A Visit to Sderot

Image_310 Last Tuesday I visited the West Negev development town of Sderot.  In case you don’t recognize the name of the town from the news, it is located about half a mile from the Gaza Strip — it’s the town that has been bearing the brunt of Palestinian rocket attacks, having been hit by over 2500 Kassam rockets. 

Sderot has been in the news so much recently, I wanted to see it for myself first hand.  i wasn’t too worried about my safety; the Kassams are notoriously inaccurate, and very few people get killed; still, a few weeks before my visit a couple of kids were very seriously injured by a Kassam.  Lauri was pretty nervous about my going — she said she was checking the news every 15 minutes while I was there to make sure nothing was happening — but everything was OK.

Of course the very next day — Wednesday — a barrage of 50 Kassams fell on Sderot and killed a 47-year-old father of four, Ronnie Yihye.  I saw one of the other people who joined us on the trip to Sderot at shul earlier today, and she said "I hate to say it, but I’m sure glad we didn’t go a day later!"

The Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel sponsored an evening of learning in Sderot in solidarity with the residents there.  A description of the evening from their PR dept. is appended at the end of this post.  I originally went just planning to be part of the audience, but at the last minute the moderator invited me to be part of the rabbinic panel doing the teaching, so I agreed — despite the fact that I didn’t have any time to prepare, and the discussion was in Hebrew, and I’m still nowhere near as eloquent in Hebrew as I am English.

We studied a 19th century piyyut (religious poetry) and fielded questions posed by the moderator as to how we deal with concepts brought up by the piyyut, such as "what does it me that God is "a faithful God?" "Does God answer our prayers?" "What’s the role of community in responding to difficult times?" etc.

Some of the comments that came up from the local residents left us rabbis working hard to find words and ideas of comfort from the tradition.  What do you say to someone who lives in fear every day?  Who at any minute any day might have a 10-15 second warning that a bomb is coming?  What do you say to someone who sleeps in a bomb shelter every night?

Often when words fail, attendance counts.  Just being there — by coming to Sderot for an evening instead of sitting comfortably in Jerusalem — we were demonstrating that we did care, that we empathized.  When talking about community, I brought in the teaching from the Talmud "kol Yisrael aravin zeh b’zeh," all Israel is responsible for one another.  When our brethren in Sderot are under rocket attack, we are all under rocket attack and must stand by them.

After Wednesday’s barrage — which, as I mentioned killed a Sderot resident, but also did damage in the much larger town of Ashkelon — the Israeli government decided to respond militarily, and 46 Palestinians were killed today, including a number of civilians and a baby.

While I mourn the civilian deaths, at the same time I totally understand the need for an Israeli military response.  No country can sit around idly while a neighboring country attacks it–and remember, the people shooting the rockets, Hamas, are the officially elected government of the Gaza Strip.  In any counterattack, civilians will be harmed, that is a sad fact.  When the world calls for "proportionality" in Israel’s response, it is speaking nonsense.  A military response must be effective, not proportional. The response must be whatever it takes to stop the attacks.  The Wall Street Journal had a good write up on this last point which you can read by clicking  here

I pray, every day, that the crazy people on both sides will wake up.  I wish Hamas would stop creating pain for us and for themselves with this disgusting terrorism; I wish my government would stop mistreating Arabs who have nothing to do with terrorism.  This can be a crazy frustrating place to live sometimes, where it seems extremists are continually foiling the will of the majority of the people.  But, despite it all, I still believe…"ani ma’amin"…that peace will come, whether we do it on our own or whether it takes the coming of the Messiah.  I just hope I live long enough to see it! "Ad meah v’esrim," "to 120" might not be long enough!

Rav Barry

Masorti Movement sponsors events for Sderot residents

Searching for the Divine in Times of Suffering

Ever wonder how our Creator can let people suffer day in, day out?

While the question is not a new one, the residents of Sderot, a town under near-constant threat of fire from Kassam rockets launched by nearby Gaza Strip terrorists, are certainly entitled to ask.

This week, Sderot residents of all ages gathered for an evening of discussion and activities under the leadership of the Masorti movement to explore the spiritual dimension of coping with attacks that disrupt daily life.

The events, which took place on Tuesday, February 26th, were all held in local buildings that had recently been reinforced to prevent penetration by Kassams – a chilling sign of the times. About 200 participated in total.

In a session for adults, there was a panel discussion/text study of a piyut, religious poem, by 19th-century Moroccan Rabbi Rafael Deri, led by Rabbis Barry Schlesinger, president of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel and spiritual leader of Kehillat Moreshet Avraham in Jerusalem; Tamar Elad-Appelbaum, director of the movement’s Wedding Initiative and of Makhillim, a new program for training kehilla professionals; and Baruch Leff, who recently made aliyah from the United States. In considering different approaches to coping with stress, participants agreed on the need to raise public awareness of the ongoing suffering in Sderot and motivate Israelis and Diaspora Jewry to increase both material and emotional support for Sderot residents.

  Simultaneously, NOAM, Masorti’s national youth movement, held a joint activity with the Sderot youth group, Hafuch al Hafuch. Twenty NOAM youngsters from Jerusalem, Modiin and Ashkelon came to talk with their peers in Sderot about spiritual-religious perspectives on how to remain strong in the face of fear, loss and injury.

Following the adult panel discussion and NOAM gathering, the evening concluded with the ninth in a series of programs that have been offered in Sderot since the fall academic year began by Marom, Masorti’s organization for college students and young adults.

Marom has established a chapter at Sapir College in Sderot. The local Sderot students have been enthusiastic about Marom’s pluralistic religious and social programming, the only such programming available locally. This latest activity opened with a talk by Rabbi U
ri Ayalon, spiritual leader of Kehillat Yotzer Or in the Talpiyot neighbourhood of Jerusalem, on the socio-economic aspects of celebrating Shabbat in Israel. Rabbi Ayalon’s presentation was followed by a screening of Year Zero, an Israeli film that tells the story of people at a turning point in their lives.

As the Masorti activities of this week demonstrate, the movement is committed to maintaining a supportive presence in Sderot, with ongoing enrichment and respite for residents under siege. Masorti has already sponsored more than two dozen one-day excursions out of Sderot and more are planned. Masorti kehillot have welcomed Sderot children into day camp programs.

For many in Sderot, Masorti offers the first chance to connect with a pluralistic non-Orthodox Judaism.

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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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