‘Leaving is not an option’
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‘Leaving is not an option’

Rabbi emeritus, Temple Avodat Shalom, River Edge, Reform

As the rocket attacks accompanied by the verbal assaults against Israel grew louder these past weeks, I found myself reflecting back on the many rabbinic solidarity missions that I have participated in over the last 35 years.

A search of my computer files brought me to a column I wrote in the Standard in October 2007, after a four-day, three-night trip to Israel with the United Jewish Community Rabbinic Cabinet after the Second Lebanon War. I wrote then and reaffirm now:

“Leaving is not an option!”

I was quoting a social worker specializing in trauma in children who lives and works in S’derot, the Israeli town that sits on the border of the Gaza Strip. He was expressing the determination and dedication of all the citizens of Israel we met as we toured the towns that had been the targets of Hezbollah’s Katushas and Hamas’s Kasams the previous summer.

This year, as Hamas’s weapons were able to reach far beyond S’derot and Ashkelon, communities that have endured attacks for the past eight years, “leaving is not an option” remains true. Now, however, it is no longer the mantra of the relatively few Israelis who live in the towns and kibbutzim that border Gaza. Now it is a statement of the existential reality that faces all Israelis.

So what can we do as American Jews?

I suggest that we seek to understand and apply the words of an early 20th-century Reform rabbi, Ferdinand Isserman, who wrote: “Pray as if everything depends upon God and act as if everything depends upon us”

As we move from Tisha B’Av, the historic Jewish day of mourning, toward the Jewish New Year seven weeks from now, I believe that we must pray for divine help in seeking peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians. However, we can and must recognize that we American Jews also must act as if everything depends upon us.

The physical damage caused by the rocket attacks will be repaired quickly. The holes in the hearts and souls of average citizens torn by those rockets, however, are not so easily repaired.

In 2007, on the Jewish Federation Rabbinic Cabinet mission, one Israeli Reform rabbi said to me, “Neal, the presence of you and your 22 colleagues from all four religious streams is a true gift to our community.”

One certainty for 5775 – the coming new Jewish year – is that the rocket assaults on Israel will affect tourism negatively. The impact of the drop off in tourism will be not only economic but psychological as well. Therefore, a step that I believe we all need to take on the High Holy Days is to commit ourselves and encourage other Americans, Jews and Christians alike, to take a trip to Israel in 5775.

A second responsibility of ours is to advocate continuously for the alliance between the United States and Israel. The Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, which our former congressman, Steven Rothman, championed – is making a significant difference in saving Israeli lives, as the difference in casualties between 2007 and 2014 makes clear. Our right and responsibility today is to express gratitude to our congressional representatives and senators, as well as to President Obama, for the United States’ continued military and diplomatic support of Israel. Israel today is the front line in the battle not just for Jewish survival but for the defense of western civilization against Islamic fundamentalist terror.

“Leaving is not an option!”

Staying the course, defending our right, as we sing at the end of Hatikvah, “to be a free people in our own land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem” demands of American Jewry that we remain the financial, political, and emotional supply line for our Israeli brethren. Therefore I am glad that both the Conservative and Reform movements have joined with the federation movement in a joint campaign to stop the sirens. I hope that each of you reading this column will join my wife, Ann, and me in making a contribution to support this effort. As of August 1, Israel will have spent $2 billion dollars fighting this war. Failing to fund human services through our federation gift also is not an option!

Leaving is not an option for Israelis, and standing idly by cannot be an option for us. UN Resolution 242, passed on the eve of Rosh Hashanah in September 1967, affirmed Israel’s right to live in peace with its neighbors, within secure and recognized borders. The fulfillment of that promise is possible only if we “pray as if everything depends upon God but also act as if everything depends upon us.”

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