It’s a little after midnight Wednesday morning in Israel. About twenty five minutes ago I was awakened by a loud announcement over our hotel’s PA instructing everyone to go immediately to the shelter on your corridor and wait there until further notice. We stayed about ten or fifteen minutes and then were allowed back to our rooms. Meanwhile the app on my cell phone which goes off every time there is a missile warning has been going off pretty steadily.
When the day started it did not seem likely that it would end in this way. Israel and Hamas had agreed to extend their five day ceasefire for another 24 hours while negotiations continued and an agreement seemed in sight. We started the morning by traveling to Ashdod to see the Iron Dome battery there. We were met by General (Res.) Israel Shafir who explained to us how the Iron Dome works and how it fits in with Israel’s overall defense system. We learned, among other things, that the Iron Dome system allows rockets that it knows will land harmlessly in vacant areas to do so, since each missile the system shoots costs $50,000. Gen. Shafir, a former fighter pilot (he was one of the pilots who took place in Israel’s raid on the Iraqi nuclear reactor back in the 1980s) also explained how a fighter pilot decides whether or not to take out a target. He told us that the IDF attacks military targets exclusively and will call off an attack if the likelihood of many civilian casualties is present. He impressed me with his statement that preservation of human life, Israeli or Palestinian, is a key Jewish value and that failure to attempt to do so undermines the basic reason for Israel to exist -- which is to preserve not only Jewish lives but Jewish culture and values.
From Ashdod we traveled to the field encampment of the 55th Artillery Brigade, where we met with it’s commander, Lt. Col Gadi Dror. Col, Dror is the son of Rabbi Gilah Dror, the first Israeli woman rabbi to head her own congregation. He walked us through how he determines whether or not to target a certain objective, and again how he tries very hard to minimize civilian losses and will call off an attack when necessary.
We traveled to Masorti (Conservative) congregations in Ashkelon, Beersheva and Omer and learned of how the war has affected them. We learned, for example, that 80 percent of the Masorti Movement’s activities consist in community service and not what we might consider specifically “religious” activities. All the summer camps and classes were cancelled because it is not permitted to hold any activity that will attract more people than can fit in the nearest shelter. I was impressed by the dignified way our hosts are attempting to live as normal a life as possible and how grateful they were that we were there. When we got to Omer, a suburb of Beersheva, we learned that while we were in the Beersheva Conservative synagogue three rockets had fallen nearby without hurting anyone. Shortly thereafter we heard the engines of the fighter jets headed towards Gaza.
We left the South and headed to Modiin, a new city halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. We went to the Masorti synagogue there to be addressed by Rachel Frankel, whose son Naftali was one of the three teens kidnapped and subsequently killed, which set in motion the series of actions which led to this war. Rabbanit Frankel is a leading Orthodox feminist and teaches advanced Talmud in Orthodox women’s yeshivot. She set an Israeli precedent when she rose with her husband and oldest son to say Kaddish at Naftali’s funeral.
I cannot begin to put into words how meaningful this meeting was. Mrs. Frankel, despite her suffering, is a person of joy and deep spirituality. She and her family reached out to the family of the Palestinian teenager who was tortured and murdered by Jews in a “revenge attack” after the bodies of the three boys were found. It was really an honor to meet with her.
Tomorrow -- or I guess actually later today -- we will meet some top Israeli political figures, conditions permitting. We’ll also hear from Prof. Asa Kasher who wrote the Israeli Defense Forces’ Code of Ethics.
If you are my Facebook friend, our bus is equipped with WiFi and I am posting pictures and brief updates throughout the day -- feel free to check it out.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!