The Summer of 2014 turned out to be very hot so I thought it will be a good idea to visit my mom and take her on a retreat, away from the humidity of Tel Aviv.
Two weeks before departure date it got “hotter”. The tension in the southern border with Gaza escalated. It started with the kidnapping of the three jewish teens that were found 18 days later dead, then the kidnapping of an arab boy by jewish religious fanatics. Meanwhile the rockets from Gaza were shot towards Sderot, Ashkelon and for the first time reached Tel Aviv and even Zichron Yaacov. I was glued to the TV and on the phone each time when the Red Alert app signaled another rocket in Tel Aviv. My mom’s quivering voice telling me that my cousin’s son is going into Gaza was a hint to her high anxiety level, so when our Rabbi send the invite to join the solidarity mission of the RA/Masorti movement to Israel I did not hesitate and off we went.
Eighteen rabbis from the U.S. were joined by local masorti (conservative) rabbis.
Monday night we heard from Natan Sharansky, the head of the Jewish Agency. He pointed out the solidarity among Israelis. No matter what each of us believe, we come together to support our government decisions and pray for the safe return of our soldiers. Israelis find inspiration from the support of the Jewish people. In Hamas we have a unique enemy, one that uses women and children as a human shields. The Israelis have developed a special missile that warns the Palestinian civilian inhabitants of a pending attack but they are told by their Hamas leaders not to leave. I have read that it’s the first time that among the ground force units that are send into Gaza there is one soldier who carries a camera to document the actions to be analyzed later by IDF PR. Israel must win on all fronts. World opinion is important and plays a crucial role in these times. During dinner we heard Minister of Intelligence, Dr. Yuval Steinitz who described the three goals of Operation Protective Edge is to deliver a serious blow to Hamas’s infrastructure, to secure the people of the south and to de-militarize Gaza once more. They amassed 14,000 rockets and build many tunnels. This was a sobering and ambitious military mission and a reaffirmation to us all of the importance of our solidarity mission.
Tuesday we boarded a bus to the south. First stop Ashkelon, a city by the city , we visited a shelter which functions as a camp, a rocket was shot towards Ashkelon, it felt safe being underground but is it a way to spend the summer?
We then continued to Sderot, which is a few kilometers from Gaza. We could see the smoke from Gaza. We met the deputy mayor in the shelter and learned that most school and bus stops are build as shelters. By the time a child turns 13 he or she is exposed to 600 siren alerts. Is this a way to grow up?
Next Stop, Beer Sheva, the capital of the Negev. It’s now a routine; go down to the shelter, meet the deputy mayor, who is thankful that we came to show our support and care. We continued to Omer, a suburb of Beer Sheva. On the way, there were two siren alerts, we crouched on the floor of the bus till we heard another a boom. People who drive a car got out and lie on the road.
We continued to Jerusalem for dinner and a briefing from Col Dr. Eran Lerman, deputy national security council for foreign policy and international affairs.
He emphasized the need for legitimization with regard to the terrorists. He quoted Ben Gurion who talked of “Easy Optimism” and “Sterile Pessimism,” claiming it is forbidden to rely on either of these for the future.
The sign which can be found in many intersections says: strong home front /winning on the front. Unity is what’s important. It is a feeling I got all day. We are strong when we are together.