Thursday, July 17, 2014

Teen Spirit

Today was inspiring. That’s because I visited with hundreds of Conservative young people gathered in Jerusalem as part of Ramah Seminar and USY Israel Pilgrimage. I’ve done this for the last few summers, but being with the teens today, imbibing their remarkable energy and high spirits, was truly infectious.

Our USY groups are among the roughly 40 trips for young people now in Israel.  As I said today on my conference call with kehilla leaders and USY parents, the safety of our students is our highest priority. We are in contact every day with Israeli security agencies, going over itineraries and re-arranging schedules to make sure our teens are safe. Our staff is well-trained and our kids have been briefed repeatedly on how to respond if there is a siren.

USY Israel Pilgrimage staff
And I can say unequivocally that our teens are safe and that they’re behaving in a way we can all be proud of. They’ve shown amazing maturity, and they are clearly having an incredible time. Our goals for these trips are to strengthen our students’ Jewish identity, enrich their knowledge of Judaism and Jewish history, and promote their social development. All of these goals continue to be met.  And though we would never have planned it this way, our kids are also gaining first-hand insight into the political reality of modern Israel.

I’ve been asked recently: when would you send them home? And the answer is, if the security situation deteriorated to a point where our teens were spending more time indoors watching movies than out having a meaningful experience, then yes, it would be time to come home. So far, we are not even close to that.

USCJ Family Israel Experience participants
at De Karina Chocolate Factory
And it’s not only our kids who are here. Across Israel, Conservative Jews – rabbis, families, congregations – are traveling, studying, and having fun. USCJ’s own family trip recently ended after a remarkable tour, and our Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem is filled with summer students of all ages, including a large new contingent of Jews from France.

Iron Dome is doing its job. Hard as it can be to envision from far away, life in Israel goes on; the abnormal sense of normalcy continues.

Because USCJ sits on the Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations, which organized this mission, we have had tremendous access to military and government officials. We’ve heard them speak about the moral dilemma they face in fighting an enemy which hides its weapons and fighters in homes, schools, and mosques. They struggle with the imperative to defend themselves while trying to avoid civilian casualties. They know that when they warn civilians in Gaza about an imminent airstrike they are also giving Hamas commanders a chance to flee.  They know this, but they are willing to pay that price if they can prevent civilian deaths.

Now Israel must decide what comes next. The leaders we spoke with, including Ami Dror, the country’s former National Security Advisor, said there are only a few options; each of course comes with a price. Allow a cease-fire to end the attacks, but then Israel could face the prospect of a barrage of Hamas rockets every few years. Perhaps Iron Dome works well enough that this is acceptable. Or go into Gaza in a limited way, and take out more rockets and bases, along with the offensive tunnels built to let Hamas operatives get into Israel and cause trouble. Or finally, re-take Gaza, end the rocket attacks, but face a high cost militarily, economically, and diplomatically. (As I send this, I just heard the news that Israel has entered Gaza.)

Israeli leaders will make that decision themselves. What can we do? Donate to the Stop the Sirens campaign, which is helping support Israelis in the line of fire. Take a moment to thank your political leaders in the U.S. for funding Iron Dome. If you’re Canadian, thank Prime Minister Harper for speaking out about Israel’s right to defend itself. Israelis told us repeated how grateful they are to both the U.S. and Canada for their support.

They are grateful to us, as well, for coming here and standing with them, letting them know they’re not alone.

Oseh shalom bi-m’romav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu v’al kol yisrael – v’al kol yoshvei tevel – v’imru amen.

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