Upon returning to Tel Aviv, I joined a dear friend with whom I was delighted to have reconnected just a few days earlier and attended a rally in support of Israel's southern citizens and the IDF in the center of the city. Approximately 5,000 people were expected to attend. Tel Aviv is at the heart of one of the more liberal regions of the country. The steadfast solidarity expressed by the diverse crowd that gathered was encouraging and energizing.
Popular Israeli bands warmed up the crowd. The Deputy Mayor of Ashdod, a city hit hard by Grad-type missiles in the course of Hamas’ war against Israel’s civilian population, spoke eloquently of the unity that was both required and exhibited throughout Israel, during this difficult time. A young soldier, having recently concluded his three years of armed-service in the IDF, reflected upon his service in Lebanon and exhorted the crowd and all of Israel to strengthen with their spirit and without qualification all of Israel’s boys serving in defense of the country. He shared that, from his own experience in Lebanon, he understood, and wanted everyone to understand, just how important it is for Israel's soldiers to know what almost 90 percent of all Israelis feel: Israel is, indeed, entirely behind this the boys of the IDF and in solidly supportive of fighting -- and truly winning -- this war.
The Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel then urged those gathered, from Orthodox to secular, to pray, expressing his belief that no group of Jews has a license on prayer or a monopoly on God’s ear. I was stunned when he went out of his way to engage the crowd in a prayer on behalf of Jews world-wide who might be in peril or might need support; yes, Israel, even at war, expresses its care and concern for the entirety of the Jewish People, wherever we may be! This was one of the most unselfish and inspiring moments of prayer that I have ever experienced.
Finally, two young girls from Sederot, 9 and 11 years of age respectively, addressed the crowd. They shared their personal stories of their own survival of Hamas and other Palestinian terror; stories that neither of them should have been old enough to have been told about, much less to have lived. Their hope for a future of peace and tranquility were nothing short of courageous. Finally, the nine-year-old girl said the following: “Im K’var, Az Kvar! – If we have already taken the initiative to fight this war, let’s win it!” The crowd roared. I found myself choking back tears, hearing in the sweet voice of this adorable little girl both the return to a peaceful existence that victory would facilitate for her and her family and the utter terror and devastation that would obtain for them with any lesser result.
I left the rally, heading to dinner with my dear friend, holding these two little girls, their traumatic memories, and their courageous dreams of peace and quiet - all close to my heart. Li-El, his father, his entire family, and every soldier and family that I visited with earlier this day continue still to weigh heavily on my soul (see my earlier posts today to this blog). Back in Los Angeles, I have two boys of my own. If a ship had sailed 50 years ago from Europe, southeast into the Mediterranean Sea, instead of westward across the Atlantic Ocean, my two boys could easily have been this evening two boys from Sederot. Where we are, at any moment in time - as Jews in particular given our wanderings at the hands of our oppressors -- is nothing but an accident of history; that is, unless we aspire, or somehow manage, to be in the one place where we can shape our own history and master our own destiny as a People, rather than anywhere else, where the cauldrons of history have tended to mold our fate, and all too often leaving bereft and forgotten in our hour of desperate need.
This night, and whenever we so demand of ourselves as a People, we are all ONE; in our dreams, in our fears, in our love, in our yearnings, in our passions, and in our hopes -- in our conviction and in our solidarity. Such Achdut -- such unity -- is achievable only and ultimately when we are at home in our Homeland, and especially so when we are blessed, for even a moment in time if not forever, to share it all -- all that matters most to us, with those who matter most to us; when we're blessed to share all that we love, in the place that we love, with those whom we love.
Hear, oh God, Your People is Israel, Israel is ONE
Rabbi Isaac Jeret
Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay