From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
The placid skies of Israel and the street sounds of its cities are the memories I brought home with me on June 18th. I don’t have to tell you that the skies and the city sounds have changed since then. They’re not blackened or silenced, but they are temporarily grayed and dulled. The same can be said of the skies and cities around the world. News reports are chilling as protests around Europe and as close to home as the Galleria in Houston have unleashed latent anti-Semitism and awakened decades-old fears.
Is there anything different about this wave of anti-Semitism? First, there’s little that’s different about this wave. It has lingered below the surface for a long time waiting to be revealed. In recent years, we saw it rear its ugly head occasionally, but in recent weeks, we’ve seen it unleashed with no reserves. In Germany, they called for “Jew-pigs” and in France they attacked synagogues and Jewish businesses. We’ve learned from the past so we know that we must resist these challenges through the law and any means possible.
Second, there is, indeed, something new about this wave. There is evidence that these thugs are not average Germans or Frenchmen; they are, in fact, radical Muslims whose faces have been captured on security cameras in European cities. We learned about these growing populations many years ago. Some people sounded the alarm then and cautioned others about future hostilities against Jews and non-Muslims. The early warning signs have borne fruit. The fiery results have attracted latent anti-Semites to join the gangs of thugs and bigots and fan the flames. Thankfully, laws against anti-Semitism and hate crimes exist in Western European countries like Germany. While not every country is using its governmental forces to quell the protests adequately, increasing evidence and intelligence validating Hamas as a terrorist organization should bring some protestors to see that their efforts have been misguided. If protestors and unlikely anti-Semites want to help the Gazans, they need to urge the Arab world to oust Hamas, and rally around emerging Arab leaders who embrace Western ideals in the form of modern democracies.
In recent days, the EU drew its conclusions about Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. They stated:
“The European Union Foreign Affairs Council in regard to Operation Protective Edge reinforced its designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization when it strongly condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets on a civilian population and Hamas' use of civilians as human shields. Europe's Foreign Ministers classified Hamas' actions as criminal. The European Union called for the disarmament of the terror organizations in the Gaza Strip of their weapons and the demilitarization of Gaza.”
Furthermore, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu addressed U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and clarified Israel’s goals. He said:
"Mr. Secretary…I think it's clear that Israel is doing what any country would do if terrorists rained down rockets on its cities and towns — hundreds of rockets, day after day, week after week. In addition, as I've shown you, Hamas has dug terrorist tunnels under hospitals, mosques, schools, homes, to penetrate our territory, to kidnap and kill Israelis.
Now, in the face of such wanton terrorism, no country could sit idly by. It would exercise its right, inherent and legitimate right of self-defense as we are doing, and act decisively to end the threat to its citizens. This is what Israel is doing.”
Our comfort zone, so to speak, has been challenged with rising signs of anti-Semitism at home and abroad. But, this is a different generation. Find security in those who have learned about the Holocaust and visited Israel, and Christian communities that are dedicated to the Jewish homeland and a western world free from terror. They and we stand with Israel in its efforts to stop the missiles. The world will be safer without Hamas. The world will be safer with a strong and resilient Israel. The world will be safer when anti-Semites learn the lessons that Israel continues to teach through strength, inspiration and faith. An “Or L’Goyim” a light unto the nations comes in a variety of forms. Even through strength, Israel shines. Better through technology, health and agriculture, but always Israel will bear its light for all those who seek their way out of the darkness. Am Yisrael Chai. Let this week be filled with new paths to peace for us and all the world. Please pray for our country and its leaders. Pray for Israel and its soldiers. Pray for peace.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Writing a few days before Friday, it’s too early to be accurate about the latest news in Israel, but I wouldn’t be too early to reflect on what has transpired. In addition to the struggle between Israel and Hamas, primarily, are the frightening reports of anti-Semitic attacks on Jews in Europe. Specifically, Jews in Paris and Germany have come under attack in the synagogue and on the streets.
In Paris, worshipers were barricaded in their synagogue while Muslim anti-Israel protestors hurled rocks and anti-Semitic threats at them. From inside, worshipers called the police who came to their rescue. Forcing the mob to disperse proved to be more difficult than they imagined. The mob was worked up and passionate about fulfilling their mission to terrorize local Parisian Jews who, no doubt, were praying for the peace of Israel and calm in the Middle East.
In Germany, recollections of decades past returned to haunt Jews who were repelled by anti-Semitic mobs. They commandeered or were allowed to use the megaphone inside a police car to amplify their diatribe against Jews and Israel. As in Paris, the mob was dispersed but not without calculating the effects of rising tensions across major European cities. In Morocco, a rabbi walking to synagogue was attacked and beaten by a Muslim youth who was not unknown to the police for acts of violence particularly against Jews.
In crises like these, it isn’t uncommon for our essential instincts to overcome us. Compassionate persons, by nature, are prone to work and pray for peace through compromise and negotiated truces. They have hope that humanity will trump depravity and that history will not have to be repeated for lessons to be learned. Vengeful persons, by nature, are prone to seek scapegoats for offenses they can’t eliminate without violent or impulsive means. This schism can describe the distance between those who will negotiate with their enemies and those who prefer to slaughter them. It’s a schism that is, unfortunately, seen not only between Israel and Hamas, but also in smaller venues between citizens of modern nations. The level of hate and bigotry rising up across the world is terrifying. It isn’t only Muslim against Jew, though it gets more media coverage; and, it isn’t just Christians against Muslims, though it’s rife. It’s also Muslims against Christians across Muslim countries, which never fails to astound me, because Christians worldwide don’t react to the threat of radical Muslims against their co-religionists like Jews do for fellow Jews. Therein lies a unique Jewish value which maintains Judaism as more than a religion; it is truly a people that bleeds for other Jews and sees itself as a community across miles and generations.
It’s too simple to say what the solution is. At this time, the future remains unclear even among the best of the politicians and pundits. The stakes are very high, but we won’t abandon the hope that reasonable minds will see that peace between enemies is preferable. This week, let me highlight a few points to keep in mind:
1) The fact remains that Hamas is a terrorist organization and their efforts to avoid peace should come as no surprise. They have everything to lose if they have to become something they are not, and peacemakers they are not. Israel is not fighting Arabs and Palestinians; Israel is fighting Hamas, a terrorist organization bent on Israel’s destruction;
2) Israel is capable of making peace with its neighbors; it has done so in the past and has demonstrated that when they departed Gaza in 2005. Peace is inherent in Israel’s outlook and in the Jewish people’s goals for the future. Israel has only one demand: stop firing missiles into Israel;
3) Bodies count. In the horrid media coverage of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the number of dead in Gaza compared to the number of dead in Israel are the only real numbers that much of the world are counting. Israel has done a miraculous job of protecting its citizens with the Iron Dome while Hamas has put children in harm’s way, but the average citizen of the world sees only bodies and blood. Israel’s defense system has saved countless lives; Hamas’ missiles are indiscriminately fired with no aim except to destroy lives.
Finally, go to the Beth Israel website at www.beth-israel.org, and find the Jewish Advocacy page where Rabbi Joshua Herman has refreshed the links, resources, and news sources that you can use to educate yourself on current events in Israel and advocate for Israel’s welfare and future.
Friends, this is our time to help Israel. This is our time to say, “I am a Jew. My brothers and sisters in Israel need me.” Join me and our congregational family in advocating for Israel’s well-being and the peace of our people everywhere. This is not a selfish plea for Jews and Judaism; it is a timely and timeless hope. Shabbat Shalom.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
In the past month, I've been to the lowest place on earth at the Dead Sea, and the highest point I'll reach this summer in Colorado’s mountains. The contrast between the depth and height of each respective place couldn't speak more clearly to me than it does now.
In mid-June, I was traveling with a group through Israel. Floating in the Dead Sea lifted more than my feet from the bottom of the Sea; it also lifted my spirits to think about the sensational place I was in and enjoyed so much. On the same trip, we stood in Sderot near the Gaza Strip. We felt the relative routine of Israeli life in that southern city, which depended on a visible fence patrolled by the IDF. We visited the northern border near Syria and learned how critical that border was to Israel’s security. In Jerusalem, we experienced first-hand how multiple religious faiths moved easily through the old and new cities. But there was nothing more moving to us than the coincidence of our deepening Jewish connection in Israel and the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers. Only after we returned home did we learn, as did the world, that they were murdered shortly after they were kidnapped. Subsequent events that have led Israel to defend herself against increasing barrages of missiles from the Gaza Strip placed our seemingly benign but penetrating experience in Israel into perspective.
Like you, I’ve read everything I can about the events in Israel. I’ve read the commentaries, the news accounts, and the Facebook postings. I’ve read and watched the efforts to rationalize Israel’s right to defend herself, and I’ve accepted the efforts some Israelis and Palestinians have made to remain silent or respect the “bloods” of both peoples. Experts make these statements and we believe in these claims, because most of us are human beings who aren’t bent on the destruction of others. In America, we make such accommodations for others who are perfect strangers to us, and, we believe that if we do, then we can expect something in return, namely, peace.
Here’s the difference facing Israel, today. Hamas is a terrorist organization supported by nations that foment terrorism and the destruction of western values and democracies. In 2005, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip completely, but ever since, Hamas and increasingly new and more threatening terrorist organizations have bombarded Israel with rockets. Rather than build their own people, Hamas and their like are bent on the destruction of Israel. There is no commentary that’s needed to explain a simple truth that Hamas must be taken down and removed from Gaza. The fact is that Israel, not unlike any other nation, must defend herself and remove from its immediate boundaries any threat to its citizens. But, unlike any other nation, Israel is a sliver of their size and is surrounded by enemies.
Col. Bentzi Gruber, standing with our group of visitors from Beth Israel, told us that the U.S. has in Israel’s role in defending freedom and democracy “one of the least expensive aircraft carriers” in its fleet. Do you hear the truth and the irony? If you do, then please join me in writing, calling and addressing the facts with our government officials and the White House, to be perfectly clear about our expectations for America’s role in defending Israel, a legitimate, democratic, western ally that deserves nothing less than total and unequivocal support from our President and his staff while we, as a Jewish people pray for Israel, and we, as a world, pray for the future of democracy and freedom reflected in what some call a Middle East conflict and the rest of us call the fight for our life.
Today, I am in Colorado. The grand mountains and cool breezes which I love in July, made me feel ashamed that my vacation might come before the current conflict in Israel. But, it doesn’t because it can’t. I am a lover of Israel and the Jewish people. No matter where I am, my heart is turned to Jerusalem. I stand with my brothers and sisters who join me as rabbis, cantors, and educators, as congregants, community leaders and friends who are passionate about peace. At Congregation Beth Israel, in Houston, our prayers and our actions speak for Israel and her allies. Join us for Shabbat services at 6:30pm, in the Gordon Chapel, and stay tuned for more information about how to help and serve Israel in her time of need.
Am Yisrael Chai! The people of Israel lives!
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