Shaarei Shamayim

A Place of Comfort, Companionship and Healing

SHEMOT 5776

SHEMOT 5776

[Sing…] V’af al pi cheyn, V’lamrot hakol, Eretz, Eretz, Eretz Yisrael, “Nevertheless, despite everything, all Jews yearn for Eretz Yisrael.” It’s good to be back with you this Shabbos. As you know Cheryl and I have just returned from Israel. We went to celebrate 2 family weddings despite what the Israelis refer to as the Matzav, literally, “the Situation.”

David Suissa on www.aish.com in a great article, “Fear in Jerusalem,” calls this the “knife intifada, the latest version of the Arab war against the Jews.” After failing for 68 years to crush Israel with regular armies, suicide bombers, rockets, tunnels and the like, the enemy has now stumbled onto a brilliant strategy: Strike ordinary people, anywhere, anytime, anyplace, with ordinary weapons, like a kitchen knife or a car.

Israel’s enemy is using Israel’s open society against itself—turning the country’s vibrant street life into the new battlefield. In this latest war, the choice targets are pedestrians. There is no Iron Dome that can stop a knife that pops out of a terrorist’s pocket in one second, and no roadblock that can stop a car that barrels into pedestrians waiting for a bus in one second. There is no intelligence that can alert you to random acts of street terror. This is the “One-Second Intifada,” and there’s no easy way to stop it.

Suissa writes: There are different kinds of fears. Some fears are specific—you can stumble into a dangerous neighborhood, receive a bad diagnosis from a doctor or get caught up in a legal battle. Remove the circumstance, and the fear goes away. Other fears, however, are more generalized and random. You never know when something bad might happen. Violence can strike you anywhere, anytime, any place. It is the latter fear that is permeating the city of Jerusalem these days. Every face is a potential assailant; every car a potential weapon.

I have visited Israel often over the past 45 years—through wars, riots and intifadas—but I cannot ever before recall being afraid to walk its magical streets. Yes, during previous Intifatas I would avoid large crowds or taking buses, but on this visit I had to always watch my back and I noticed that other pedestrians were watching me, too. After all I do look like a terrorist, don’t I?

The celebrated Israeli resiliency that has overcome so many threats in the past is being severely tested by this One-Second Intifada. While we were in Jerusalem, Cheryl and I walked the streets by day and by night visiting the sites and eating at the amazing new kosher restaurants—so amazing that I gained 10 pounds! But all the time—even on Shabbos—we had a can of Mace strapped to our belts.

It was so eerie how normal it all seemed. In fact, Cheryl remarked as we were driving back from celebrating her birthday at the Dead Sea how she was just beginning to feel safe. The next morning we read in the Jerusalem Post how 2 Palestinians stabbed a beloved Rabbi at the Jaffa Gate to the Old City and how another Jew was killed in the melee. We had just been there the day before. True to form, CNN’s headline reporting the attack read: “4 die in violent stabbing at Jaffa Gate.” And CBS was worse: “2 Palestinians killed after stabbing attack in Jerusalem.” But how the media reports what happens in Israel is a discussion for another time.

We thought we were safe when we left Jerusalem for a week in Tel Aviv and we did feel safe walking the streets of Tel Aviv. But when we returned home we received a text from Cheryl’s son Lawrence—who is still there—not to worry that they were safe even though there was a shooting in Tel Aviv yesterday at a pub on busy Dizengoff Street—just 4 blocks away from where he was staying. I saw the video online of the killer calmly buying vegetables in a grocery store before pulling out an Uzi sub-machine gun from his backpack as he exited the store and fired indiscriminately at innocent victims. 2 were killed and 7 injured.

Don’t get me wrong. I would go back to Israel tomorrow if I had a good reason to return. Despite everything we read and hear Israel is still an amazing place to be—even now. Israel is no longer the backwater country it used to be—a place where you have to bring your own toilet paper when you go there. Israel has become a world leader in technology, medicine, agriculture and cinema. A remarkable cultural renaissance has sprung up over the past decade. The arts, music and theater scene are now world class; new hotels, restaurants and high tech parks have sprung up; new highways are sprouting everywhere and tourism had been at record levels—that is until now.

This Matzav has darkened the picture. The hotel people and cab drivers I spoke to told me that business is way down. Ben Yehuda Street, the usually mobbed pedestrian mall in the heart of New Jerusalem, is very quiet. There were very few joining us for the free breakfasts at the King Solomon hotel in Jerusalem because there were so few guests staying there.

This Matzav is threatening a treasured aspect of Israeli society—its extraordinary street life. Take that away and you rip out Israel’s heart. Israel’s enemies seem to understand this. These new acts of terror don’t come with grievances or demands. As they stab innocent people or ram their cars into children, the killers are not agitating for a higher minimum wage or better health care. They’re aiming to rip out the heart of a society that loves life.

And it’s not just Israel anymore as the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino make clear. A couple of ISIS-backed New Year’s Eve terror attacks were—thank Gd—foiled. But they were, nevertheless, jolting. In NY, the FBI arrested a man charged with planning an attack on a bar New Year’s Eve to prove to ISIS—who encouraged the attack in an email—that he was worthy of joining up with jihadists in Syria.

At the same time on the other side of the Atlantic, police in Munich warned of a “serious, imminent threat” by ISIS suicide bombers and told people to stay away from the city’s main train station. They are currently looking for the suspects connected with ISIS who were planning 7 suicide New Year’s Eve bomb attacks.

In today’s Torah reading, the Jews in Egypt begin to expand. They grow and prosper so much that the new Pharaoh can’t stand it. So he enslaves them, but they continue to grow. He then commands the Hebrew midwives to throw the Jewish newborn males into the Nile. But even this doesn’t work. The Jews continue to survive and grow nevertheless. And the Jews today will continue to survive, grow and thrive nevertheless. The world must stand firm against terrorism of any sort and thus tell ISIS, al-Qaeda, and whomever, that it won’t work, that we will continue to live, to grow and to thrive.   

When I think back upon my visit to Israel, I think about that famous Israeli song that I began with: V’af al pi cheyn, V’lamrot hakol, Eretz, Eretz, Eretz Yisrael, “Nevertheless, despite everything, all Jews yearn for Eretz Yisrael.” Despite everything, Israelis and all Jews declare: Israel is here. We’re here. If you have a problem with that, deal with it. Amen!

                                      Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis

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