We’re in a war, speak up on behalf of life

We received the following letter from Rabbi Bill Berk, rabbi emeritus of Temple Chai, and thought readers of our blog would be interested:

Dear Friends,

Rabbi Chernow asked me to share with you what we have been going through here in Israel.  Unfortunately, I have to report to you that we’re in a war. I’m startled by my use of the “w” word but that’s what we’ve got here. Three times here in Jerusalem, we have had to run for shelter as the sirens have gone off telling us that a rocket or rockets are coming our way. It’s an unbelievable feeling. You see in your head pictures of London during World War II, and people scampering for shelter and then you realize that you are in that picture. One of my stepdaughters lives in the south. She’s got two little kids and one on the way. She and her husband often have to wake the kids in the middle of the night and carry them down four flights of stairs to the safe room. I have another stepdaughter who is in college in the south. She got a letter from her college saying, “Closed till further notice.” Imagine if kids at San Diego State or the University of Arizona got such a letter. Of course, what we have been going through is nothing compared to what the families with soldiers in Gaza are experiencing. 

We are at war with an enemy who has embraced an ideology that is very comfortable with death. This is important  to keep in mind when you see the heartbreaking pictures from Gaza. Hamas (we know this word from our Bible, Genesis 6:11, where we find the word means “violence” or “lawlessness”) has built a whole program around death: 

1. At the beginning of this war, I was trying to keep track of how many rockets aimed at Israel’s cities Hamas had fired, but I finally gave up. It is somewhere over 2,000 rockets. I have a new app on my phone that lets me know when a rocket has been fired and where it’s headed. Let’s be clear about what this means — Hamas is targeting folks like you and me. It is AIMING AT US. If not for American and Israeli scientific skill (the Iron Dome). we would have hundreds or thousands killed and cities in shambles.

2. Hamas uses civilians and does not protect civilians. I noticed that today’s New York Times asks if this is really true. Yes, it is really true. When our army has to fire at a house where rockets have been launched from we begin by sending text messages to the people in the building. Then, we phone them. Then, we drop fliers. We ask them to leave because we don’t want them to get hurt.  We have documented occasions when Hamas has asked the people not to move. They have even irritated some European governments who don’t appreciate that behavior. This is using civilians. They have children involved in the fighting and wearing suicide belts. They admit that death doesn’t bother them and that Israel’s great weakness is a reverence for life.

3. I’m sure you’ve heard by now about the tunnels we have found. There are two major reasons for these tunnels: murder and kidnapping. Thank goodness we found these tunnels. We knew about them, but did not realize the extent and how far they went into Israeli territory. We found one that ends just yards away from a kibbutz dining hall. The tunnels have one additional purpose — to hide Hamas military and political leadership. Whereas they could have built shelters for civilians (not to mention schools and hospitals and hot houses and factories), they chose instead to build military command centers. And don’t forget — we left Gaza. We don’t “rule” or “occupy” them.  These tunnels are about killing and kidnapping Jews who live across the border in a country called Israel.

4. Hamas has done a good job with propaganda. They even convinced UNRWA, the U.N. agency, to hide rockets for them! I do hope this has made the front page of the New York Times. This is not exactly Eleanor Roosevelt’s vision or America’s vision of what the U.N. should be about. When they were caught, UNRWA gave the rockets back to Hamas! I think the U.N. needs to do a little teshuvah this High Holiday season. While we are at it — the American government could do a little teshuvah. I think this would have been a good time for a strong pro-Israel stance. It appears to me that, in their frustration with Netanyahu, the State Department is being a bit too supportive of some of Hamas’ claims and issues. I have my own issues regarding how Netanyahu handled the negotiations with the Palestinians, but that has nothing to do with what we face today. They are shooting at us! We have to stop the rockets and stop the tunnels. Left and right, religious and secular — we are united on this.    

This is a tough time. People are subdued. Ask someone “ma shlom cha?” (how are you?) and you’ll get a sigh and a “beseder” (OK). People are honking horns less. People aren’t going out much. Many have postponed vacations. We’re staying close to the radio and TV. But I want you to know that we’re going to be fine. We’re a big mishpocha (family). Part of what drew me to Israel was this amazing sense of mishpachtiut (family connectedness). That’s part of why it hurts so much right now. We’ve lost a lot of boys and everyone feels it. Today, Batya and I went to a shiva call for a soldier who came from L.A. — he’s what we call a chayil boded (lone soldier, with no family here). 30,000 people came to his funeral! So there’s pain when you are connected. But there is so much strength. It’s a spiritual achievement to extend your love and caring further and further out. I hope you will be proud of your family here in Israel. I hope you will speak up proudly for Israel. Don’t let Hamas win the propaganda war. Speak up on behalf of life.       

God willing, I’ll be in Phoenix and speak at Temple Chai on Aug. 22. I’ll talk on Israel that night.

Best from Jerusalem,
Rabbi Bill Berk
Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Chai


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