Rabbi Neil Schuman

Israel from an Insider’s Perspective
Lately, many of our conversations have been about taking off our masks and returning to normalcy. I attended the Pro-Israel rally on Sunday in Great Neck without wearing a mask, and I only saw one person out of thousands of attendees wearing one. I admit, I felt exposed and scared; nonetheless, I’m glad to be able to see all of people’s faces once again. The small talk in Israel lately has been of a more serious nature. A friend of mine, Eric Grosser, moved to Israel more than 20 years ago. I’d like to share with you his perspectives (that he posted on Facebook) as an Israeli under attack.
“Israelis tend not to make small talk about the weather in mid-spring, because it doesn’t change much. The last rain was more than a month ago, and every day, the skies are completely blue without a single cloud. But over the past 9 days, Israelis have made a lot of small talk about sirens. “How many sirens did you have today?” or “Where were you during last night’s siren?” are two of the most common ‘small talk’ questions.
It’s important to understand that not all Israelis have experienced the past 9 days the same. On one hand, there are places in Israel, although not many, that haven’t heard a single siren. On the other hand, cities close to the Gaza perimeter such as Sderot and Ashkelon have as many as 40 sirens per day. They only have 15 seconds to take shelter when the siren starts, meaning, walking the dog is almost impossible. Our hometown of Rehovot has averaged about 2 sirens a day, but we had 2 days without any sirens. There’s something about the uncertainty of not knowing when the siren will go off that makes this period particularly stressful.
All schools south of Netanya have been closed since the first rockets were launched at Jerusalem 9 days ago. But I often wonder why the schools are closed, since by law, all public buildings have shelters. I assume it’s the concern that rockets could get launched when kids are on their way to and from school. It’s nearly impossible to keep children home for days in a row without going crazy. On the first day of this escalation, our teenage daughter insisted on going to the skatepark in Tel Aviv, and we reluctantly agreed. She assured us that she knew exactly where the shelter was located, next to her skate park. While she was riding the train home, the siren sounded, and they told everyone to lie down on the floor. She didn’t seem too nervous, and honestly, we weren’t either. But last week, our 5-year old son was nervous to walk to his friend’s house, that the siren would sound on the way. Our 9-year old daughter attends a one-on-one weekly activity, and was told that she was welcome to come if she wanted. My wife asked me ‘What do you think, should we go?’. Since we had a siren at 1AM last night, and at 3PM this afternoon, I told them to go, thinking ‘we already had our 2 daily sirens’. Last week, I got caught outside with a siren, on my way home from picking up dinner. I went into a passage, heard several Iron Dome interception ‘booms’, waited a few minutes, and continued on my way. The only clouds in the sky were rocket interceptions.
By now, Israelis have grown very accustomed to this routine, although many of us are short on sleep from middle-of-the-night sirens. Being woken up by a blaring siren and having to run to the shelter is disorienting and stressful. But here’s an ‘Only in Israel’ dichotomy: When it rains in the winter, there are Israelis who keep their children home from school because they may get wet, but when rockets are flying overhead, we try to continue life as normal.”
This war has been a media disaster for Israel and Jews worldwide. Anti-Semitism is on the rise and we’ve been on the defensive having to justify Israel’s (and the Jewish people’s) right to self-defense. While we’re hoping the ceasefire will bring about a respite in the onslaught of non-stop criticism, Israeli’s are just hoping to return to regular day to day activity. Here’s Eric’s perspective on the ceasefire.
“Having lived in Israel for more than two decades, the feeling of the ‘day after’ causes strong ‘déja vu’ sentiments. We’ve been here before, the day after the cease fire, and the questions asked aren’t much different. Israeli residents in the Gaza perimeter are understandably upset with the ceasefire announcement and the paradox that the temporary quiet means more rockets in the future. Both sides claim victory: Israel with impressive military statistics and the dramatic weakening of Hamas, and Hamas, on the symbolic level, have strengthened themselves from the Palestinian perspective as the liberators of Jerusalem.
I’ve read many articles, and I will continue to read many more. But I haven’t found a single article that really addresses all of the issues at play. On one hand, many articles completely ignore Hamas’ Jihadist ideology. Jihad in the militaristic sense means the ideology of Muslims reclaiming their holy sites and expelling the perceived ‘invaders’. It’s not an exaggeration to claim that Hamas wants me and my family, and my fellow Israeli Jews, either dead, or removed from this land. In the short term, they will accept ‘Hudnas’ (ceasefires), as they realize that their ideology cannot be implemented overnight, but it’s part of a long term strategy. How could articles discussing the situation forget about this important piece of the equation?
On the other hand, many articles and posts make the ridiculous argument that the events of Sheikh Jarrah, Al-Aqsa (the Temple Mount) have no connection to the events we’ve seen over the past two weeks. To be sure, just like Jews have deeply emotional and religious connections to Jerusalem, so do Palestinian Muslims. Hamas was able to take on the Palestinian cause of fighting for Jerusalem, and succeeded in gaining support from many Israeli Arabs on the streets of Akko and Lod. Just two weeks ago, an unprecedented Israeli coalition was about to be formed with Mansour Abbas’s Raam Islamic party and his message of coexistence, and two days later, Jews were being lynched on the streets of Lod and Akko. How fast things change in the Middle East! No matter how peaceful it appears, just under the surface, an unresolved ethno-religious conflict threatens to explode at any second.”
We diaspora Jews certainly have our own issues, but our brethren in Israel are literally praying for their lives and sitting on a powder keg. It’s disappointing that after near annihilation over seventy-five years ago, we now need to show justification for the State of Israel and its defense. Yet, no matter how much the media is against us, thankfully, we are not in the position of weakness that we once were. While some of Israel’s decisions in the beginning of this affair may have been wrong, fighting back upon being targeted by 2000 missiles is our right. If you have any responses to Eric’s shares, please feel free to contact him (https://www.facebook.com/eric.grosser.9) on Facebook.
Wishing us and those in Israel a peaceful and restorative week,
R’ Neil