In the last two weeks, “out of an abundance of caution,” the United States issued a series of heightened threat alerts to its embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East and North Africa. It also issued a concurrent worldwide alert to be extra cautious when traveling overseas, and not just in the specific areas named.
We pray that nothing happens between the writing of this editorial and the time it is being read, but the height of the threat was centered on the end of Ramadan this past Wednesday night. Even if the date passed without incident, the threat level remains undiminished. Al Qaeda, the current threat’s originator, could choose another time. As a result, 19 diplomatic facilities have been ordered closed at least through this Sunday, and non-essential personnel were evacuated earlier this week from Yemen, the threat’s supposed epicenter, a location Al Qaeda can change at a whim.
As a society, we give too little thought to the risks facing our men and women in uniform. In synagogues and houses of worship of other faiths, prayers often are offered for members of the Armed Forces, but all too often the prayers are perfunctory and congregants’ concern momentary. Our fighting men and women are often briefly in our thoughts, as well, following news reports of casualties in some remote province of Afghanistan or Iraq, but such concerns are fleeting at best. Unless we have a family member or a friend in the U.S. Armed Forces, we are too far from the scene to have the potential risks weigh on us in any serious way.
Our men and women in uniform deserve better than that.
They are not the only ones at risk, however. There are others who serve our nation who also deserve better than that from us. The “heightened threat level” reminds us that people who work in our diplomatic missions, in facilities operated by the U.S. Agency for International Development, in remote villages as part of Peace Corps projects, and countless others, all walk around with targets on their backs with the word “American” stamped at the center.
This Shabbat – and every Shabbat – we must take more than a brief moment to consider the risks taken by all those who serve our nation overseas, Jew and non-Jew alike, whether they are in uniform, or in diplomatic pinstripes, or in worn shorts and torn tee shirts, and we must offer prayers for their safety. Terrorist murderers make no distinction. Neither should we.
We also must find ways keep these people in mind every day. It should not take a “heightened threat level” to remind us that they are at risk 24/7/365. It should not take a global travel warning to remind us that we live in relative safety and security because they choose to put their own safety and security at risk on our behalf.