The Emotional Toll
August 10, 2006Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb's Visit to Israel
This morning was a quiet one for me. I used it to catch up with my learning and reading and a few phone calls. I spoke with David Cutler (OU NCSY) who arrived here yesterday to visit the NCSY programs still here. Wherever I go I hear prasie for these programs and for the excellent directors Rabbi Moshe Benovits (Kollel) and Mrs. Rivka Yudin (Michlelet). JOLT II is also here. I am trying to arrange time to visit them, but since they are all winding down it is proving difficult for me to do so. David will be spending Shabbat with the Kollel at its campus, but I have commitments in the city here over Shabbat.
This afternoon, in about half an hour we head south to visit a program we have in Gush Etzion and then over to Nitzan for a look at what we are doing there with Gush Katif expellees. When I described our visit yesterday to the Bayit Yehudi in Ramot HaSharon I neglected to mention the truly magniificent lunch we were served there. The warm ambience of the Bayit, the friendly and impressive company of the staff and visitors, and the delicious food, combined to make it a very special experience. Thanks to Rabbi Netanel SimanTov and his wife, and their staff, for all the special touches which "made our day".
One of the sad but important facts arising from the war and its casualties, which is in all the newspapers and a topic for discussion wherever you go, is the disproportionate number of causalites from two distinct but different sectors of the general population. They are the kibbutzim and the religious Zionists. Both have collectivist ideologies, both preach patriotism, and both idealize military service. Obviously they have different, even conflicting, philosophies. But they both stand in contrast to the rest of society with its "me first" individualism and its post-Zionist political perspective. As you read the bios of the dead soldiers, particularly those who performed especially heroic self-sacrificial acts, you are struck by the fact that they all seem to come from one of the two camps described above.
They all come from backgrounds where service to the State of Israel and consideration for the other person were paramount. I do not believe that the two backgrounds are equivalent, but I do believe that these kibbutzim, which I am learnning are having something of a revival, have retained enough core Jewish values of mesiras nefesh (sacrifice) and Ahavas Tzion (love of Zion), to produce there heroic products. The media is starting to catch on to the fact that so many of the soldiers in this war are evacuees from Gush Katif, opponents of disengagement past or future, residents of Yesha, with right-wing political views, hesder bachurim (boys), shomrei Torah, etc. I predict, and we heard this yesterday from Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, that when this war is over there will be a "re-alignment" of opinions about many groups in Israeli society.
Later that day...
What an afternoon! We left Yerushalyim with a small group including Chavi and me, OU Senior VP Stanley Weinstein and board member Stanley Frohlinger and his wife and daughter. Menachem Persoff escorted us. Our first stop was Masuot Yitzchal in Gush Etzion. There we met Rafi Danan who heads our Lichyot B'Yachad and other programs. We learned of the dramatic history of this community and of the area. We visited Rafi's home, and partook of the stunning view from his hilltop toward Betar and Jerusalem and of delicious refreshments grown nearby. I made a shehachayanu on a lichee nut and never tasted such delicious watermelon. Rafi briefed us on so much of his work and the kind of kiruv that happens here is mind-boggling. We visted with a group of younsters from "Anglo" countries such as the U.S., Canada, South Africa, Australia, who volunteer for Israeli army training. They are trained by Israeli officers who have worked with our outreach programs and who asked us to meet this group of about sixty such youngsters. What a noble, impressive group of kids! Menachem led a discussion with them about their primary identities: Jew, Zionist, American or Australian, or human. These are intelligent and thoughtful kids as the discussion proved. I had a chance to to talk to the kids and interact with them about being a Jewish human, or a Jewish American, or a Jewish Zionist. I felt especially moved by the experience. One officer, obviously secular, was in some way touched by my talk and asked me for a few moments of my time to discuss a personal matter which turned out, to his surprise, to have a religious basis. The "serendipitous" connections that these experiences bring about are of peculiar import. As I write I remember conversations and experiences that I have had but forgot to report to you. One family from the north whom we met yesterday had a short talk with me. The mother introduced me to one her little girls, about 8. Part of what we do is distribute toys to kids and I was struck by the fact that the mother motioned to our staff person not to give her child a doll. When I questioned this, I was told that this child had spent more than two weeks in a bomb shelter, and was so emotionally upset that she began to systematically rip the heads off of every doll in the bomb shelter. This is the extent of the inner anger that boils within these poor people.
We are now in Nitzan--more to come.