After a wedding errand in Sederot with Sagi’s mom Racheli, we waited for a long line of trucks to go by before we could turn left onto the highway back to Mefalasim. When I asked her where all the trucks were coming from, she shrugged and said, “from Gaza”. Why? “They are returning from dropping off the day’s humanitarian aid, food and medicine.” Every day? “Sure. We bring them supplies every day.”
Stymied, I tried to wrap my mind around the simple fact of Israel’s taking care of people in Gaza, the neighbors who are still trying to build terrorism tunnels under the kibbutzim where Sagi grew up.
Racheli says that she does not think about missiles or terrorist attacks when it has been relatively quiet for a period of time. She tells me that she blocks it all from her mind. I am just a visitor, and I am the opposite in my response. When I am here in the south, all I can do is think about that long period of time when missiles fell every day on Sederot and the surrounding kibbutzim of Shaar HaNegev. Long before Iron Dome, missiles reached the ground and took away peace of mind and people’s lives. Since the miraculous protection of Iron Dome, still no one here lives with a complete sense of security.
I think about it all the time. I look at the waitress at the restaurant in Sederot and imagine her as a young girl, running for shelter with 15 seconds notice. I sit with Sarah as she has her hair done for the wedding later today and wonder how Shupan kept his business running through those years.
I sit in Racheli’s classroom at Shaar HaNegev High School as she presents an experiment to her chemistry students and notice the sign just next to the whiteboard. It is a sign we would never see in America: in case of tzeva adom, a red alert, do not leave the building. I observe Racheli’s students and acknowledge to myself that they have never lived in a world without threat from their neighbors.
At the entrance of Kibbutz Nir Am, on the way into the guest cottage, I pause to think about the very beginning of Protective Edge… and of two Israeli soldiers who were killed here. On my morning run, I cannot avoid looking at the barbed wire surrounding the entire kibbutz.
But then, I see a sign. I mean that I see a sign and also that I see a sign! It says: Beware! Narrow Bridge.
And I complete the significance for myself: all of the world is just a narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be afraid.
Praying every day for peace for Israel, Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
One of my favorite Talmudic teachings asks what one should do if she is lost in the desert and does not know what day it is. How can she know when it is Shabbat? The rabbis answer that she should count six days from the time she remembers and the seventh day will be Shabbat. [Talmud Bavli Shabbat 69b] I love this response because it reminds me that Shabbat is not just a day on a calendar but a sacred time we can enter once a week… and a time that enters us. When Tradition tells us that we receive neshama yeteira (an additional soul) every Shabbat, I think it is talking about this mystical, tangible quality time takes on when it becomes holy.
I was thinking about this Talmudic source as we entered into Shabbat here in Tel Aviv. When I am away from Orangetown Jewish Center for Shabbat, I picture myself sitting in the sanctuary before our stained glass windows and colorful ark curtain as the room fills up with people I love. But of course, I also enter into Shabbat where I am.
Wherever I go and whatever is happening around me, Shabbat enters me and I enter Shabbat… even in Tel Aviv, the City that Never Sleeps. (Ask any Israeli and they will tell you that New York comes in second to Tel Aviv.) On Friday afternoon, as we made our last minute purchases of challah and fruit in the shuk (market) and I dashed back to Sarah and Sagi’s apartment to check on the chicken soup,
young people in Tel Aviv were settling into pubs and cafes for the beginning of their weekend.
We ate Shabbat dinner on the roof of Sarah and Sagi’s apartment and Ben’s voice reciting motzi mixed with the sounds of a band playing at a bar just outside the Kerem haTemanim neighborhood. In the quiet peace of our Shabbat, I blessed my children and we ate our meal.
On Shabbat morning, we walked to a Masorti synagogue, Kehillat Sinai, where we were warmly greeted and where I was asked to help out as a gabbai. The chanting was different, the faces were new, but the atmosphere was friendly and open. It reminded me of the OJC in its lively community feel.
We spent Shabbat afternoon on the Tel Aviv beach, admittedly one cannot do that in Orangeburg! But while I was here in Israel for Shabbat, I was also in New York for Shabbat, and this is where the teaching from Shabbat 69b comes in handy. When I entered Shabbat, my community was in the midst of busy Friday afternoons back home. When I was hearing the Torah reading of Behar, everyone in New York was sound asleep. When I was relaxing on the beach, the congregation was hearing our intern Paula Rose give her sermon. And when Shabbat went out and I counted the twenty-ninth day of the Omer, my friends at the OJC were beginning their Shabbat naps! How could I be two places at once?
Shabbat enters me and I enter Shabbat. It’s not just time on the clock or a day on the calendar. Shabbat is far more than that. Shabbat is a place I go once a week to replenish my soul. Whether here or there, whether surrounded by people keeping Shabbat or having Saturday morning eggs at a café on Dizengoff, it’s all Shabbat. What more do I need?
See you all next Shabbat at the OJC! Blessings from Israel,
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
Israel gives Memorial Day it’s due.
Yom Hazikaron, Israeli society’s day to remember it’s fallen soldiers and those lives lost to terrorist attacks, weighs heavily on Israel’s communal heart. As the sun goes down on the day, however, a switch is flipped, and an unbridled joy sweeps across the country. Riding a wave of relief, young and old take to the streets to sing and dance, that same communal heart racing to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day.
In Israel, our six degrees of separation are reduced to two. Everyone knows someone who has experienced the personal loss of a family member, friend or acquaintance to war or terror. So while the community shifts into celebration mode, many individuals remain clenched in the pain and sadness of the national day of mourning. And those who are dancing know that some among their friends can’t bring themselves to do so. Still, the memorial day adds meaning and purpose to the independence day that follows. It is the broken glass at the wedding. The joy of the second is an informed joy, and the loss remembered is appreciated for what it has made possible. The losses have not been in vain; the sacrifices are not unnoticed or unappreciated. Sadly, Yom Hazikaron is the silver platter upon which Yom Haatzmaut is served, and the platter needs to gleam freshly polished if the main dish is to be enjoyed.
I wonder what these two days will look like when Israel is 340 years old. Will we still be reading names of fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism before celebrating Jewish sovereignty, or will Israel have achieved six degrees of separation from the suffering? And what might that look like? Could Israel’s national days become back to back days for barbecuing and hitting the malls for sales? Somehow, I don’t think so. I imagine that even, God willing, when there are no fresh names to read, and the thousands who have died in sacrifice are generations in the past, the proximity of these two days will carry the same impact as the moment “If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand wither” is recited under the chuppah.
If you’ve ever come to our synagogue, you’ve passed by the Camp Shanks memorial, a site erected in honor of those soldiers who passed through Camp Shanks on their way to Europe in World War II. I see it every day of my life (except sick days or a rainy Shabbat). It is a powerful reminder that even a country without enemies on its borders has endured loss and has demanded sacrifice, which all too often go unappreciated. I don’t know how many years 9/11 will continue to be remembered by so many of us as a day of solemn assembly. I don’t think that the degrees of separation from personal loss should diminish the respect and appreciation we show for the sacrifices that have assured our freedoms.
This year, at 9:45am on Memorial Day, immediately following an 8:45am morning service at which a memorial prayer will be recited as part of our Torah service, I will walk down the street to stand at the Walkway of American Heroes. I will be surrounded by veterans and families of veterans, by those who have known loss and those who have known service, by local community members who make remembrance a part of their joy. I hope I will be surrounded by you.
Rabbi Craig Scheff