Saving Lives

Leon is a friend of mine who made aliyah a little after I did. He’s a little bit younger than I and our paths have crossed repeatedly in our various activities. He is an admirable person who contributes to the betterment of the world every day. After graduating from Princeton, he made aliyah and pursued an M.A. in Jewish thought from Hebrew University. Loving to learn, he continued his studies and received rabbinic ordination from the Shalom Hartman Institute. But Leon does more than learn, he acts. He founded Ta Shma, an innovative organization, now part of the Jewish Agency, committed to pluralistic Jewish education, whose programs are created and co-taught by educators from diverse Jewish backgrounds, facilitating learning through “constructive disagreement”.

Our children have attended nursery school, kindergarten and elementary school together and I often see Leon riding his bike pulling a bike-trailer with kids on their way to school (He has five). Last week Leon picked up three of his girls from school. The bell ran and the girls ran up to Leon giving him a huge hug. He had just returned from reserve duty near Gaza. It was a beautiful site. But I could not help think, what if he hadn’t returned?

A rabbi, a father, a husband, an educator, a social entrepreneur, a friend.

In the early days of the Second Lebanon War our leaders told us we were justified in waging war to save the lives of kidnapped soldiers, and at the outset of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, our leaders told us that we had to defend the lives of the citizens in southern Israel against missiles. In both cases I feel that they put more lives in danger than they saved.

As one Foreign Ministry official put it, the situation has changed since the disengagement from Gaza: When we left Gaza it bordered Egypt, now it borders Iran. I do not deny that. We learned many lessons from the Second Lebanon War including that we must not allow Hizbollah or Hamas  to build up their weapons and infrastructure over time. There are many reasons we can justify going to war. However, we should not fool ourselves: There are no winners in war and war is not in our best long-term interests. Just because we may have a right to defend ourselves through war, does not make it right for us to wage war.

At the beginning of Operation Cast Lead I received a call from Rena Magun, someone who grew up with me at Temple Beth Shalom and now attends Congregation Moreshet Avraham in Jerusalem with me. She told me of the first injury to directly effect our congregation. Our rabbi’s son, Didi (Yedidyah), had been injured in Gaza. Shrapnel had pierced his cheek. He was OK. They would need to operate and his mother was with him in the hospital while his father was in the United States on a fund raising mission for our congregation. I sent out an email to the congregation’s list before the rumors started and we asked the congregation to refrain from calling both to respect the family’s privacy and to conserve the cellphone’s battery.

Like every new recruit from our synagogue, Didi had an aliyah to the Torah the Shabbat before he was drafted almost two years ago and our rabbi, Rav Barry, Didi’s father asked for a blessing of peace. Barry’s face beamed with pride as he looked at his son and the congregation sang “Lo yisa goy el goy” (“Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore”). And we sent another one of our sons into the IDF with the hope that he will not know war.

Didi was discharged from the hospital and immediately went home, changed into his dress uniform and headed to Mount Herzl national cemetery to attend a double military funeral. One of the boys killed was a very close friend killed in Gaza. As Didi’s father wrote father wrote, “At the funeral Nitai’s parents, aunt and siblings hugged Didi, thanking God that he was only injured. Didi spent all of Tuesday and Wednesday sitting Shiva with the family. He was part of them.”

Two weeks later, Didi returned to his base.

The doctor’s couldn’t get all the shrapnel out. Didi will carry a piece of it with him for the rest of his life.

Our leaders were frustrated so they lashed out like children unable to reach a better solution. In a country full of creativity, why do we turn to force causing more damage by launching two wars in two years?¬† Like my boys, our leaders start yelling “he started it.” I have become used to saying “I don’t care who started it, who will be grown-up enough to stop?”

I hear those who say that war is the only answer and I do not understand why they can not recognize the rewards we have seen through diplomacy. The fact that Arab states and Fatah (once the main terrorist organization in the PLO) condemned Hamas is nothing short of revolutionary. We have achieved so much and war only results in destruction, loss and enmity.

Under a year ago I attended Shira and Yishai’s wedding. Shira, the daughter of close friends, babysat for us and worked for me. She went through the army and is now a university student. Her husband is a tour guide and attends film school. He is also in the reserves as a parachute commando. He was called in when Operation Cast Lead started and Shira did not hear from him for weeks. Shira could not sleep at home, worried and lonesome, so she moved in with her parents. She tried to go home only to cry at the door and turn around returning to her parents’ home. She got a three word SMS after two weeks: “I am OK.” The number from which the call came was blocked. She could not return the call. (All cell phones are confiscated from soldiers before entering a war zone.) After three weeks once the truce was in place, Shira got a call that Yishai was coming home.

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