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July 11, 2014 By:
My Heart's There But I Am Not: Why I Stand With Israel
As I sit comfortably and safely here in my home in Philadelphia, I check Facebook posts and Israeli news websites, thinking constantly of the many wonderful friends I made living in Israel during an eight-month sabbatical. I returned to the United States just a few weeks ago. I am concerned about their safety, impressed by their resolve and fortitude, and committed to helping them and so many others directly affected at this critical time in Israel.
I personally urge you to join me in contributing to the Israel Emergency Fund www.jewishphilly.org/israelfund that the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, in partnership with the Jewish Federations of North America, has established to raise critically needed funds for humanitarian needs. The funds will help the brave men, women — and especially children — of Israel to live their day-to-day lives as securely as possible.
Here's why: We are indeed one people and one community.
One of my friends posted about walking down Emek Refaim, just steps from where I lived in Jerusalem, hearing an air raid siren and dashing into a shelter. Another mentioned that she was outside Itzik’s, my favorite neighborhood hangout for coffee and shashuka, on Derech Bet Lechem, when a siren wailed. She found shelter at the fruit stand next door where I used to shop. A colleague from an organization where I volunteered was at the Machane Yehuda shuk when she heard a siren and ducked into Marzipan, the fabulous bakery where I bought challah for Shabbat and rugalach for noshing, and took cover there. The smell of the baked goods was awesome, she said, but the crowded bomb shelter was in the restroom.
I thought of other dear friends who recently moved from Jerusalem to Zichron Ya’akov, about halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, where I walked the streets comfortably with my son at Purim season, only to read that Hamas rockets now reach that far north and exploded there. My college roommate and his family, and my 80-plus-year-old cousin — a Holocaust survivor — live in different suburbs of Tel Aviv and needed to take shelter too. I check in with another cousin, my son’s age in his 20’s, who recently made aliyah from Philadelphia and lives on a kibbutz in the south, to ensure he’s OK.
I look at sites pictured on the news and see places as familiar to me as Rittenhouse Square, and feel that although I am here, I am still there in spirit and solidarity. And this all comes after having watched the funeral of the three murdered boys, held in Modi’in, where I enjoyed Shabbat dinner in the early spring at the home of a classmate from a course on Jewish communal leadership. I think of friends’ children who are in the Israel Defense Forces, and the happy meals and laughter we shared together not long ago. I pray for their safety and strength — and for their parents, who I am sure can’t help but worry despite their pride in their children defending their nation.
Once you have visited Israel, or have been lucky enough to have lived in Israel, a time like this is real in unimaginable ways. However, even if in my heart I feel as though I am still in Israel, the reality is I am not. I don’t hear the sirens, or dash into shelters, or scoop up young children, or wake up and run for cover in a stairwell or a sealed room in the middle of the night, or miss school or work because rockets are overhead in my community.
I firmly believe that even if you haven’t visited Israel or don’t think you have a friend or direct relative in Israel, you do. It’s our larger Jewish family – our mishpacha – that binds us together in so many ways, at so many times, that’s taking direct hits and defending Israel for all of us — whether we’re in Abington or Ashdod, Merion or Maccabim, Chalfont or Caesarea, Berwyn or Beersheva, Jenkintown or Jerusalem.
Joining with each other, I know we can make a difference and make life a little better and a little safer for our extended family in Israel at this critical time. And to me that’s what it means to be a Jewish community: Whether we are here or whether we are there, we’re in this together.
Peter A. Rabinowitz, a corporate lawyer and longtime activist in Jewish causes, recently returned from a sabbatical in Israel, where he studied and volunteered with social justice organizations.