I have been coming to Israel since 1973 when I made my first trip with my family. I have never heard, in person, the terrible, jarring sound of an air-raid siren before. That changed last night.
I was walking back to my apartment after a presentation at the Hartman Institute that included a keynote address by the new president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Aaron Panken, with four friends when the sirens rang out indicating that rockets had been fired at Jerusalem. We were not close to bomb shelter. We ran to the nearest apartment, banged on the door and were welcomed in by the homeowners. We must have been quite a sight for this young Israeli couple who were non-plussed by the scream of the warning siren. They were calmly watching a music program. They offered us something to drink.
This is Israel. We asked them to turn on the news and watched the reports of what we were experiencing. As we listened we heard the explosions as Iron Dome missiles intercepted and exploded the incoming rockets. Ten minutes later, the time after which it is safe to exit the shelter, we were out on the streets. Life was normal. People were back on the street checking in and resuming conversations at the outdoor cafes. I returned to my apartment, called my wife to let her know I was ok and tried to get some sleep half expecting to hear another siren. Thankfully, the rest of the night in Jerusalem was quiet.
I now have a better frame of reference with which I can think about the people of Sderot, Ashdod and Ashkelon. The rockets have been raining upon them almost non-stop. They only have 15 seconds between the sound of the siren and the landing of the rocket. The level of stress is unbearable and intolerable. While life returned to normal quite quickly for us in Jerusalem, the new normal in the south is something different entirely.
All of this comes just days after the burials of Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrah, and Mohammed Abu Khdeir. As many here have pointed out, in Israel we do not have any time to emotionally process one trauma before the next one hits. Each trauma is interrupted by the next. I feel that I will still be processing all of this for weeks to come.
In this week's parasha we read about the aftermath of Pinchas' act of zealotry in the killing of Zimri, an Israelite prince and Cozbi, a Midianite woman. Pinchas saves the children of Israel from God's wrath. For this act, God rewards Pinchas with a Covenant of Shalom. But, there is the anomaly of how the Hebrew word, Shalom, appears in the Torah scroll. The letter "vav" is broken in the middle. Our sages of blessed memory look at this as a cautionary sign. Yes, sometimes violence is necessary in order to save life. Yet, Shalom, achieved in violence is incomplete. We must never forget that we cannot achieve a peace that is true, lasting or whole through violence.
As I write this Hamas continues to rain terror with more and more rocket fire. The IDF continues to attack Hamas positions, disrupt Hamas infrastructure and intercept Hamas fighters trying to infiltrate the country.
Tonight, I pray for the safety of all. I pray that of Israel's soldiers returns in peace to their families. I pray that the rockets will stop and the people of Gaza will look to new leadership. I pray for the broken "vav" to be made whole through our actions. I pray for Shalom.