Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Observations from my Sabbatical Leave: Life in Israel during Times of Alarm (and not yet crisis)

I have observed that Israelis tend to live in many different worlds, and many at the same time.  (Talk about your multi-tasking!)  And this is, to me, most evident at this moment in time, when the State of Israel faces – and addresses – external threats.

By now I imagine that you have learned that Iranian surface-to-surface missiles were destroyed by an air attack in Damascus over the past weekend.  It is presumed that these weapons were to be transferred to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, and someone wanted to eliminate them.  As of this writing no one has claimed responsibility for this attack, though the presumed perpetrator is Israel.

The rationale is for such an act is just and clear: Israel has the obligation to protect her citizens.  As President Obama said this past Sunday, “…What I have said in the past and what I continue to believe is that the Israelis – justifiably – have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah…Hezbollah has repeatedly said that they would be willing to attack as far as Tel Aviv, so the Israelis have to be vigilant and they have to be concerned.  We will continue to coordinate with Israel…” (You find the video at http://www.nytimes.com/video/#100000002208575)

But on the Israeli street, life continues as usual.  As they say, “Ein b’reirah,” “There is no alternative.”

Students go to school: I was present yesterday as a Fifth grade class at the Arlozorov School in Haifa spoke by video conference to our students at Temple Beth El in Madison.  And after the video conference, they went outside to play basketball (and did not go home to do homework!), just like any other day.

Adults go to work: The road traffic is the same, with some very dangerous drivers, and many polite and careful ones.  That, by the way, is a notable change for those who are familiar with Israelis’ reputations for being poor drivers.

Life along Israel’s northern border feels normal: There is no obvious (that’s the operative word, I imagine) military presence, except for what is typical for a patrolling border with a hostile neighbor.
But there have been exceptional experiences over the last ten days or so:

From the Israelis shooting down a Hezbollah drone over Haifa Bay, to the first attacks in Syria last Thursday night; from the weird journey that an Israeli citizen took in crossing the Lebanese border this past Thursday (purportedly an emotionally upset person), to this past Thursday afternoon when I was on a hike about six miles east of here and heard artillery fire in the direction of Lebanon; to Saturday night's action in Damascus.  Yes, these are exceptional times…but Israelis seem to be taking them in stride, and they remain upbeat and positive throughout.

Discussions of the security situation are heard endlessly on the radio and on television; there is no lack of dialogue on the subject.  But people whom I encounter every day – from Erez College to Congregation Emet v’Shalom in Nahariya to my host family on the kibbutz where I live – seem to deal with things in stride, a reality that reduces some of the stress that one might otherwise feel given the same situation.

May we live in peace and security, so that no one has to learn about war anymore!

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