“Al ha Mar v’haMatok” – Over the Bitter and the Sweet

Shabbat Inspiration by Rabbi Yocheved Mintz, Congregation P’nai Tikvah, 21 November 2014

Thanksgiving is coming…next week, in fact, and I know I have so much for which to be thankful, yet my heart is heavy and the Jewish world is still reeling over the horrific, barbaric, brutal massacre at a normally peaceful Jerusalem synagogue this past Tuesday, and I am trying, desperately, not to let this senseless hate crime overshadow everything else.  So, allow me to spend a few minutes on this sadness, how it has been received, and how we might respond…

Tuesday morning we awoke to the news that two Arabs (one of whom had worked at a local makolet—corner grocery store—for the past five years) stormed into the Har Nof synagogue during services, brandishing axes and guns, and brutally slaughtered four renown Orthodox rabbis, Rabbi Moshe Twersky (grandson of the luminary Rabbi Joseph Soliveichik), Rabbi Kalman Levine , Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky—all American-Israelis, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, a British-born Israeli, and First Sgt Zidan Naha Seif, a Druze security guard who had come to their rescue, and injured many more.  May the memories of those who perished, be for a blessing, and may healing be swift and complete for those injured.  You know these facts from the news and t.v. coverage broadcast on Tuesday and Wednesday, but I’d like to share with you the following e-mail from a cousin of mine in Jerusalem:

Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller asked me to share this with you:  “Yesterday at about 7 a.m., my daughter, Miri, called.  “Mordechai just came home from Shul.  He said that Arabs came in and are shooting, and that a man with an axe is hitting everyone.  Some of the people threw chairs at them, but it didn’t help.”  Mordechai, a blonde,freckled, 12-year-old, had hit the floor along with everyone else when the bullets began to fly; he was fully aware of what was going on, and what it meant; yet he somehow found the courage to let go of his father, Shmuli’s, hand, crawl towards an exit and break into a run.  (Some of you may know Miri, Tzipporah interjected:  She has had some of you over for Shabbos and holidays and others sleeping in one of her kid’s bedrooms when the crowd at my house gets to big to accommodate sanely.)  Mordechai may look like Huck Finn, but he’s no Huck Finn, and the courage he got in those moments was a gif straight from G-d.  By thetime he finished telling Miri what happened, sirens were wailing from Hatzalah Ambulences, police cars, and Magen David, so we knew there were casualties.  “Where’s Shmuli” was the thought that entered her mind again and again, as the seconds (which felt like hours) began to tick.  Miri called me and said, “Say Tehillim (Psalms); there’s shooting in B’nei Torah.”  I began to say the ancient prayers, but stopped to call Rabbi Weidan and tell him what was happening.  I then began to pray Tehillim again and knocked on my neighbor’s door and told her to do the same.”

That e-mail went on to describe the confusion, terror, and individuals who had witnessed the attack experienced; Rebbetzin Heller found out also that Shmuli, Mordechai’s father had been badly injured, but had asked where Mordechai was before he was passed out.  He had been one of the first evacuated though and hopefully will recover from his wounds.

I heard also from others in the neighborhood; and although their sadness was palpable, I did not hear one word of hate from them.  Only faith in G-d to heal the wounded and watch over all Jews…wherever they are.

The list of those seriously wounded includes Eytan Ben Sara, Moshe ben Atara , Aryeh ben Bracha, Chaim Yechiel ben Malka, and Shmuel Yeruchem ben Baila….yes, Shmuli, Mordechai’s father.

There is a proper and an improper way to respond to such an outrageous, heinous act.  The proper way has clearly been demonstrated by the residents of the Har Nof neighborhood themselves, who did not join calls for revenge.  Riot police streamed into the neighborhood, but the streets remained peaceful, and the police soon left.  One police officer said:  “They brought us here, because usually, after a terror attack, there are extremists and violence.  But not here.  It’s quiet here…sad, and quiet.”

The Jerusalem Post quoted a resident:  “We are not a vengeful people.  We are not a culture of blood for blood.  We are faithful Jews.  Our answer to such events is to strengthen our faith and our religious practice.”

It turns out that another example was movingly articulated at the funeral of the Druze policemen, Zidan Seif.  Druze leader Mouafiq Tarif delivered a eulogy calling for an end to “incitement and extremism.  You must do everything to lower the flames in the Holy City,” he said, addressing President Rivlin, Public Security Minister Yitzchak Aharonovitch, and Israel Police Commissioner, Yochanan Danino by name.  “Both we and you are paying a heavy price in the form of the blood of our sons.  Incitement and extremism must not prevail over common sense and tolerance.”

Then there is, what the pro-peace community considers, an improper way to respond…most dramatically illustrated by the Israeli government’s return to a policy of demolishing the homes of family members of the terrorists…a policy that had been suspended in 2005.  Many consider that incendiary, a human rights violation or collective punishment without due process against individuals who may have had no part in the actual crime.  I am concerned that such moves will neither deter others nor quell the distrust.  I am also concerned about the response….or lack of response from the international community, as if Jews….even religious men of the cloth praying in their own house of worship…are dispensable.

We look to responsible leadership from the United States, the international community, from Israel and from the Palestinian Authority.  And, in truth, the P.A.’s leader Mahmoud Abbas did condemn the attack, but in the streets candy was being distributed and Hamas was calling the perpetrators martyrs and heroes.

Are these lone wolf attacks?  This one?  The one at the train station in which a baby and a woman were killed?  The press seems to think so; but there are others who feel that the perpetrators had handlers who waited until the time was right and gave them their marching orders.  Who knows?  We do know that the terrorists who carried out the massacre at the shul in Har Nof, had stopped at a Sefardi synagogue just moments before, but it was too early…the minyan had not arrived yet to daven.

In the meantime, I suggest we take our cue from the Israelis of Har Nof and the Druze leaders who so movingly showed us that even in the depths of tragedy, human compassion must prevail.

Tuesday morning, still reeling from the news, I attended a pre-planned breakfast meeting at Federation for a briefing from Consul General David Siegel, an erudite, eloquent, and savvy diplomat.  He filled us in on what he knew of this latest tragedy, expressed his abiding deep concern for the worse existential threat of Iran’s looming nuclear capability, and then shared with us what he had wanted to share, his original reason for being in Las Vegas this week, which was to inform us of the incredible progress Israel is making in collaborating with high tech companies throughout the world.  Did you know that Intel has invested 6 billion dollars in a plant in the negev, Kiryat Gat to be exact?  That Apple’s first R&D center outside of California is actually in Israel; that there are, in fact, over 300 high tech companies doing Research and Development in Israel; that there are over 7,000 start-up innovators in Israel, and that Israel has the world’s first high school training young people in cyber-security?  Israel’s economy has grown by 5%, reduced its national debt; it has strong relationships in Adjerbaijan; the Technion is building a branch in China, is helping work on the drought problems in California, and will soon be developing an incredible fish farm in the Nevada desert—-growing our own gefilte fish without water?  ….and yet…

Israel is an example of “Mar u-Matok”…bitter and sweet.  With the long list of accomplishments, its vibrant people, whom many of us have witnessed, there are also the threats from within and without.  The infiltrating terrorists; the threat of ISIS is indeed something else to worry about.  More mar…more bitterness.  ISIS is now, as Seinfeld would say,”master of its own domain.”  They’re now not only in Iraq and Syria, but in Libya as well.  Wherever there is a void from the Arab Spring, ISIS or others like it seem to be filling the void.  Hezbollah, being funded by Iran has been wrapped in their own dilemmas for over 10 years, but things are changing.  Hammas has abdicated rebuilding Gaza, stating that Israel needs to rebuild it.  The European community has bought the canard that Israel overstepped itself and is even calling for Netanyahu to be brought to the Hague and charged with crimes against humanity.  Meanwhile, the fields of cement pre-fabs slated for building tunnels from which to infiltrate Israel from Gaza were documented and blown up in the summer.  Intelligence has photographs of the fields now…completely restocked with pre-fab arches and walls to rebuild the tunnels.  The U.N. has turned a blind eye to the fact that its own hospitals and schools were used as repositories for weapons and as launch sites for missiles.

The Consul General reminded us that there are good people who want peace in that region; that the vast majority of Arab-Israelies want to remain there.  He hopes for a continued effort to establish relationships and work to empower the good guys, while working simultaneously to counter the media war, Hezbollah on the north, Hamas on the south, various splinter groups in the Egyptian Sinai.  Al haMar v’haMatok…on the bitter and the sweet.

This thanksgiving, as we gather with our families and friends, let us be thankful for what we are privileged to have here in this land of plenty…warts and all.  Let us be grateful for our Las Vegas Jewish community and the support system we have within it, and let us add prayers for the safety and wellbeing of our brothers and sisters in Israel.  May the day come when we can beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, a day of peace for all G-d’s children.

Shabbat Shalom.