Reflections on Leaving Israel

07_2006_israel_religion I just love this country, and specifically this city of Jerusalem.  I was walking down Ben Yehuda street, the main pedestrian mall, and had quite a conversation with a guy who wants to start a new religion based on the "Gospel According to Judas."  Having once upon a time proposed inventing a new religion myself (for Business and Society class in business school) I couldn’t resist talking to him.  He had such an enthusiastic pitch I gave him a few shekels, even though it wouldn’t be any religion I’d sign up for.  But it was entertaining talking to him.

And right now we can use a few "light moments" in Israel because the situation is very serious indeed.  8 people killed in Haifa this morning.  The death toll among the Lebanese is over 100.  And the impact goes far beyond the damage to buildings and the immediate loss of life: as Michael Ferneini, a restaurant manager in Beirut interviewed by the Jerusalem Post put it "You can repair a bridge that has been destroyed but you cannot repair the eyes of the people who watch people dying under the bridge."  And that is equally true whether the bridge is in Beirut or Haifa. 

Cross-Currents points out that the Daf Yomi of today, Sunday, July 16, Yoma 39, cites the following verse (Zechariah 11:1):

פתח לבנון דלתיך ותאכל אש בארזיך
Open, Lebanon, your doors, and let fire consume your cedars.

Hizbollah has surely opened the doors of Lebanon for destruction which is raining down on their heads.  Most Lebanese are angry at Hizbollah.  Hazem Saghieh, a Lebanese columnist quoted in the J Post said "it’s inappropriate for us at the best of times to trade a whole people and country for a couple of kidnapped Israeli soldiers.  It’s as if we’re admitting that one Israeli soldier…is equal to half the Lebanese population."

The solution is pretty obvious.  As What-a-World put it, "Give back the soldiers would be a much better message to be sent by the world leaders. Lebanon’s weakness against a terrorist organization is the root cause of the massive destruction in that country. Call for the world leaders to help root out the terrorist influences, return the kidnapped soldiers and peace can be achieved.  What is so difficult to understand?"

The problem is as I pointed out in my post "On Friday the Rabbi Got Gassed…" –we will not have peace until the moderate Arabs who I believe are the majority will impose their will on the radical minority who prefer death and violence to peace.

I suppose one of the reasons there are so many struggles over this land is that so many of us have a deep history here.  From pretty much anywhere in Jerusalem you can walk ten minutes in pretty much any direction and walk past several historically significant spots.  As I write this I’m sitting in an apartment on Emek Refaim, mentioned in the Bible as the edge of the border of the tribe of Benjamin.  Yesterday I had lunch with some people who live on Kovshei Katamon, which means "the conquerors of Katamon," which is the name of that neighborhood.  I’m not certain, but I believe the very building we had lunch in was the site of the Semiramis hotel, which was owned by Arabs and bombed by the Irgun in a terrorist attack in January 1948.  A sad reminder that Jews have also used terrorism to accomplish political aims.

07_2006_israel_045 Here in Jerusalem there are opportunities to not only walk past historical sites, but to help uncover them.  The photo at left was taken moments after I found a piece of a Byzantine-era candleholder while digging through dirt that had been hauled away from the Temple Mount by the Waqf, the Muslim authority that controls the Temple Mount.  We had a great lecture from Gabriel Barkay, the chief archaeologist for the project.  You can read all about the project at Elder of Ziyon

07_2006_israel_026 It was a little strange for me that just as war was breaking out in Lebanon, I was SCUBA Diving in Egypt.  The photo at left is of a reconstructed fortress on Coral Island, Egypt, just south of Eilat.  Even going diving, you encounter history here — the original of the fortress was built 2000 years ago by Herod the Great.  But my little excursion to Egypt is perhaps a reason to take hope–there was a time when people didn’t think we’d be able to make a lasting peace with Egypt, either, yet the situation there has been pretty stable, and Egypt in fact has become very valuable as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians.  So maybe there is hope.

Everything that is going on here right now has not made the least reduction in my resolve to make aliyah.  The occasional war is a fact of life here.  Fortunately, the Israeli military is strong, and the war doesn’t threaten Israel’s existence.  It’s very sad that 8 people got killed in Haifa yesterday, a real tragedy.  Yet 20 people got killed in Israel in car accidents last week.  Which is certainly also a tragedy, but it is worthwhile to keep that statistic in mind.  As tragic as the deaths from the Katyushas are, they do not threaten Israel’s existence, or in any stastically significant way mean this is a dangerous place to live.  At the same time, people who live in the north are obviously quite concerned, foreign tour groups have all changed their itineraries to avoid the north, and UJA has given an emergency $1 million allocation to let over 2000 kids from the north of Israel go to camp in the center of Israel, out of the range of the rockets.

I am looking forward to being reunited with my wife and kids in Toledo, but I am also sad to be leaving my "family" in Israel, ESPECIALLY now at this time when there is trouble here — the Talmud tells us "kol yisrael aravin zeh b’zeh," all Israel are responsible for each other.  As Rabbi Shlomo Riskin put it, if Israel is Disneyland, you visit when the weather is good.  If Israel is family, you visit when they need you.  Israel needs our support now.

Reb Barry

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Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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