Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mixed Messages

July 14, 2014 / 16 Tammuz 5774  

Mixed Messages: Israel is Under Attack. And Yes, Life Goes On   
Dear Friends,  
Arriving in Israel, the scene was somewhat surreal.     
On the one hand, Ben Gurion seemed almost normal. Almost, in that there were fewer people arriving than one would have expected during the peak of summer. El Al told us there have been 100 cancellations over the last three days. That explains the empty middle seat.     
And normal, in that there was not a rush of tourist or others leaving the country. The flow of passengers seemed about average.   
Everywhere I looked, in every meeting we had with Israeli officials, these were some of the mixed messages we saw and heard:  
  • Hamas rockets threaten more than 50% of Israel's citizens. Each and every one is a war crime in that they are aimed indiscriminately at civilians. Almost 1,000 rockets have been fired into Israel thus far. Each one seeks to send Israelis to bomb shelters; to disrupt daily life; to stoke fear in the Israelis and to cause as much damage and death as possible.     
    USY President Aaron Pluemer, and me, at the Iron Dome
  • Yet, driving down the beach in Tel Aviv one sees it packed with surfers, sun bathers, and more. Iron Dome is a miracle and plays a huge role in this. Thanks to U.S. financial support, Iron Dome is saving lives. Deployed to protect the major population centers this impressive defensive system has been more than 90% effective in shooting down rockets headed to Ashdod, Ashkelon, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa. When a missile does get through, thanks to the Home Front Command’s preparation and the discipline of Israelis in following directions to shelter, there has thus far been no loss of life, minimal injuries, and minimal property damage.   
  • We've heard a very strong and clear message to thank the US for this.  
  • Iron Dome has given Israel the time necessary to make good decisions.   
  • And, Iron Dome has indirectly saved Palestinian lives in that Israel is able to respond strategically from the air, and not with more force, because of the lack of Israeli casualties.   
  • The mayors of Sderot and Ashkelon spoke to us about how one of the aims of the missiles, as stated in Hamas' charter is the destruction of Israel. They do not desire two states, they desire one – Palestine.  All of it. So the rockets are fired to cause Israelis to flee. What's Israel's response?  To build. The building projects planned in both of these cities is impressive. Sderot's population is growing, as are its higher educational programs and industry. And in Ashkelon, plans are underway for a beautiful new beach resort hotel. For them, this is not bravado. It's life. Give up Sderot and you give up Ashkelon. Give up Ashkelon and you give up Tel Aviv. I was reminded of the children's book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.
  • At the same time, we learned about the preparation and work of social service personnel and emergency responders. In Ashkelon they created something they call GEARS –

  • Dinner at Netzach Yisrael with, from left, Ashkelon's head of social services; USY president Aaron Pluemer; Netzach Yisrael's Rabbi Gustavo Surazski; me; community members Terri and Marty Davis; Rabbinical Assembly executive vice president Rabbi Julie Schonfeld; MERCAZ Olami past president Rabbi Vernon Kurtz
     Geographical Emergency Analysis and Response System. What it does is map the typology of who lives where. For example, if a missile were to land in an Ethiopian neighborhood, emergency responders know they will need to send someone who speaks Amharic and understands the specific needs of that community during the crisis. The system tracks where there are concentrations of children, elderly, people with disabilities, and cultural nuances. We heard stories, too, of families unwilling to leave shelters or their homes, of post-traumatic stress disorder and what happens when the first responders themselves are directly affected. Just yesterday a missile landed in the front yard of the social services department, shook the building, burst windows, and shook the workers.     
  • The head of the social services department in the city, by the way, is a member of our Masorti kehilla in Ashkelon, Netzach Yisrael, as were many other people involved in the city. We were joined for dinner by the rabbi, president of the kehilla and others. It was heartening to learn about how much our Masorti kehilla contributes to the well-being of the citizens of Ashkelon.     
You, too, can participate in providing for Israelis at this time of need. United Synagogue has joined with URJ and JFNA in the #stopthesirens campaign. Give generously to your local federation or online and help all of Israel, including our Masorti Movement in Israel. Yesterday, JFNA allocated more than $4 million in emergency aid. Our Masorti Noam Camp was one of those recipients and received the necessary funding to totally relocate the camp and its 700 campers to the north. Thank you.   

From the moment I arrived this morning with Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly, and Aaron Pluemer, USY International President, until midnight, the one unified message we heard was “thank you.” Thank you for coming on short notice and for showing your support and thank you for your solidarity. It means a lot and does not go unnoticed.  There was also unanimity on a thank you to the US government for the support of the Iron Dome system.  (Another action item: write your representative or senator and the administration to say thank you.)   

Israeli Ambassador Dan Shapiro with Aaron Pluemer

We met with U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro, two former IAF generals, one former British commander, and the mayors of Sderot and Ashkelon, and we had a late dinner with people from around Ashkelon. It was a full day, but inspiring. Inspiring, because we saw that not only did Hamas not break the spirit of Israeli society, but instead provided it with an opportunity to demonstrate the resilience and spirit of Israeli society.   

Yes, Israel is under missile attack. And yes, life goes on as normal.   

More tomorrow.

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