Last week, I participated on a Rabbinic Solidarity Mission to Israel through the Rabbinical Assembly (association of Conservative Rabbis).
In three days, we visited the bombed areas of the North, the town of Sderot in the South that has received missle attacks for 5 years, met with US teenagers on Israel trips, met with government leaders and experts, and spoke with the mother of Yaniv Bar-On (who was killed when his tank exploded during the first day of combat) at her son's grave.
While in the North, we visited Haifa suburb Kiryat Bialik (in bomb shelters) where we met with the mayor of Kiryat Bialik as well as children and immigrants. During that visit, there were four air-raid sirens (3 hit a few miles away, but 1 was close enough that I heard it land). Sderot was also hit by rockets moments after we left the city. For reference, Kiryat Bialik is probably closer to the border with Lebanon than Northampton is to Springfield. Sderot is a few hundred yards to the border of Gaza (roughly the distance from the Campus Center to the quad. When we went up North we thought it was dangerous there since roughly 100 rockets/missles were falling each day. Though many fewer rockets fall in Sderot, the distance means that there sirens ring for 15 -17 seconds before the missle lands--barely enough time to duck.
While this visit was dangerous, I believe it was of the utmost importance--to show the 1 million Israelis living in bomb shelters that we are thinking of them and care about them. In Israel's north, as in Hurricane Katrina, those hardest hit are at the margins of society--the elderly, the poor, single mothers, the physically challenged. One third of the children left for camps and other programs in safer areas, but that means that 2/3's of the children remain in danger. The mayor explained that while there is enough room in their bomb shelters, 95% of the population can not make it in the 2 minutes before the missles land. The trip was worth it because I not only learned a lot and saw a lot. It was worth it because I got to play games with children living in bomb shelters, show people American Jews care about them, distributed toys to shelters and care packages to soldiers on duty, and because I got to personally comfort a mother grieving her son's death (it turns out that a cousin of ours was best friends with her in college). Additionally, I donated blood to Magen David Adom.
While I am saddened at the loss of all lives in this conflict, our tradition teaches us that we have to take care of those closer to us first and that it is important to stand with your community in times of crisis. (see my blog for an As a proof text for this claim, the Talmud teaches that kol yisrael aravim ze le zeh (all of Israel rely on one another). Then the text repeats the line while rearranges the order of the letters of aravim (ayin, resh, vav - rely or depend) to form avarim (ayin, vav, resh -- limbs or body parts). Thus, the Talmud claims that even if we are not all closely related family, we are all part of one body--the Jewish people. As soon as Israel's population is no longer under attack our concern must shift to all those affected.
Pictures from my trip with captions are up on my blog now. I plan to post my journal when I get a chance. Also, there was an article about our visit in the Jerusalem Post and I expect an article to appear in the Hampshire Gazette shortly.
I hope for a peaceful conclusion to the current conflict, so Israelis, Lebanese, and Palestinians can live meaningful and peaceful lives side-by-side in this tiny region of the world.
As always, I look forward to hearing your opinions (either through blog comments or personal emails).