Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Today I Stood with an Israel Soldier

Guest Blogging: Today I stood with an Israel Soldier
By: Leora Hyman

I live in Gush Etzion. Efrat to be exact. Efrat and Gush Etzion’s history is rich with stories of the Jewish people dating back to times of the Torah, leading up to its triumphant return to Jewish hands in 1967. We are part of the Hills of Judea thus accounting for Efrat’s many hills and the man-made stairs to help residents climb between levels of buildings. 

Efrat is an exerciser’s paradise. Residents get a workout wherever they walk. One of my favorite roads is the one my family calls the forest road. It is a very steep hill (as in my legs are burning after I’ve taken only five steps) on a section of Efrat’s security road that abuts a lovely small forest. At the top of the hill is a wonderful playground.

Today my husband and I walked this hill together and as I looked at my watch I was hoping to make it to the top by 11:00. Today is Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers and victims of terror. The siren was going off at any moment and I wanted to be at the top of our security road, in our Hills of Judea remembering the men and women who died so that I could stand “right here, just like this.” I looked at my watch again and could see that we would make it; we would be at the top by 11:00.

At 10:59 as I looked up from my wrist watch I saw the soldier. He was standing among the trees on a rock standing guard. He wasn’t quite at the top of the hill. I approached him, pointed to my watch and asked him in Hebrew if I could stand with him. Somehow standing beside a soldier seemed even more important to me than reaching the top of that hill.

He understood that I was referring to the sounding of the siren. He answered “Of course, I will come to you.” We stood there, the three of us together facing Jerusalem as the sirens sounded. I wasn’t standing quite at the very top of the hill as I had hoped to be but I felt I had reached the top of something even higher. This young soldier was by my side here in the Land of Israel because I live here. I knew I was in a moment I would never forget.

Standing in Israel at anytime, anywhere, can be a moment to never forget. Everyday, when I leave my house, I look at Eretz Yisrael before me and I thank God for bringing us here almost three years ago. When I get on a bus and the driver wishes me Shana Tova (Happy New Year before Rosh Hashana) or Shabbat Shalom because it’s Friday, I still get a thrill.

Just last month when we stood on the Eitam, the newest hill of Efrat, I felt blessed. I could tell my children, standing with me as the sun rose, that we were seeing the sun in the same place it was when The Almighty first created it. Right here, in our land, where creation began.
When the countrywide sirens went off last week for Holocaust Memorial Day, I was overwhelmed at being a citizen of a country that protects its citizens, and Jews the world over.

Before 1948, no one really worried about protecting us. Today, the State of Israel, the state of the Jewish People, has an army. It has a really strong army.

And today the people of Israel remember its fallen, to whom we owe a debt beyond measure. Because of them, since my family moved to Israel, we have enjoyed riding horses in the Golan, swimming off the beach in Ashkelon. Because of them we have explored the tunnels beneath the Kotel, and stood where our forefathers and mothers are buried in Hevron. Because of them, my son retuned from Har Habayit, (The Temple Mount) with light radiating from his young wonderful face. 

And, because of them, today I could walk up our forest hill and stood with an Israel soldier.

Leora Hyman made aliyah three years ago from Boston and lives with her family in Efrat.

Monday, April 20, 2009

With Love from Lithuania?

A message was delivered to Israel's dock workers today, on the eve of Holocaust Rememberance Day - or perhaps, it was a message to all of Israel. Someone in Lithuania painted swastikas, tanks and a long-nosed figure on a delivery of wood boards.

Workers were shocked; the company in Lithuania apologized and promises to reimburse the Israeli company for the damaged goods. That is probably the end of the story, except for the deep feeling of pain and anger that burns deep in the pit of my stomach. This was no accidental damaging that occurred during shipping. This was an intentional message of hatred - signed, sealed and delivered.

Got you, loud and clear. Lest you think I will fall into despair over yet another act of anti-Semitism eminating out of Europe, and Lithuania in particular, let me assure you that on a day such as this, I could not be happier to live in my land, in the proud, Jewish state of Israel.


A Question and A Request

Tomorrow night begins Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. I have a request. Wherever you are in the world - tomorrow night as darkness sets in, light a candle and think of the six million Jews and the millions of non-Jews who were murdered by the Nazis during World War II.

I just read that today a group of partisans, fighters who fought the Nazis in the forests of Europe, anywhere and any way that they could, visited an air force base today. Israel is home to thousands of Holocaust survivors. They have lived here since the beginning - leaving the gas chambers of Europe to help build a nation.

Especially at this time of the year, as the annual commemoration of those horrible years arrives, we honor them and we listen to them, to the nightmares they still suffer, the fears they still have, the scars they still carry.

Today, they had a request for our pilots. A request, and a question.More than half a century ago, they faced an enemy that wanted, needed, dreamed of annihilating our people. They know such evil existed in this world and they know that it still exists. One woman asked an officer in our air force if our pilots could reach Iran. “They can reach anywhere,” he answered.

I love that answer for its simplicity. He did not explain about Iran's nuclear infrastructure, spread over many sites, miles apart. He did not speak of the hatred they knew better than most; he did not talk of oil nad political maneuverings. He did not speak of America and if it would talk or act this time, as it failed to do for them. He did not speak of other European nations, of the silence that murders as effectively as poison gas. He did not talk of how much uranium the Iranians have, when their nuclear development will reach critical mass.

Instead, he offered them a simple answer carrying the reassurances these survivors needed. Yes, he was explaining, we can stop them. No, we will not be helpless again. No, you have nothing to fear and yes, this time they will not succeed because we will stop them.

We will not depend on others; we will do for our people now what we could not do then.An air force plane slowly rolled past the group, and the partisans began to clap. The pilot wanted to honor them; they gave their honor right back. Israel has given them a home, a land, and the courage to live after learning all that would encourage a person to want to die.

More than a decade ago, one of our defense ministers went to Poland, to the site of the Warsaw Ghetto. In a sad and solemn tone, he spoke to those who could no longer hear him. He told them that the air force of Israel had come to pay their respects. They'd come 50 years too late to save them, he explained, but they'd come to Warsaw. It was a promise that the air force would never be too late again. We would fly to Yemen, to Ethiopia, to Uganda. We would fly to Iraq and to Sudan, and we may yet fly to Iran.

A few years after that defense minister was in Warsaw, an Israeli pilot, son of a Holocaust survivor, honored those who died in Auschwitz by flying over the concentration camp. It was a message to his grandparents who had died there and to all the world. See us. Hear us. Know that this time, this time we can reach anywhere, not because we want to, but because we know that in this world, we have to.

Today, another survivor made her own request of the air force of Israel, “What I ask of you is to make sure that there will not be another Holocaust.”Tomorrow night, when you light that candle, please think of my son Elie, a young and handsome soldier, one of tens of thousands of strong, proud young men who guard Israel today and tomorrow.

Think of them because what they do, they do for this precise reason. Tomorrow night, my son will guard Israel. Our sons will guard the skies of Israel, the borders, the seas. Europe and America did what they did more than 60 years ago, and we know what they did not do. We know the railways to Auschwitz were not bombed and we know deals were not made. People were sent back to die rather than given refuge.

Today, Israel can send the bombs, make the deals, and offer refuge. It is an unbelievable thing, to ask a young man to make sure there will not be another Holocaust, but that survivor's request was made to Israel and today, as our sons stand on our borders and fly our skies, they assure us all that they will honor that request, even if it means flying to Iran.

Israeli Air Force, Flying over Auschwitz, 2003:

Friday, April 17, 2009

Beit Haggai and the Commonality of the Jew

Years ago, I was talking to a left-leaning friend and was taken aback by something he said.

"I have nothing in common with them," he said, and to make sure I understood, he named the types of people he was talking about. He meant the ones who live in "Beit Haggai, Otniel."

"But you speak the same language, live in the same country, have the same religion," I protested. “How could you not have so many things in common with any Jew, every Jew, anywhere?”

"We use the same words, but don't speak the same language, definitely don't live in the same country and don't share religion either."

"But I'm one of 'them' too," I said, desperate to explain. It wasn’t possible. I had moved to Israel, grown up with the belief that there is this unseen connection, felt to the depths of my soul. We are all responsible, one for the other. We are one people. I am those very people he despised, I thought to myself.

"No, you aren't."

"Yes, I am. I am no different from them and if you have nothing in common with them, you have nothing in common with me - and we both know that isn't true."

I was saddened by the discussion, but let it go. What more could I say to prove my point...and hadn't he said enough already.

A few years passed and the Israeli government announced it would unilaterally remove the Jews from Gaza and sections of northern Shomron (Samaria). I was against the decision on many levels, all levels. My friend was as strongly in favor as I was against. We talked, we debated, we discussed, we never agreed.

I didn't believe the day would come, I prayed that it wouldn't. He anticipated it. I sat and watched as my country, my army did the unthinkable. It made a mockery of our political system, a joke out of our army. It brought, as I expected it would - rocket attacks, more deaths, and war. Ashkelon will burn, we warned our fellow Israelis, I warned my friend.

"But then we can do what normal countries do. We can flatten them."

"We won't," I countered. The same weakness that leads us to expel our own people will cripple the government and prevent us from stopping the rockets that will surely hit Ashkelon - and even Ashdod.

"One rocket," my friend said. "One rocket after we pull out and their finished."

We pulled out of Gaza and destroyed some of the most beautiful and productive communities in our land. I dreaded going to see my friend. I couldn't stand to see him gloat at his victory and Israel's loss.

Finally, I had no choice and with great reluctance I went.

“So,” he began.

“So,” I answered, wondering if after so many years our friendship would end.

“I took vacation to watch,” he said. I took a deep breath. I too had watched. Hours and hours and tears and tears had been spent. I cried till I could not cry any more, and then amazingly enough, I cried more. I went to the Western Wall to watch as the communities arrived and were welcomed. I cried there too. I didn’t want to hear, couldn’t listen to what I knew he was going to say.

“And I cried,” he said. “I cried when I watched the dignity of the people and what we did.”

I looked at him and I remembered his words from so many years before. A thought I had found so foreign, so incomprehensible at the time. For the first time in my life, I knew that he’d been right, or at least partially. “Do you remember when you told me you had nothing in common with those Jews who lived in Beit Haggai and Otniel?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he answered.

“I didn’t think it was possible at the time, but now I agree. I have nothing, nothing, nothing, in common with a Jew who could have watched the expulsion of the Jews from Gaza and not cried.”

You didn’t have to agree or disagree with it, I decided, but no matter what you felt, you had to cry.

This morning, a terrorist attempted to murder Jews in Beit Haggai. He entered the small village with a knife, as another terrorist entered the small village of Bat Ayin recently. That time, the brave terrorist attacked two children, murdering a boy of only 13 and seriously wounding a 7-year-old before a Jewish father ran and confronted the terrorist, who fled, typical of the coward he was.

This morning, a person was lightly wounded before the terrorist in Beit Haggai was eliminated. Every Jew today must feel relief, it could have been so much worse. Every Jew must be grateful that the Jews of Beit Haggai and Otniel are safe in their homes today, safe to live in the land we all love, speak the language we all share.