Friday, February 20, 2009

Rabbi Jonathan Muskat, Young Israel of Oceanside

I was privileged to participate in a short but meaningful Rabbinic solidarity mission sponsored by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) from January 13th - 15th. During this week, the participants in the mission visited various places in southern Israel that have been affected by rocket fire from Hamas, some during the past eight years and some from the beginning of the Israeli operation to stop the rocket fire.

We visited a yeshiva (Torah academy) in both Ashdod and Sderot, spent a night in a hotel in Ashkelon, visited injured soldiers and civilians at the Be'er Sheva Soroka Trauma Center, met soldiers in an army base in Kfar Maimon and tried to comfort trauma victims in Sderot. I had the opportunity to see firsthand both the impact of the rocket fire on the daily lives of Israeli citizens and the solidarity and unity of my Jewish brethren in Israel.Allow me to share a few examples of how Israel has been impacted by the rocket fire. Unfortunately, because the Hamas rockets are weapons of terror that hit random targets, many schools in the south were closed as a precautionary measure since the beginning of the Israeli operation to stop the rocket fire.

The Be'er Sheva Soroka Trauma Center had to move entire unprotected units of the hospital (such as geriatric & neonatal care) to makeshift areas because of the threat of rocket attacks. When we visited Sderot, we were told that if we hear a "red alert" siren, we have 10 seconds to find a bomb shelter and if we could not locate one in time, then we should lay flat on the ground... and pray. Nobody in Sderot wears seat belts, because if the red alert siren goes off, then removing a seat belt can take a precious extra second or two. In the community of Nitzan (another community in southern Israel), for a long period of time, the members of the community could not gather together to pray because there was no community center that was rocket-proof so the government did not allow groups of individuals to gather together in an unprotected area should a rocket hit that area. In Sderot, I went to the house of a trauma victim, Chana Chadida, who has lived in Sderot for her entire life. The houses of her brothers and her parents were all damaged by rockets and even though nobody was killed, she is traumatized. She has difficulty sleeping; she dreams about "red alerts" at night; music used to fill her home but now she cannot listen to music for fear that she won't hear the red alert siren. She is too scared to travel outside Sderot for fear of being hit by rockets. She told me to tell my community in Oceanside that "hahayim po aino hayim" - life here is not really life. My short visit to Israel made me witness firsthand how the lives of regular citizens had been turned upside-down by a terrorist state after Israel unilaterally had made the difficult decision to evacuate its citizens from Gaza three and a half years ago.

Fortunately, I was privileged to witness the unity and strength and support that Israelis have for each other, for the sick, for the wounded, for its soldiers and for this difficult operation to deal with a terrorist state that uses human shields to protect itself and then claims that Israel is committing war crimes. We visited the home in Sderot of a Rabbi, named Rabbi Tawil. This home had been hit and damaged a few days earlier by a Kassam rocket. A foreign news reporter then interviewed Rabbi Tawil and asked him if this attack reminded him of something, thinking that this attack meant to recall the unfortunate pogroms and persecutions that our people have endured for 2000 years. Rabbi Tawil explained that this attack did not remind him of pogroms or persecutions - why? Because we're fighting back. "It's okay if we are hit by a rocket," said Rabbi Tawil, "if we are fighting back. But if we don't fight back, then it would remind us of persecutions and pogroms."

My trip to Israel was a trip of solidarity and unity with my Jewish brethren of Israel, but it also was a time when I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the sacrifice that the average Israeli citizen endures simply by living in our ancient homeland and that sacrifice makes me beam with pride.

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