It’s so hard to know what to say in these terrible times. We pray for the lives and safety of those we love, and for all innocent life.
By Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg
‘The whole country is a battle front; this can’t just be allowed this to happen’, said my friend from the Parent Circle. Rockets continue to be aimed and the sirens to sound across the country. No country could allow such a situation. Were it not for the iron dome, matters would be very different.
At the same time my friend has stood through these days in Tel Aviv together with other Israeli and Palestinian bereaved parents, hoping and working for less cruel, more compassionate times. We hope Israel gains freedom from the rockets and other dangers which prey on it. We hope and pray that both Israel and Gaza gain a truce, which may one day become a peace, with a real future, a human future with hope for all people.
Every untimely death is a tragedy, especially death through violence. The suffering of ordinary people is terrible, especially the suffering and death of children, whoever they are and wherever fate has placed them on this earth. We regret the loss of innocent life. We pray that the children of Israel and Gaza should one day grow up to encounter not conflict and hatred but the blessings and opportunities of family, education and freedom. Today these sound like vain, idealistic prayers, but, as David Grossman recently wrote:
The situation is too desperate to be left to the despairing, for accepting despair amounts to an admission that we’ve been defeated. Defeated not on the battlefield, but as human beings. Something deep and vital to us as humans was taken away, was stolen from us, the moment we agreed to let despair to have a dominion…We… insist upon hope. A hope that is not wide-eyed, a hope that won’t give up. A hope that gives us – Israelis and Palestinians both – our only chance to resist the gravitational pull of despair. (On Hope and Despair in the Middle East, July 8, 2014)
Pondering his words, perhaps there is something more one can say, something about an inner, human struggle. For, alongside the physical battles, a moral battle is taking place, not just within Israel, but within the hearts of Jews everywhere, somewhere within the hearts of all people. The nature of that battle is incisively described in a Hasidic teaching concerning the fight against Amalek, the biblical nation who attacked the Children of Israel cruelly from behind on their way out of Egypt. Amalek’s aim, taught Rebbe Shalom of Belz, is to become an inseparable part of us, to make us too into Amalek, so that we become like them. The real agents of hate want to make us too into their messengers, to turn us into their colours. There is always the danger that they may succeed.
It would be impossible not to feel anguish, anger, grief and frustration, especially for those in the midst of danger. But there is no future if we become deeply poisoned by enduring hatred, blind racism or a bitter desire for vengeance. We must not allow the core values of our Judaism, the very values for which Israel was created and for which the country has struggled so hard and so deeply, the values of dignity, justice, compassion and equality, to be corrupted or undermined by those whose strategy might be to try to destroy us not just from without, but from within.
It is easy to write these words in faraway England. But there are many close to the centre of the conflict who are working courageously and indefatigably to keep them true. I conclude with just one example:
[We visited] various hospitals with students of all religions taking part. We went to Al-Mutla Hospital where we were taken to the department of children with cancer. We went to each of the rooms and handed flowers to the patients… Later we went to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus, where we also went to the childrens’ department and distributed flowers to the patients. Many people who were there joined us to visit the sick and it was really moving. Yehudah Stolov, Interfaith Encounter Association, Jerusalem
That was in March. They are still endeavouring to continue similar works, even as the wounded from this war, and from the conflicts of the whole region, are cared for in hospitals in Israel whose vision of healing extends beyond the borders of countries and faiths.
May God, who makes peace in the high places, make peace for us, for all Israel and the Middle East, and for all the world.