PLEASE SEE FOLLOW-UP TO THIS POST ADDED TO MY BLOG ON 7/15
These were the words I shared at Kabbalat Shabbat Services on Friday July 11, 2014
Yesterday, I had to do something that I never thought I would have to do. I had to tell one of our families NOT to send their teen to Israel for a special summer program. It felt awful. It felt like I was betraying Israel – especially at this precarious time. How could I not support sending one of our teens to Israel – to stand with the Jewish people, not backing down to terrorism? Am I not giving in to Hamas and helping this terrorist organization, in a small way, accomplish exactly what it wants – to rid the land of Israel of Jews!? Undermine tourism!? Scare people away from the Jewish State!?
Tonight, I owe it to this teen to explain WHY his rabbi, who is a strong Zionist, who believes in the right of Israel to do everything in her power to stand up for herself, who, if he was younger and did not have a wife and children and a congregation, would enlist in the Israel Defense Forces – why did he tell his parents he can’t go to Israel!?
And so tonight, I want to share my thoughts with you – because maybe it will help me deal with the terrible feelings of guilt I have for the part I played in this teen not getting on an El Al flight this Sunday and experiencing the power of Israel.
Many of you know that until this recent escalation of violence, I have always felt that Israel is a safe place. My wife, Cheryl, and I have had no problem bringing our kids to Israel and traveling all over the country. And once the missiles stop falling – we would bring them back in a heartbeat. There are places I would not visit in Israel – specifically in the West Bank – but overall, until yesterday, I would talk everyone into traveling to Israel. And everyone I talked into going would always come back and say something like: “You were right Rabbi. I actually felt safer in Israel than I do here.”
There is a part of me that is tempted to take the El Al ticket that was issued to the teen who is not traveling to Israel and use it myself. Part of me wants to fly to Israel for a very short visit – just to show my support for the Jewish State. Some rabbis and other Jewish leaders are doing this. And while I would love to do it because I, in my heart and soul, stand with Israel – I also question if such a trip accomplishes anything real. The fact is, if I were to go to Israel with an organized rabbinic group – I’d be kept as safe as possible. I’d stay for a short time. Most likely spend some time in a bomb shelter. Take a few photos that would be shared with the media to show “I stand with Israel” and “I am not afraid”. But, eventually, once the photos were taken and the appropriate meetings took place, I would get back on a plane and return home to my very peaceful life here in South Florida. And I would be welcomed home by Cheryl, who would have been on pins and needles while I was gone, and my kids who are old enough to know that I was literally traveling to a war zone. They would be afraid. And honestly, if I were to go, I would be afraid too.
The truth is, the situation in Israel right now is very serious. We have seen that Hamas militants have gotten their hands on Iranian and Syrian made missiles that can reach deep into Israel – threatening the major metropolitan areas of the Jewish State, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beer Sheva – and now even Haifa (perhaps coming from Lebanon). Missiles have been directed at the city of Dimona where Israel’s nuclear reactor is located. Thankfully, the Iron Dome has intercepted many of the missiles before they were able to wreak havoc and kill Israelis. But, the Iron Dome is not invincible – missiles have hit, damage has been done, people have been injured and at least one person has died as a result of trauma related to the missile attacks.
Certainly, missile attacks in Israel are nothing new. However, we have seen over the past week that Hamas is using more advanced missiles now that can reach much farther into Israel – placing most of the heart and soul of Israel in imminent danger. When the missiles used to fall, trips could alter itineraries and stay away from certain parts of the country. Right now, missiles are falling over Northern, Central and Southern Israel – including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There are very few safe places.
To the teen who was supposed to leave on Sunday, while your tour organizers might have said that they could change your itinerary to avoid missiles – you just have to look at this map and realize that, unless you wanted to spend three weeks in Eilat – a very hot , southern beach town lodged between Egypt and Jordan, which is, for the time being “missile free” – there is really no other place that is missile free at this time. In addition, given that Israel tours involve a lot of time on buses, it is important to remember that when the Red Alert sounds and you are outside or on the roads – depending upon where you are exactly – you have at most 90 seconds to get to a bomb shelter. The roof of a bus won’t protect you. And we don’t know when and where Hamas will fire their missiles.
To the teen who was supposed to travel to Israel on Sunday – I love Israel with all my heart and soul. But I am not willing to put you in the crosshairs of Hamas. Too many of our children – Israeli children – are in these crosshairs as we speak. Six million Israelis (a chilling number) – 75% of Israel’s population – are under the threat of rocket attacks. Too many children have had to run into bomb shelters this past week. I don’t want you to have to run to a bomb shelter. I don’t want you stuck in the middle of the highway as you watch the Iron Dome intercept a missile over your head. And I don’t even want to mention other scenarios.
Yes, for a teenager, the events going on in Israel might sound exciting – something out of the movies. But it is real. And, unfortunately, I know all too well the toll terrorism can take.
My first experience with terrorism was when I was 15 years old. On October 7, 1985, my close friend’s uncle, Leon Klinghoffer z”l, was murdered on the Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists.
My second experience with terrorism was when I was 18. On December 21, 1988, Pan Am 103 was blown up by Islamic extremists – killing one of my classmates at Vassar College.
My next experience with terrorism was when I was 25. On February 25, 1996, less than a year after I visited Israel as part of my graduate studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, a fellow student and dear friend of Cheryl’s, Matt Eisenfeld z”l and his fiancé Sara Duker z”l, were killed when Hamas – the same group that is firing rockets into Israel right now – blew up the bus they were traveling on in Jerusalem.
In 2001, as many of you know, I came face to face with terror as I saw American Airlines Flight 11 fly right by my window before it hit the World Trade Center. The Vice-President of the synagogue that I was working at was a VP for Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center. While most of his colleagues were killed, he was late for work and was caught in the elevator when the plane hit. He was severely burned and spent months in the hospital and rehab – but did survive. We lost too many others that day.
On April 17, 2006, one of our own Broward County, Jewish teens – a student at our local day school – a friend of many students here at Ramat Shalom – Daniel Wultz z”l – was killed in Israel when a member of the Islamic Jihad blew himself up on the street.
I know too well that terrorism is real. It is not something in the movies. It maims and destroys and kills. To the teen who was supposed to leave for Israel on Sunday, this war that is being fought in Israel right now can’t be avoided by even the best tour guides. Guides have been able to avoid previous wars – but not this one. The missiles are falling everywhere – and your itinerary can’t be changed to keep you safe. Not this time.
There will be a time – I do believe – a time very soon, if Israel does what she needs to do, going all the way to strip Hamas of her missiles and power to terrorize Israel, when you can and will get on that plane and travel safely through Israel. But, right now, Israel has a very important, very serious, very dangerous job to do. A job that is not pretty. A job that is not “exciting”. A job that involves defending Israel from those who are determined to destroy the Jewish State. A job that involves waging war with Hamas and her supporters. Sadly, there will be lives lost as this war goes on. Many Palestinians who are being used by Hamas as human shields have already been killed. And until Hamas is defeated, sadly, more will be killed. And Israelis – particularly Israeli soldiers – will also lose their lives. This is the reality on the ground. This reality is part of Israel. It is a tragic but necessary part of the Jewish State’s survival. To the teen who was supposed to leave for Israel on Sunday – you need to understand what we as a people will do in order to survive – what we have to do to survive – BUT, there is no need for you, at this point in your life, to witness this first hand, or G-d forbid, be a part of the violence.
So, teen who was supposed to leave for Israel on Sunday, yes, I want to keep you safe right now because, well, you are still a kid and we adults still have some control over your life. But, I am not just worried about your safety. Six million Israelis have had missiles launched at them. Six million. While we think it is great to be present in Israel during this trying time, the fact is, we are just more people who need space in a bomb shelter. We are more people that the IDF need to look out for and worry about. We are more people who will get on buses that clog important roadways and might need to be flown out of the country if the situation gets worse.
Yes, Israel needs us now more than ever. But, Israel needs us here, speaking up, spreading the truth, standing up to the lies, the distortions, the bias. Israel does not need us in the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv right now. She does not need us trying to get selfies with real missiles being blown up by the Iron Dome over our heads. She needs space to do the work needed to insure the survival of the Jewish people and the Jewish State so that you CAN come to the land and travel freely.
So, teenagers who is not going to Israel on Sunday, you are not going because:
- We need you to be a part of the future of Israel. Too many Jews have been hurt and killed by Hamas and supporters of this terrorist organization. Your job is to stay here, keep up to date on what is going on, speak up for Israel and plan your future trip to the Jewish State.
- Going to Israel right now does not make you a better Zionist, does not make you tougher, stronger. If anything, it gives the IDF room to do their job. Now is not the time to go and see the sites of Israel.
As Ecclesiastes teaches us – there is a time for every matter under heaven.
A time to break and a time to build
A time to weep and a time to laugh
A time of wailing and a time for dancing
A time for war and a time for peace
Now, sadly, is the time for war. Peace is, I believe, around the corner – a time of building and laughing and dancing – and a time when we can see you off to Israel for an experience of a lifetime. And, if your parents let me, I will join you on the trip to airport to see you off. I promise.