The Pillar and the Dome

Michtav M’Yerushalyim
November 19th, 2012

Dear friends and family members,

We begin with a word of thanks to the incredible number of you who have called and/or written – to express solidarity with Israel as well as your concern for our personal well-being.  This ‘connectedness’ means the world to us. We will in particular forever treasure a call from one of our grandchildren who said: “Saba and Savta. I checked with Mom. She said that it’s OK if you need to leave Israel for you to come and stay with us.” Another grandchild called to ask how we were doing and to sing us a Hebrew song so that we would feel better.

We have no intention of leaving Israel – but the offer was priceless. And a Hebrew song can be quite comforting when sung by a grandchild. The reality of the armed struggle between Israel and Hamas is now in its 6th day. More than 1000 rockets and/or missiles have been launched against us this week by the terrorists hunkered down in the Gaza Strip. But those vehicles of destruction have been preceded by thousands of others fired at our homes and schools and businesses and hospitals over the past few years. How long, O Lord, how long can one million of our brothers and sisters in the south of Israel be forced to live under such deadly threats?

We live our lives these days in the most mundane fashion:  going to meetings, shopping, studying, volunteering, worshiping.  Mundane, but not so mundane. While at Shabbat morning services, Stan asked a friend how he was doing. He said that he was feeling very lucky. Why lucky? “Because only one of my four sons has been called up to active duty so far.” And when Stan came out of the gym yesterday, he noticed two toddlers happily playing next to a slide. The kids were charming, so he didn’t notice that he knew one of the mothers. She greeted him and laughed: “We’re watching the kids – but talking about how we reacted when the sirens went off Friday evening here in Jerusalem.” Mundane, but not so mundane.

Israel has named its response to Hamas’ incessant attacks on us: Amud Ha-Anan, “A Pillar of Cloud.” Somehow, its official English translation has been given out as “A Pillar of Defense.” The original Pillar of Cloud and its companion Pillar of Fire were biblical images used to describe how God led the Israelites through the wilderness for 40 years – a cloud by day, a fire by night. It is clear that the Israeli military planners are hoping that the most significant outcome of current hostilities will be a pathway into the future for the Jewish State which will be free of threat and filled with promise.

Israel, as Rabbi Donniel Hartman has pointed out, was not established upon the premise that we can leave our fate either to God or to the nations of the world. At the very heart of Zionism is the unshakeable commitment that the time has come for the Jewish people to take its own fate into its hands.  God’s will is unclear; the Divine intentions uncertain. And the nations of the world haven’t exactly been our loyal supporters. So we look to ourselves as our major source of protection, and we treasure the support of countries such as the United States. But it starts with us.

The Iron Dome, according to Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, is the first anti-ballistic missile system in history to be successfully deployed. The Iron Dome system has been 90% successful in knocking down incoming enemy rockets. We watched live action coverage of Iron Dome at work, and the images are staggeringly compelling. Iron Dome is an incredibly expensive system, mainly developed by Israel, with major financial support from the United States. Iron Dome is a part of that Pillar of Cloud.

But, far too many rockets and missiles still get through. This past Friday evening, we drove with our friends, Garri and Rabbi Uri Regev, to Tel Aviv to join in a unique celebration of song and prayer honoring a rabbi newly ordained by the Hebrew Union College. We knew that Tel Aviv was being targeted, but none of us wanted to miss the celebration. Ironically, 90 minutes after we had left Jerusalem the sirens sounded here. The missile fell short of the city, but it nevertheless made clear beyond any doubt that more than two thirds of Israel’s population now is within striking range of Hamas’ weaponry.

Many of those who had intended to come to Tel Aviv with us decided not to come. Many of those from Tel Aviv stayed home that evening. A group of friends and supporters of the newly fledged rabbi had come to Israel precisely to share in the ordination and the celebration. But, the venue of the celebration did not have a nearby bomb shelter. So rather than exposing themselves to a perceived threat, they felt safer staying in their hotel.   And so they did.

Those of us who were there found ourselves constantly fielding calls and emails from abroad. No one said that we should turn our cell phones off. Not that evening. It was close to 11pm when we were driving back to Jerusalem. The radio was on in the car.  There was a five minute segment that quietly and unemotionally answered questions, such as: What should one do if sirens go off while we are driving? Then there was music. The music was more subdued than usual. Not mournful. Just quiet. Without stopping the music, an announcer would cut in: Tzeva Adom Beersheba, Tzeva Adom Ashdod, Tzeva Adom Sha’ar HaNegev… a red alert for Beersheba, for Ashdod, for Sha’ar HaNegev – meaning that missiles were incoming toward those communities. A litany of pain.

Those announcements occurred every few minutes over the course of the hour drive. Town after town. Threat after threat.  Explosion, chaos, injury and death. The Pillar of Cloud had its work cut out for it. We had not recently updated our gas masks nor re-checked our supplies in the special “sealed room” which also serves as our third bedroom. We resolved to take care of those tasks during this coming week.

Israel has an established notification system that functions even on Shabbat.  It is called Gal Shaket… the quiet channel. Orthodox Jews can leave their radios on, tuned to that station. Nothing will be broadcast unless there is an emergency or a call-up of specialized reserve units.

We celebrate the Jewish Federations of North America, working with the Union of Reform Judaism and ARZA and many other organizations, for the emergency campaign now underway to help bring comfort to those most directly impacted by the missiles. We celebrate the Israel Movement for Reform Judaism, along with many other organizations, for the campaign to provide respite housing in the middle of the country for those living in daily terror. We appreciate the sudden influx of representative Jewish leaders who are coming here as a physical expression of their embrace of the shared fate of the Jewish people. And we thank God for the men and women of the Israel Defense Forces – for they are the strength and depth of that Pillar of Cloud which seeks to lead our people toward a future free of threat and filled with promise.

We weep for the innocent Palestinians and the innocent Israelis who are paying with their lives for the murderous dreams of Hamas – and for the genocidal dreams of Iran, the key supplier not only of long range missiles to Hamas, but also the primary trainer of engineers who have been infiltrated into Gaza to open munitions factories. There is a passage in the Bible that muses: “How the nations rage.” Indeed many nations now rage at Israel for its audacious refusal to accept ongoing bloody assault. So be it.  They will be judged by history. We will be judged by the Cloud and the Dome.

There will be a tomorrow. Annie is right: The sun will come out tomorrow. We pray that that tomorrow will include an innovative, wide-ranging diplomatic and political solution that will be far sturdier than yet another cease fire.  A simple ceasefire will become very quickly a shield behind which Hamas will re-arm, as it has done before. After all, Hamas still sits with 10,000 missiles – not warehoused, but scatter-sited across Gaza, aimed at the Israeli heartland. That tomorrow might also include a land incursion by the IDF into Gaza.  We hope against hope that such will not be the only effective response left to Israel. But if it happens, then our young men and young women will be crowned with success. Of that we have no doubt.

There is no moral equivalency here, no balancing of equal claims and complaints. Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah and Iran have a very clear set of goals in mind. And they will fail. They must fail. We have no choice.

Again, thank you for your love and concern. Rest assured that we are happily focused on the planned December 31st bar mitzvah of our grandson, Zeke, atop Masada, and the winter trip to Israel of our granddaughter, Olivia, and her eighth grade classmates from the Bi-Cultural Day School in Connecticut.  The March Centennial Trip to Israel of the Women of Reform Judaism is expected to be over-subscribed, as well is should be. These events will take place with joy and with gratitude.

Resa and Stan

Resa and Rabbi Stanley Davids are longtime ARZA members and supporters. Stan is a Past President and Board Member and a current member of ARZA’s Leadership Council. The Davids made aliyah in 2004 and now split their time between Jerusalem and Santa Monica, California.