In a time lacking in truth and certainty and filled with anguish and despair, no one should be shamefaced in attempting to give back to this world, through her work, a portion of its lost heart. — Louise Bogan
As the crisis in Israel continues to unfold, I am feeling acutely aware of how much I currently lack. I lack peace of mind. I lack my typical sense of expansiveness and contentment. I lack a sense of wellbeing regarding those I love in Israel. I lack confidence about the place of the Jewish people in the world. I lack optimism about the United Nations and international leaders. I lack hope for secure borders and true peace for Israel in my lifetime.
Perhaps it is Divine Providence or maybe just luck, but exactly now, when I feel the emptiness of that glass half filled, I am teaching a summer course at the Orangetown Jewish Center called Simple Abundance. In a class based on the book by Sarah Ban Breathnach, twenty-five students share Monday mornings as a time to focus on all of our blessings. Anchoring Breathnach’s work in Jewish values and texts, we talk about the principles of gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty and joy as a way to realize that we possess all that we need to be genuinely happy.
In Breathnach’s words: “When I surrendered my desire for security and sought serenity instead, I looked at my life with open eyes. I saw that I had much for which to be grateful. I felt humbled by my riches and regretted that I took for granted the abundance that already existed in my life.”
Just before teaching the first class, I thought that I could not possibly facilitate a learning experience about finding personal joy when Israel was in crisis. As soon as I began teaching, however, the connections being made and the kindnesses being shown shifted my understanding of what was actually taking place. In our corner of the world, we were bringing God into our midst and sharing ways in which we could be our best possible selves.
I cannot change the make-up of the United Nations Human Rights Council. I don’t know how to solve the complicated issues of Israel in her dangerous neighborhood. I cannot protect all of my children and friends in Israel from harm.
But I can do something. I can maintain my best self in the midst of the fear, anxiety and loss in Israel. It is so much easier to fall into despair. I realized through the path toward simple abundance that the courageous response to world events is to be optimistic and positive. Rabbi Scheff declared at our Kiddush time discussion about Israel this past Shabbat, “I am an idealist and I make no apology for that. When I give up hope, I might as well stop this work that I do.”
Be courageous! Reclaim optimism. Empower yourself by taking one small action for Israel and for yourself. Join us for the next Simple Abundance class on August 4th at 11:00 am.
Praying for the peace of Israel, Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
I want to say something tonight that will change the minds of those who are blinded by ignorance, prejudice or worse. Something that will reach every heart, from the Hasidic Jew in New York City this afternoon protesting Israel’s right to exist to the Muslim protester in Antwerp yesterday calling for the slaughter of the Jews. Something that will reach the heart of every person who calls for the indiscriminate death of Palestinians–as if that will end the conflict–without considering those boys and girls who must do the dirty work, how many lives it will cost, and what could be the toll on the collective Jewish soul.
What I have heard time and again over the last days, unfortunately, is that there is no changing people’s minds through the media. Most people who read my words or hear me teach, by and large, share a worldview similar to my own. They will “like” me and “follow” me because I affirm their way of thinking. If I don’t, chances are, they are hearing opinions different from my own. And if we do engage with people who disagree with us on a charged subject, we are typically responding in anger, dismissing the other as out of touch with reality.
What can I offer, then, to move people just a little from where they are? Perhaps the personal story. The narrative that isn’t filled with history or facts or politics or agenda. Just a real life story of one person’s experience that dares the listener to identify, to empathize and maybe even to change perspective for a moment.
Ariel is a father of 3, a great guy, my sister’s neighbor on the moshav. Looking at him in a t-shirt, jeans and flip-flops, you’d never know he was one of Israel’s top fighter pilots. A retired pilot now, a former commander of an air force base, now serving as general manager of a charitable foundation. A couple of weeks ago, Ariel’s 18 year old son, Guy, finished his army training, receiving an award as the outstanding soldier of his unit. Guy is a fun-loving boy who has no desire to hurt anyone. Ariel loves flying to reach the heavens, where he finds peace. Today, Ariel is back in active service, flying over Gaza, giving cover to the troops below. Giving cover to his son.
Israel just reported its first casualty of the ground incursion. I hope you will pray with me for the peace that Ariel and Guy want, the safety of their family and the prosperity of their neighbors. Pray with me that they come home safely and to safety. Soon.
Feels good to share a story. Perhaps you’ll share one of your own?
Rabbi Craig Scheff
History has been outpacing my ability to write a blog that can address how we are feeling. We had just finished watching the funerals of our three boys for whom we had prayed for eighteen hopeful days. We had not yet begun to grieve fully for Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, when we were hit in the stomach by the news that a sixteen year old Palestinian boy, Mohammad Abu-Khdeir had been murdered violently by Jews. Before we could adjust our minds to that news, eighty rockets fell on the south of Israel, in just a few hours of one night. Then before we could even sit down, last night, Operation Protective Edge, Tzuk Eitan, began as Israel sought to protect her civilians from the ceaseless missiles that have been raining from Gaza for three weeks.
If you are like me, it has been a hard week to focus on life in the present moment. I found it difficult to do anything as mundane as make a phone call to the dentist or order a book. Instead, I follow the updates of my Israel news apps, read every email that arrives in my inbox, call my cousins in Tel Aviv to learn that they are in their safe room for the night, and text with my daughter Sarah and her boyfriend to ensure that she is okay on her base and to wonder when Sagi, a reservist infantry officer, will be called up.
If you are like me, you are here and you are also there. Experiencing this strange kind of time travel, you want to know what you can do. The following is a list of suggestions.
1. Write letters of condolence to the Fraenkel, Shaar and Yifrach families. As I explained on Shabbat, they will be comforted to know that we are thinking of them in their mourning. State your name, mention the OJC and your town and state. Send your letters to
firstname.lastname@example.org or mail your letters to: Masorti Olami;32 General Pierre Koenig Street, 4th Floor; Jerusalem, Israel 93469. Our letters will be delivered after shloshim.
2. Plant trees in Israel in memory of the three young men who were kidnapped and killed on their way home from school for Shabbat. Check out http://www.israeltrees.org or http:www.jnf.org.
3. As I suggested on Shabbat, commit to perform four acts of loving kindness in memory of three Jewish boys and one Palestinian boy. Torah asks us to turn away from darkness as a response to violence and turn instead toward light. If you would like to share with Rabbi Scheff and me what chesed you choose to do, we would love to collect your anecdotes.
4. Pray. Pray for the peace of Israel. Pray for security of her borders and a return to normal life for all civilians in the area. Pray for the wisdom of Israel’s leaders and the courage of the soldiers of the IDF. Pray for a speedy cessation of this war so that the toll of human life is as low as possible. Pray for seeds of understanding to be planted even as we are at war. Pray in your own words or with the words of psalms or the Prayer for the State of Israel. Pray by yourself or come and be with us at the OJC to pray with your community.
5. Stay updated about what is going on in Israel. Sign on to an Israeli news service like ynet.co.il or jta.org. Download Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz apps to your smart phones. Find out what is happening and share the information with your Jewish and non-Jewish friends. Do not assume that they understand all that is going on.
6. Use social media to promote Israel’s story. Write with moderation and intelligence, and with all your heart. It is not possible to learn from someone who writes with hostility and anger. Write to teach. Share essays and pictures that are meaningful to you. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this short video must be worth a million. Cut and paste into your browser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQmpiEotWME&feature=youtu.be.
Rabbi Scheff, as you know from the most recent blog entry, is in Israel with Nancy to celebrate their niece’s wedding. Scheduled for tomorrow night, it is unclear what will take place for Kellie and Gonen since gatherings of more than forty are prohibited for safety and guests at Israeli weddings typically number in the hundreds.
From his sister Randi and Avi’s bomb shelter on the moshav, Rabbi Scheff wrote a letter home. In part, he wrote: “Today, more than 150 rockets left the Gaza strip, aimed at civilian population centers, including Tel Aviv. They continue to fly… Watching Fox and CNN, I have learned that only rockets that kill people will make headlines around the world. No news of the trauma to our children, the interruption to life, the prohibition against public gathering, the fact that tens of thousands are sleeping in bomb shelters because no defense system is fool-proof. What you will see on the news is Israel’s response, the destruction surrounding missile sites (sometimes footage from Russian aggression passed off as damage in Gaza), the number injured and killed by Israel’s attempts to put an end to the days and nights of terror.
Rabbi Scheff asks us to contact our elected officials regarding the need to understand and appreciate the reality of this situation, and thank them for their financial support of the Iron Dome project. He reminds us to call family and friends in Israel and tell them that they are not alone.
Rabbi Scheff and Nancy will return early Friday morning. We hope that you will be at the OJC on Shabbat to hear all that he learned with his head and heart from being in Israel at this turbulent time.
Have mercy, dear God. Draw Your peace into the world and let it spread among all Your people. End conflict for You know how much evil and sorrow it creates. Show us Your compassion. Send Israel love, life, and peace. (Rebbe Nachman of Bratslov)
Pray for the peace of Israel. Shalom, Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
It’s hot here in Israel this time of year. So hot that brush fires are popping up all around the country. They are only mildly dangerous and easily extinguished. Sometimes they are man-made and sometimes inadvertently sparked. One such brush fire was ignited in the field behind my sister’s house a couple of weeks ago by a tractor’s blades. My nephew frantically called my sister, vacated the house and waited for the fire company to arrive. The bougainvillea plants that bordered the yard are gone now, but the house is safe and the fear is gone.
Mostly. After all, how does a boy of 12 rid himself of the images of the flames approaching his house? How does a child protect himself against the fear that accompanies hearing a recording of 3 teenagers being kidnapped and shot, their captors rejoicing, and the message being played across every media outlet? How does a family find normalcy when each person’s tablet and phone rings with an alert of every “color red” that is declared for the neighborhoods twenty miles away?
Nancy and I arrived here yesterday for my niece’s wedding celebration. We enjoyed a trip to McDonald’s for dinner, and attended my sister’s community choir concert. The kids got up this morning and went next door to hang out in the pool overlooking the scorched field. Life is as normal as ever, it would seem.
Except for the anxiety just beneath the surface. The “safe room” is 45 seconds away if needed, they joke. Two “Iron Domes” are in the area, they assure themselves. The police are present in large numbers on the roads in and out of Jerusalem to assure the public and to dissuade any who might be tempted to kindle a new fire. The family is monitoring the news, praying that a thorough police investigation will reveal that the killing of a young Palestinian boy was something other than an act of Israeli revenge.
It is hot here, that is for sure. But Israel won’t let us see her sweat. Life is more complicated than ever. Our children who are visiting here are as safe as anywhere else, I assure you. And there could not be a more important time for us to be here to offer some love and comfort. The difference is that we will return to the United States, to a place where independence means not relying on others for political, financial or even emotional support. For those who call this place home, there is no place else to go. So they will live with the anxiety, and keep praying for rain.
Shabbat will be here soon. I think I’ll join my nephew in the pool.
Rabbi Craig Scheff