For the last three years, I have been meeting weekly with a Hebrew teacher in Israel over Skype. Class usually consists of reading an article or watching a video in Hebrew and then discussing what we read or saw. On Tuesday, my teacher and I read no articles and watched no videos. He was shaken by the events that were unfolding around him, and we talked about what life was like in Israel in that moment. We both knew, but did not say, that a siren could interrupt the lesson at any moment and he would have to sign off and move to a shelter. We talked about the circumstances that had led up to the violence and we talked about his fears for the nation, its people, and its neighbors.
We did all of this in Hebrew, and I found myself straining quite a lot to express what I felt over the course of the class. I thought my struggle was due to the limits imposed by a language not entirely mine, but I find now that even in my mother tongue I am at a loss as I try to put into words my reaction to what is happening in Israel, in Gaza, and the West Bank.
Yesterday, our team sent a message to our Israeli staff to let them know we are thinking about them and their families and their friends. I know many of them are living in terror right now, and I know that many of them may soon be forced to send their sons and daughters into an uncertain fight. I know there are mourners already among our brothers and sisters in Israel. I mourn with them. I am thinking also of the lost lives among the Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere, and how each life lost is a world destroyed, a family left bereft.
As an educator, as an American Jew tied to Israel and its people in innumerable ways, and as a part of an institution for which a belief in a safe, secure, and peaceful State of Israel is a core tenet, I know that we must turn our eyes and hearts to Israel, to all its citizens, and to those who live alongside the state. The land of our people’s ancient and modern dreams is once again filled, as the Torah says of the earth before the flood, with violence and bloodshed.
Perhaps the most terrifying quote to yet emerge from the conflagration is from the mayor of Lod, who called what is happening in his city a “civil war.” The prophet Isaiah imagined not only swords beat into plowshares, but a Jerusalem where “all nations and all tongues” could come to experience God’s sheltering presence. The prophet says that God’s ultimate desire is that, “New Moon after New Moon…all flesh will come to worship Me.” On this Rosh Chodesh Sivan, we feel our great distance from that hope.
And yet it lives within us, as it did for the two thousand years of our exile, even — especially — at the moments when it seemed the most implausible. We will teach that hope for Israel and for its citizens and its neighbors to our children, just as our parents taught it to us. This too is part of the Torah we will so soon receive. This too is our legacy. This too is our responsibility. We bear it today with sadness, but we hope to carry it soon with joy.
Rabbi Ethan Linden
Director, Ramah Berkshires