A Matter of Life or Death
by Rabbi Leor Sinai
This past June we made Aliyah. In less than two months we’ve been thrown into the complex reality that is life in Israel. We’ve mastered the rough seas of bureaucratic processes and citizenship requirements; we’ve found a wonderful neighborhood to live in, schools for our children, employment, and inspiration in the Cottage Cheese Revolution’s transformation to a call for Tzedek Hevrati – Social Justice. And then the sirens started followed by missiles. As a new immigrant, an Oleh, I was prepared for the administrative web of absorption – draining one’s every ounce of celebratory eagerness upon arrival to Israel. For this we were prepared, however there is no preparing for the unexpected – having to run for our lives to shelter from missile attack. We live in Be’er Sheva. In Be’er Sheva is where we imagine the start of our new lives and there is where I got a job as Director of Hillel at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.
The first siren hit us at 11:30pm. With not much intellectual analysis of the situation as it occurred, we grabbed our two boys, fast asleep in bed, and ran for shelter. The kids (6 and 3 years old) weren’t quite sure what was going on and didn’t remember a thing the following morning; that all changed the next morning at 5:51am. We jumped out of bed, grabbed the kids and into the bomb shelter. That siren didn’t escape their consciousness, they were wide awake and the questions started pouring in: Why are we in here? What’s that sound? What was that boom? And why is someone doing this to us?
Prepared for dealing with Aliyah and having received a detailed list of offices and procedures we needed to get through in order to receive citizenship – there was no hand out detailing what to do in the event of a missile attack. However there is instinct, in this case instinct to live – simple but complex. Simple in that we strive to live, strive to create life, build homes and relationships. Judaism emphasizes our role as active participants in creation, Zionism the catalyst for action. It is complex because I have never had to run for my life, as a Jew, living in the United States; wretchedly complex because here in the Jewish State, the one place in the world Jews should be free to live life – we run for cover. Not since the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin and the birth of our children has my perspective on life and death been so dramatically altered as it has in reaction to the recent missile attacks.
Serving Jews of North America as a rabbi, educator, organizational professional and lay leader, I was focused on creating innovative Jewish curricula and projects, and teaching “authentic Israel”. I now know there is nothing authentic about teaching Israel in the Diaspora, and there is no way to authenticate this field of study without having Israel, the geographical and metaphysical space, with all her complexities, rooted in Jewish curricula and programming.
I am as proud as any other Jew of our little Start-Up Nation. I’m proud of the country’s accomplishments in 63 years, and I can spew talking points highlighting all that Israel is – all that inspires us – but this is just half of the story. Behind the accomplishments and inspiration stands a People that pays a heavy price for all our “feel good” compliments. It is a matter of life and death, and no one is talking about it. Choices of life or death consistently impact Jewish memory and experience. These choices have shaped our way of life from the days of Ancient Israel to the present state of affairs.
I’m all for innovation, turning the page, and creating a Zeitgeist like formula that will catch on to the winds of change thereby re-uniting Jewish Peoplehood, but I’m not for it if it means repeating the same mistakes the generation of David Ben-Gurion committed in their imagining the “New Jew”, a tree whose roots are weak but whose branches are strong. One gust of wind and the tree is uprooted. Being a Jew is wonderful, but being a Jew is also tough and requires deep seeded conviction.
Hoping for this last Shabbat to be a quiet one we posted peaceful status updates on Face Book. That hope for peace was quickly abandoned in a heart skipping beat when a siren went off at 9am, except this time we weren’t home and we couldn’t get to our bomb shelter in the 7 seconds recommended between hearing the siren and finding shelter. Thankfully we are fine.
For thousands of years we have been raising our hearts in prayer to Zion, and for thousands of years Israel has been our shelter, really. The hope of our People as they cried by the rivers of Babylon, and the inspiration it brought our grandparents in the face of humanity’s abandonment of the Jewish People before, during and after World War II. Our children want to know the truth; they need to know the truth. It’s time we remove the blinders of individual causes and politics, and rediscover the essence that is our People’s unity and mission in this world – it starts with Israel. Innovation is not as necessary as honesty. Formal and informal education can engage students in a period of Israeli/Jewish current events, funding school trips to Israel upon graduation, active recruitment for Israel trips and volunteering, and a parent-teacher track providing knowledge, tools and the confidence needed to discuss Israel in the classroom, at home, and the greater community. These are just a few simple ideas that come to mind as I sit here thinking of the critical need for genuine dialogue. The point is we must be honest with ourselves and we must be honest with our children. Only by internalizing and actively perpetuating the value of “kol Yisrael arevim zeh b’zeh”, all of Israel is responsible one for the other, will our children get the point and get on board. Before we can heal the world we must heal ourselves, Tikkun Israel before Tikkun Olam.
Need to run – the sirens are blasting – it’s a matter of life or death, really.
Rabbi Leor Sinai made Aliyah with his wife and two boys this past June. He is outgoing Executive Director of The Jewish Lens, a Vice President for the American Zionist Movement, and is incoming Director of Hillel at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.