Today’s Song of the Sea — building our own Iron Dome

Today’s Song of the Sea — building our own Iron Dome

On the seventh day of Passover, we read two dramatic biblical poems — the Torah reading is highlighted by the Song of the Sea and the Haftorah comprised of King David’s song of thanks to God. Each is a visceral expression of gratitude to Hashem for delivering our people from danger and perpetuating the people of Israel. The parallels leap off the page, prompting our sages to juxtapose the two selections on the same day of the ultimate nation-building holiday — Pesach.

Our tradition teaches that on the seventh day of Pesach the Red Sea split, allowing the Israelites to avoid a surefire massacre at the hands of the Egyptian army; accordingly, we chant the Song of the Sea (Shirat HaYam, aka Az Yashir Moshe) from the Book of Exodus. The Song of the Sea came to be identified with the Israelites’ expression of faith, recognizing God’s role as protector and warrior. It remains a focal point of our liturgy and is recited each morning.

The Haftorah for the seventh day of Passover hails from the Book of Samuel, where the prophet recounts King David’s swan song, dedicated to Hashem, his protector. King David’s song, composed near the end of his eventful life, focuses on God’s deliverance of David from his myriad enemies. There are many interesting interpretations of King David’s song; notably, Rashi asserts that the song is meant to symbolize the miracles that happened to the Jewish people throughout history, i.e., interpreting King David’s song more universally to apply to the resilience of the Jewish people.

We may no longer have splitting of seas or a fire breathing, cherub-riding deity coming to our rescue, but — perhaps equally by divine providence — today’s Israelites have created a modern-day protective shield. Its name is Iron Dome. Some say the age of miracles and prophecy has passed, but I submit that Iron Dome is no less of a miracle than those experienced by the Israelites crossing the Red Sea or by King David vanquishing his many enemies. This is not intended as a theological assertion, but as a reflection of our people’s ability to protect ourselves by working together through the courage of conviction.

But our work is far from done.

If we were to compose a modern-day biblical-esque song, what would it sound like? Putting aside debates over musical style (insert Taylor Swift joke here), how would today’s prayers be expressed considering the miracle of the Iron Dome? After all, the Jewish state has had countless missiles fired upon it — by Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthis, and the head of the snake, Iran. If this had happened in any other era, i.e., without Iron Dome, thousands of people (Jews and non-Jews alike) would have perished. The avoidance of mass casualties is a miracle worthy of heavenly praise. As American Jews, let us posit a different response than song: we should build our own Iron Dome — but instead of a literal air-defense system, let us imagine an Iron Dome comprised of the approximately eight million American Jews working in unison on behalf of the State of Israel. What would that look like?

Our new American Jewish Iron Dome would be comprised not of lasers and missiles, but a protective cover of our own people fortified through a renewed commitment to Israel and the Jewish people. We deserve true American Jewish leadership, without fear or apology — and free of feckless leaders who criticize Israel and stand idly by while Columbia University becomes Judenrein. We must embrace a muscular Judaism and be unapologetically Jewish. Moses fearlessly stood up to Pharaoh and rallied our people to become a nation through a faithful dedication to the cause. But we also must recognize that no messianic leader will ride to our rescue. This is on each of us to do more, to fiercely double down in support of Israel and the Jewish people as though there is no tomorrow.

Just as when we left Egypt, and some chose to stay behind, tragically there are Jews who have turned their back on Israel, joining antisemitic campus protests and worse. Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of American Jews have been awakened by the October 7th nightmare, and I am confident they are ready to fight.

The American Jewish Iron Dome will be built when our children learn our people’s history in earnest, attend Jewish camps, day schools, and youth groups, and meaningfully connect to Israel by visiting and walking the land. During times of crisis, such as what is transpiring across U.S. college campuses, we can activate our Iron Dome to deploy modern day King Davids, unafraid to take on Goliaths of antisemitism. While I wish we did not have to speak in such bellicose verbiage, sadly, we have no choice. We must view this as a war against each of us and ask whether we are up to the task of standing up for Israel, no matter the cost. The time for mealy-mouthed talk is over. To paraphrase our old friend Tevye, on the one hand is the future of our Jewish people, and on the other…there is no other hand.

There is no single litmus test for measuring our readiness for this moment, but when our descendants look back at this time and ask how the Jewish people survived, how will we answer? My personal prayer is not for songs to be written about our efforts, but for our efforts to sing with purpose.

Ari M. Berman lives in West Caldwell and is a member of that town’s Congregation Agudath Israel. He is an attorney.

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