Peace will never be possible in the Holy Land unless and until the evil that is Hamas is uprooted.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He spent the last ten days in Israel.