It’s hard to believe that it’s been only six days that we awoke to the horrific news of Hamas’ brutal assault on our beloved Israel. Like many of you, my emotions have been all over the map this week: shock, horror, despair, grief, outrage, anger, disbelief, numbness. I see the news and my mind struggles to grasp the enormity of it all.
Israel is my other home. I lived there for two years at different points in my life. I have many friends there. I visited on at least 30 different occasions. So many of us know someone who was kidnapped, murdered, or affected in some way by this gruesome and inhumane tragedy. My friends’ children and grandchildren are now serving in the IDF on the front lines of Gaza and Lebanon. They wait…and worry.
On Sunday, I was heartbroken to learn about my friend Ofir Liebstein (see photo below – he is standing) who was murdered by the terrorists early on Saturday during the assault. He was remarkable. Here is the last photo I took of him this past March. I was in Israel for the Reform Rabbis’ (CCAR) Convention and we went to the S’derot/Gaza region to learn more about the communities who live on the Gaza border and who experience trauma on a regular basis. Ofir was the head of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. He conceived of and was spear-heading a joint Israeli-Palestinian venture/industrial park that would enable the more than 60% of unemployed Gazans to partner with Israel on employment opportunities. Ofir was murdered defending his Jewish communities from the Hamas infiltrator terrorists. Ofir was a man of action who strove to make this world a better place. Zecher tzaddik livracha. The memory of the righteous will be for a blessing. My heart is broken.
However, grieving for Ofir and all of Israel is not enough. What do we as Jews do with our heartbreak, our grief, our agony?
We stand up and turn it into action. We join together in solidarity and unity because a strong Jewish community has the power, the courage, the resilience to take the evil inflicted on us, and emerge victorious and stronger in the end.
Sadly, the cost and human toll will be high. Hamas was well aware of that. Make no mistake: Hamas did not wage a brutal bloodbath against Israel because they want “to liberate Palestine.” This has nothing to do with the Palestinians. Hamas’ charter, their goal, is to wipe Israel and the Jewish people off the face of the earth. They use the good people (yes, there are many good people) in Gaza as their pawns in their deadly and evil tactics. Israel has every right to defend itself against Hamas. We pray that the IDF will overcome the evil, will blot it out.
This week, we read from the very beginning of the Torah: B’reishit. This is the story of the beginning of the creation of the world. The Torah text says: “When God began to create heaven and earth— the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water— God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good… (Genesis 1: 1-4). Israel and the Jewish people are now in that time of chaos, everything feels “unformed and void.” We feel that we are covered by a deep darkness and we don’t know how or when we will emerge. However, Torah speaks truth and gives us hope. At the end of the darkness, there is always light “y’hi or – there WILL be light.” That light will be the light of victory, the light of hope, the light of calm, the light of life, the light of peace.
B’reishit also reminds us that we, humans, are created “b’tzelem Elohim – in the image of God.” Therefore, we are God’s partners in bringing forth light in these dark times: supporting our friends and family in Israel with texts, emails and phone calls, sending donations, joining together here in North America to strengthen our own Jewish communities and identity. May we continue to be that light that shines in the darkness because in order for the work of creation to be fully complete, our love, our light must wrap around each other, and our humanity must shine in the darkness.
Please join with us as we shine our light brightly together this evening for our special Erev Shabbat service: Stand Up for Israel: A Shabbat Service of Solidarity, Unity and Support, with special readings and music. 7:00 PM.
RESOURCES: (Where to make donations, Volunteer, News Sources, Educational Resources and Resources for Speaking with Children and Youth
To Make a Donation:
1. The Reform Movement is joining with Jewish Federations of America to promote a single campaign as a show of solidarity and unity. The Reform Movement will have a seat at the table in allocating those donations. You can donate directly at this link.
2. To make a direct donation to organizations that work “on the ground:”
IsraAid: An Israeli organization that supports people around the world affected by humanitarian crisis. They are often the first on the ground in any disaster. They are now on the ground, helping our own people. We partner with local communities around the world to provide urgent aid, assist in recovery, and reduce the risk of future disasters. Donate at this link.
Magen David Adom: The Israel Red Cross: Saves lives by providing direct assistance through paramedic and emergency services, blood transfusions, providing ambulances and so much more. They are on the frontlines of saving lives in Israel. Donate at this link.
The Israel Reform Movement – the umbrella organization for the synagogues, communities and institutions of Reform Judaism in Israel. Provides direct support to this in need, social action initiatives, leadership training, education and so much more. Donate at this link.
Volunteer Locally to Help:
The Israeli-American Council of Orange County (IAC) is mobilizing volunteers to make phone calls, send text messages, prepare much needed supplies to send to those in Israel. Contact Inbal Greenberg, Regional Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org; mobile: 949-232-8987.
Stay Informed – Reliable Sources for Information About Israel:
There is much erroneous information circulating about the situation and there is always a great deal of bias in the press/media against Israel. Please do not take everything you read at face value. Below are some reliable sources of information (some have a paywall. Subscribing is an excellent way to support Israeli journalism):
ARZA – Resource Page (The American Reform Zionist Association. The Resource page lists wonderful books, podcasts, and sermons providing background and context for the current situation).
Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s Website (Rabbi Yoffie is the immediate Past President of the Union for Reform Judaism. In his role, he spent extensive time with the leaders of Israel, the United States and other countries. He is extremely insightful, articulate and has wonderful perspective).
Anti Defamation League (ADL) – the leading US organization fighting hate, antisemitism and other racism in North America. They have a new campaign “Stand With Israel: Stay Informed Take Action”
4. Talking to Children/Youth – Resouces and Guides:
We encourage you to join us this evening at 7:00 pm for a special Shabbat musical service in support of Israel. We’ll join together in solidarity and unity with words of poetry, prayer, and music as one united community.
Oseh shalom bimromaiv, hu ya’a’seh shalom aleinu, v’al kol Yisrael, v’imru, amen. May the One who causes peace to reign in the high heavens, bring peace to us and all of Israel as we say, amen.