One of the most inspiring possessions I own sits in my office at shul (synagogue).
I received it in 2006 when I went with a group of my shul members to Israel to volunteer in the North in the wake of the second Lebanon war. On that mission, we toured Sderot and saw firsthand the damage and destruction left by kassam rockets and the metal pellets that were packed therein. Eli Moyal, then mayor of Sderot, described to us what it means to have 15 seconds to find cover when a warning siren is sounded.
We asked him how the people of his city, and the South in Israel in general, have persevered. For years, the parents of Sderot have sent their children to school not knowing if their sons and daughters will come home. Every time they leave their houses, residents of Sderot must be cognizant of the closest bomb shelter in case a siren goes off. We asked Moyal, How have they found the strength and capacity to endure such a lifestyle?
At that moment, the Mayor handed me a metal tulip. As I accepted it, he explained that the flower was made out of the shrapnel of a kassam rocket that landed in Sderot. He explained that the flower was emblematic of the challenge they face. The people of Israel turn the remains of a rocket into a flower, while their enemies would transform a flower into a murderous weapon if they could. Indeed, the small plaque on the flower states: “Sderot Tulip: From the destruction of kassams, a symbol of peace.”
The plain truth is that our people, and the people of Israel, have sought peace throughout our history. Our tradition teaches that shalom, peace, is the greatest blessing. Kaddish, the amidah (the “Standing Prayer”), and the Talmud itself all end with a prayer for shalom. The Jewish people’s faith in the possibility of living in peace has propelled us to survive persecution, hatred and anti-Semitism throughout the millennia. Whenever Israel has met an authentic partner in peace, she has made the concessions necessary to sign and maintain a peace treaty.
It is therefore particularly painful, as always, to watch the world’s reaction to Israel’s effort to defend her citizens against incessant and unrelenting rocket attacks. Yes, many have stood up for Israel, including President Obama who took a critically important public position on this conflict. The White House released a statement saying: “The President reiterated to Prime Minister Netanyahu the United States’ support for Israel’s right to self-defense in light of the barrage of rocket attacks being launched from Gaza against Israeli civilians. The two agreed that Hamas needs to stop its attacks on Israel to allow the situation to de-escalate.”
Thanks in large part to AIPAC’s action alert, a resolution passed the Senate 100-0 supporting Israel’s “inherent right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism.” I encourage you to take a moment to write letters to Senators throughout the country to thank them. You can do so easily by visiting here.
But for many in the media, the reporting on Israel is neither fair nor balanced (or, worse, accurate at all). Perhaps nobody has been more slanted in their reporting than the New York Times.
On the Times‘ Friday morning cover, the headline stated: “Israel and Hamas Step Up Air Attacks in Gaza Clash,” thereby creating a moral equivalence between the Hamas rockets and Israel’s attempt at self-defense.
Even more disturbing are the two large pictures immediately underneath. One is of the corpse and funeral of Ahmed al-Jabari, the leader of the military arm of Hamas who was responsible for Gilad Shalit’s capture as well as countless terrorist attacks and rocket launches. Underneath is the picture of the funeral for Mirah Scharf, the pregnant Chabad Rebbetzin serving in New Delhi who was visiting Israel to commemorate the yahrzeit (anniversary of someone’s death) of the murdered Holtzbergs when a Hamas rocket hit her apartment and killed her.
Placing such a headline above those two pictures is tantamount to portraying a parallel between the funeral of Osama Bin Laden and one of an innocent victim killed in the Twin Towers.
In an article on Thursday describing events, the Times wrote: “Hamas mostly adhered to an informal cease-fire with Israel after the war since 2008-09.” Mostly adhered? Hamas has fired 1,345 rockets into Israel during that period.
The Times further wrote, “The abrupt escalation in hostilities between Israel and Hamas, the militant organization regarded by Israel as a terrorist group…..” Regarded by Israel? Our own US State Department has declared Hamas a terrorist group.
Most egregiously, in their initial report on the targeted assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari, the Times waited until the sixth paragraph to mention the barrage of rockets that have been raining down on Israel.
When Israel needs to defend herself, she must fight minimally two wars simultaneously. There is the war to defeat her sworn enemies and then there is the war to win public opinion and portray reality accurately. Arguably, nobody in the world is better trained and more prepared to fight the first type of war than the Israeli army. As we watch from afar, we must accept the fact that there is nothing we can do to intercept rockets or eliminate terrorists. However, there is much we can do to triumph on the second front and perhaps nobody can do it as well as we can.
We must hold the media accountable to report what is unfolding accurately. I implore you to write letters to the editor of local and national newspapers. Take to social media to get out the accurate story of what is occurring in our beloved homeland. We must keep the pressure on our elected officials to continue to publicly show support for Israel and her right to defend herself. Thank them when they do and place pressure on them if they don’t. Sign up for AIPAC’s action alerts to learn exactly what you can do when you are needed most.
If Israel is to triumph in all aspects of this latest conflict, the IDF must do its job and we must do ours.
But we must not neglect one more partner in this battle. The name Israel has chosen for this operation is being translated as Operation Pillar of Defense. However, its official Hebrew name is so much more significant: Operation Amud Anan, Pillar of Clouds.
The reference, of course, is to the Biblical account of the Clouds of Glory that protected the Jews from any harm from above as we traveled through the desert on our way to the promised land.
Thousands of years ago we had no choice but to rely on the protection provided by the miraculous clouds of glory. Today, we have merited another kind of miracle in the form of the young men and women of the incredibly powerful Israeli army.
We have begun the month of Kislev that contains the holiday of Chanukah. Years ago, a battle raged in Israel of the few against the many. As we look out at the countries that surround Israel and those that are biased against her throughout the world, we are reminded that yet again we number the few against the many.
May Hashem protect His country and His people and give them the resolve and tenacity to persevere. May the people of Sderot smell the flowers of peace and no longer have to fashion the tulips of kassams.
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Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS) in Boca Raton, Florida. He serves as Co-Chair of the Orthodox Rabbinical Board’s Va’ad Ha’Kashrus, as Director of the Rabbinical Council of America’s South Florida Regional Beis Din for Conversion, and as Posek of the Boca Raton Mikvah.