March 4, 2024 admin

In the South of Israel

I spent yesterday in the south of Israel with my colleague Doron Rubin, many years ago a shaliach in our community, now rabbi in Rechovot. I was looking at projects for our community to support. We drove past Kfar Aza and Be’eri, which suffered the worst of the vicious horrors on October 7, down to Kibbutz Re’im.

Imri, a close friend of members of our synagogue, met us there. For the next two hours, alleyway by alleyway, house by house, tree by tree, he talked us through how he and a tiny number of others fought off as many as a hundred Hamas fighters: ‘I ran here; the four police who joined us returned fire from there… We heard Hamas were inside that house… We stopped them getting through there; that was another miracle that saved us…’  

Many times, he stopped to play on his phone the explosions, voices, calls for help of that morning. He relived it with us, took us inside the burnt-out rooms, some with the grim notice ‘Declared clear by Zaka,’ the organisation which identifies the dead.

‘This is where my friend stopped the attack but gave his life. He had a small chocolate business; we want to start it up again in his memory. He loved sport. We want to be a centre for sports again. Everybody joins in, all the local communities, Bedouin, Thai families, they all play. Bring a football team from your community.’

Imri, and everyone else we met (few have so far returned) thanked us repeatedly for coming, as if this minuscule gesture of solidarity actually amounted to something.

Doron and I then went to the site of the Nova festival. Eucalyptus saplings had been planted for those murdered or taken hostage, a deep, extensive field of trees, the last of the dark red poppies in between them. The trees had names and messages by them: ‘We love you and long for you.’ Some had pictures, beautiful, happy young people. Some saplings had been watered just that day.

I shall see that field as long as I live.

Tomorrow I’m going north to meet a colleague and her community who’ve been facing the threats from Hizballah.

What can I say? I’ve been asked to emphasise hope. Please God, there will be a deal and, after 150 unimaginable days, the hostages will be freed. Briefings by senior military figures stress their concern for the humanitarian needs of the hundreds of thousands of people caught in the middle. But the war against Hamas, hidden in tunnels underneath their own people whom they calculatedly use as human shields, is unlikely to be about to end.

Realistic, long-term hope has to offer a safe, secure, dignified future for everyone, Israel and its neighbours. For that, right now, we can only pray. I pray for the hostages and their families; for the grief-stricken, the wounded, the traumatised; for the soldiers going into danger; for ordinary people caught up in horror, whoever they are on whichever side of the border; for this mad world that contains such nihilistic terror as well as so much beauty.

Meanwhile, what we can do is show solidarity, whatever our political opinions. We can keep contact with friends, family, anyone who needs us. We can help rebuild, more so over time. We can, and must, stand alongside suffering; we can help heal, in whatever tiny way we are able, the deep hurts of our own people, and of everyone, because all wounds cry out to God and every life matters.

I was asked to be up-beat, so, at the risk of sounding trivial and foolish, I’ll end on a different note. I slept on Saturday night at Israel’s Guide Dog Training Centre; apparently, I was the only human present. ‘The need for therapy dogs is huge,’ they told me in the morning, showing me eleven six-week-old puppies. One day, maybe, we humans will become as good as these cute creatures at bringing love and healing.

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