by Rabbi Jonah Geffen, Rabbinic Director
In less than 24 hours here in Israel I heard four azakot, alarms, the shrill siren that lets Israelis know that rockets are en route from Gaza and that it is time to find cover. Often they are followed by the sound of an explosion, as an Iron Dome missile intercepts the rocket.
Azakah. I don’t ever want to hear this word again. Not on the radio said calmly over the music, not by my cousins as we get up from a wedding table, not by a Masorti rabbi as we scamper out of his synagogue, not by a bus driver as we duck beneath the seats. I don’t want to hear another siren, don’t want to hear the BOOM overhead.
I am in Israel traveling with a group of rabbis from the Rabbinical Assembly, the union of Conservative rabbis of which I am a member. I’ve been here in tough times before and so before I left this time, I really thought nothing of it.
When I was a kid, I was in a car accident in Jerusalem, scary but not a huge deal. When I was 18 I survived my first terrorist attack--I saw shots fired and ran to safety. This was scarier. I was very close to those bullets and they were meant to kill. Still, that event was something I remember being able to deal with almost immediately. Today was different. This situation is different. The air in Jerusalem reminds me of the first few years of the second Intifada, a little reserved, somber. And there are fewer and fewer people on the streets, in the shops, at the cafes. Even for a people so used to being under attack, this is new.
I’ve been awash with emotion since last night, since my first azakah. Minutes after the alert ended, the thought flew into my head: “Imagine what it must be like in Sderot.” They have had this happen, nearly daily for 14 years. FOURTEEN YEARS! I was shaken, hard, after one rocket attack; Sderot, Ashkelon, Ashdod sometimes see 15 or 20 in a day. How can they cope?
And then my thoughts turned to Gaza. In Gaza, the bombings and rockets are incessant. And there is no siren, no shelter. You cannot know from one moment to the next if you are going to die from an airstrike, or a naval shell, or a ground incursion. In Sderot today you could see the smoke rising over Gaza, and hear the constant sound of the drones flying overhead. And I tried to imagine what it would be like to hear that sound all day long, knowing that in an instant it could blow you off of the face of the earth.
The disgusting irony here is that the Gazans are experiencing in many ways exactly the terror that Hamas is attempting to inflict. Hamas wishes that we were seeing our buildings destroyed, our families killed, our soldiers felled or captured--and yet it is that very experience that their rockets have brought on their own people.
The most striking element of this entire situation is the utter brutality of it all. The destruction of human bodies, torn apart by the machines of war. The wailing of the survivors as the reality of their loss becomes apparent. It is all so very human, so real. Real people are suffering, not simply images on screens. Real people who laughed and loved, who thought, who wrote, who ate and drank.
Our work is to never, ever, lose sight of that humanity. To remember always that everything that we talk about or read about or watch on the news is really happening to real people and that those people should not be suffering.