A few years ago, a friend of mine had the rare opportunity to spend an evening with Bibi Netanyanu while the Prime Minister was in Detroit. There were only four of them, including Bibi. They spent the night smoking cigars and drinking whiskey, just like regular guys. After a few drinks, my friend who, like many of us, has lots of opinions about Israel, couldn’t restrain himself from offering the Prime Minister solutions to finding peace in the Middle East.
Bibi immediately interrupted him, smiled, and calmly said, “I love Americans. You always think you can solve things. But with all respect you have no idea what my neighborhood is really like.”
This past week we were reminded what his neighborhood is really like. When the violence in Israel first erupted, I was just going about my day, running mindless errands, oblivious to the seriousness of the situation there. Suddenly a dear friend in Israel, my former tour guide, began sending me a barrage of messages about what was going on in her neighborhood.
OMG, Mark, just crying and scared. My family spent the evening in the stairway or the bomb shelter…sirens again and again…bomb explosions above our heads…Israel Arabs are burning cars, destroying Jewish property, burning synagogues (!!!), restaurants, stone throwing at driving cars, hitting drivers, live shootings in the streets…very scary. No words.
Jews in Detroit and around the world are once again shaken with the reality that Israeli Jews — our family — are in the midst of a dark nightmare. For years I’ve been getting alerts on my phone whenever Israel is under rocket attack (which happens regularly, yet is rarely reported in the Western press). But in the last week, the non-stop buzzing on my phone is a constant reminder that this round of violence feels different; this round feels like war. In the last three days there have been 1,200 rocket attacks, a staggering assault that any nation would consider a deliberate provocation to war.
As of this writing, there appears to be no end in sight to the violence. Both sides have rejected a cease-fire and it’s hard to imagine a scenario with a peaceful and sustainable outcome. Should Hezbollah enter the fray in the north – not improbable - this crisis would instantly become dire.
We in the diaspora have a role to play; we must recognize the gravity of the situation. We may see things that Israel or Israelis do that we find disturbing (e.g. the reports of mobs of Jewish extremists roaming streets looking for Arabs to assault), but we must also see images of Hamas’ hatred that shocks the conscience (e.g. a senior Hamas official releasing a video explaining how its followers should purchase knives and behead Jews: “Buy it, sharpen it and cut off their heads”).
One thing is clear — this isn’t a minor skirmish, and the stakes for Israel could not be higher. Hamas and other enemies wish to wipe Israel off the map, just as Hamas’ Charter plainly declares. Today, Hamas’ rockets are more sophisticated, accurate and deadlier than ever. In 2014, those rockets were rudimentary, often misfiring and dropping into the southern desert. But as has been shockingly evident this week, Hamas’ rockets have greatly advanced, now capable of reaching all of Israel and of inflicting massive damage and death.
Many American Jews are now busily emailing news stories and op-ed pieces with friends and family. But if Israel really does face a grave threat — which I believe it does — and we profess to love Israel, are we not duty-bound to do more than merely send emails from the safety of our couches? How can we expect the world to support Israel if we’re not willing to do it ourselves? “If I am not for myself,” Rabbi Hillel asked over 2,000 years ago, “who will be for me?”
There are many action steps available to anyone who wishes to help.
- United Hatzalah is in need of additional funding. The group provides motorcycle ambulances in Israel, and has been working around the clock providing emergency services, often responding immediately after a Hamas rocket attack. israelrescue.org
- Magen David Adom (Red Shield of David) also needs assistance. It is Israel’s hub for national emergency medical, disaster, ambulance and blood bank services. It works in close coordination with the International Red Cross.
- Locally, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit is providing information on a number of agencies in Israel providing emergency services to people in need, including medical, mental health and housing needs.
1-888-902-4673 for additional information
This is no time for naiveté. American Jews can be critical of Israel. That’s fine. But we must fully grasp that the nation is under a massive assault that is nothing short of an existential threat. Israel’s enemies seek its destruction, plain and simple. They tell us that repeatedly; maybe we should believe them.
Say what you want about Bibi Netanyahu, but the man has never been under any delusions about the determination of Israel’s enemies to kill as many Jews, military and civilian, as possible and then run the rest out of the country.
American Jews should also be under no such delusions.