Rabbi Kurtz Report From Israel

Rabbi Kurtz Report From Israel

May 20, 2021

It has been another difficult week here in Israel. While our neighborhood is safe and life has basically returned to normal in our area, that is not the case in much of Israel. Rockets have been launched incessantly at Israeli population centers with the express purpose of killing as many people as possible. Thankfully we have the Iron Dome. I shudder to think what might happen, how many innocent deaths there would be, if it did not protect us. Still some rockets do get through. There were some deaths, some injuries and a good deal of property damage done by the rockets that got through this defense system. My cousin who lives in Petach Tikva, a suburb of Tel Aviv, sent me a picture and a video last Thursday of a rocket which fell on his neighborhood only a number of meters from his apartment. Thankfully, he and the family were warned by the siren and were in their safe room and therefore saved from certain injury or worse. The area where the rocket fell showed great destruction of cars, the street and the surrounding area.

It has been also quiet where Hadassa and family live, although our grandchildren have returned to zoom learning at home. We were there this past Shabbat and in the early afternoon as we were completing Shabbat lunch we heard a number of booms. We walked out onto their porch and witnessed in the distance the Iron Dome shooting down the rockets meant for the coastal area. We saw the white smoke in the sky and even saw an Iron Dome missiles in the air on its way to bring down the Hamas rockets.

Unfortunately, there has been loss of innocent lives on both sides. Hamas not only does not care how many Israelis are killed (the deaths include 2 foreign Thai workers, an Indian caregiver and 2 Arab citizens of Israel) but how many of their own people are killed as well. We understand that some of their rockets fall short of leaving the Gaza Strip and have killed some Palestinians by their impact. The pictures of the devastation in Gaza are not easy to watch, and one can only hope that after the current round of hostilities end the international community will monitor the aid given to the Gaza Strip Hamas administration so it can properly be used to improve the lives of the inhabitants and not be utilized for weapons of war.

Talk is now of the end of hostilities. The Israel Defense establishment claims it still needs a few days to achieve its goals. The problem is that no one really knows what that is. They have destroyed much of the armaments, research areas, rocket batteries, underground network of tunnels and killed many Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders. However, rockets are still flying out of their territory with great ferocity. There is no doubt that international pressure, including building American pressure, is beginning to have an effect on the decision makers here. I must note that Israel has been extremely pleased with the support given to her by the Biden administration. The question will be at the end of the day what the next step is. Some believe that the best Israel can do is bide some time until the next conflagration. Others are convinced that there is no military solution, a diplomatic solution is necessary. For at least some of them, there is a need to reach out to the PA administration and recognize that Hamas is an enemy of both. For others there is a need to make Hamas feel the effects of their militaristic actions and somehow convince the population of Gaza that they are being led by a group of terrorists who do not care about them. Some, though not many, even believe that Israel needs to send in ground troops and overtake the Gaza Strip. There is no easy solution.

At the same time there is ongoing concern that even after hostilities end we have entered a new era here. The riots in mixed cities have made Jewish Israelis, and some Israeli Arabs, concerned about the future of the society here and how we will be able to live together with respect for one another. The police are now present in these cities in full force and it is a little quieter now, but that is only a short term solution. The other concern is what effect this will all have on the Arab population in Jerusalem and in the West Bank. On Tuesday a general strike was called for by Hamas in these areas and there were many who followed that directive. At the same time they called for a day of violence in the West Bank and there were very serious riots in some of those areas.

I am not sure what the next few days or weeks will bring here but they may be very dramatic as the political mandate of Yair Lapid will come to an end in a couple of weeks and it does not look possible for him to put together a government. Will this skirmish make Netanyahu stronger or are we on our way to another election? All this is being discussed even as Israeli soldiers are fighting the enemy and the lives of many have been negatively affected by the fighting. Never a dull moment!!

Again I thank those who have been in touch with us concerned with our welfare.

And again some requests:

Make sure you get all the facts, don’t let some of the media deal with equivalencies and harp on the great damage in Gaza (which bothers me as well) without understanding what it means to live under the constant threat of rockets that come indiscriminately and in great frequency. Don’t be afraid to speak out on the issues once you have the facts. Israel is not totally blameless in all of this but no country would allow what is occurring on our soil to happen to its citizens over and over again.

Don’t let supposed comedians like Trevor Noah and John Oliver get away with their soliloquies blaming Israel for everything. That goes for news commentators and newspaper editorialists as well.

Stay in touch with your Israeli friends and family members whose lives have been greatly affected by these hostilities. They need to know that you care about them.

Keep in touch with your representatives in the House and Senate and with the administration. It is your right as citizens to let them hear from you and, in fact, it is very important.

Finally, keep the State of Israel, its citizens, its soldiers, policemen and border guards in your prayers. This is not easy for them or for their families.

I pray for peace and quiet in our land and an era of peace in our region.

Bryna and I send our best wishes from Jerusalem.

 

Rabbi Vernon Kurtz

 

 

May 13, 2021

Just when we thought life was getting back to normal here (as normal as it can be) things changed very quickly. The pandemic seemed to have been conquered, people were returning with caution to their former lives, with some restrictions, we mourned the tragic loss of life at Meron on Lag B’Omer, and we began to concentrate on some of the normal issues of life. Now we are on a different path, one with which Israelis are too familiar, one which leads to loss of life, destruction of property, and a great deal of anxiety and dread.

The current round of violence here is due to a number of reasons. It is the confluence of many factors coming together at the same time: the threatened evictions of some Arab families in Sheikh Jarrah and its accompanying violence (about which the Supreme Court which was to make decision and eventually decided to postpone the decision), the end of Ramadan (including the long fast days and the heat here), the fences put up by the Jerusalem police near the Damascus Gate to keep young Arabs awaiting the end of the fast day from congregating there (the fences were eventually taken down), Yom Yerushalayim and the annual march which normally goes through Damascus Gate (at the last minute it was rerouted), the cancellation of elections in the PA and Hamas attempting to show its strength both to the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world as they profess to protect Jerusalem, the Arab worshippers by the 10’s of thousands who congregated at the Al Aqsa Mosque with many of them bringing rocks and large boulders with them to create violence (including many who were provocateurs who came from northern Israel), Jewish provocateurs like new MK Itamar ben Gvir who set up his temporary office in Sheikh Jarrah and was thankfully convinced (some say by Netanyahu) to close it down, and the lack of an Israeli government. It is really a perfect storm.

It began with riots on the Temple Mount and spread to east Jerusalem neighborhoods. Starting last week Hamas began to send incendiary balloons over the border. On Monday an Israeli driving a car near the Old City was almost lynched. Rocks were thrown at him and luckily the police stepped in to save him. Monday night Hamas warned Israel that if it did not leave the Temple Mount and Sheikh Jarrah by 6 pm it would begin a rocket attack and it held to its word. Even in Jerusalem we had a siren which was surprising. While it didn’t last for long and we have not had one since, it did frighten everyone. We have watched on TV rockets in the hundreds fall on southern Israel. Most were stopped by the Iron Dome installations, but some got through and created destruction and some deaths and injuries. Tuesday night rockets rained down on Tel Aviv and all the way up the coast to Herzilya. Hadassa and her family in Modiin had two siren alerts – one at 8 pm and one at 3 am and they had to run to their safe room. They heard the booms of the Iron Dome meeting the rockets and saw the white smoke it produced. Wednesday night at 1:30 am they had another one. All are safe. All over the south and up the coast people are spending time in their safe rooms, in shelters or are being very careful if they venture outside. Schools have canceled classes and many stayed away from work. It felt like the pandemic days again for those who could do work and school online.

The people of Israel, and especially those in the south who have endured this for years, want the IDF to continue and give them peace and quiet. The problem is there is no quick solution for it is a state fighting a terrorist organization. The latter are only interested in killing as many people as possible and creating havoc among Israelis. The Israeli leadership has asked for strength and patience from the Israeli public. At the same time the chances of putting together a government here based on support of an Arab party is now highly unlikely.

Unfortunately, there has also been a great deal of unrest in Israel proper between Arab and Jewish communities. On Tuesday night there were Arab riots in Lod where cars were torched, apartments and stores destroyed and a synagogue totally burned. The riots continued last night in many cities with mixed populations such as Lod, Ramle, Jaffa, Tiberias, Beer Sheva and Haifa and in some Arab cities in Israel. Though there was a curfew in Lod Arab and Jewish groups fought with one another. There was almost a lynching of someone who looked Arab in Bat Yam played out life on Israeli TV and Arab stores were destroyed. In Netanya the train station received a great deal of damage and the police were overwhelmed in all these cities as Arab and Jewish groups paraded through the streets. It was very difficult to watch this on Israeli TV. There is a very fine line of societal cooperation between the communities and it seemed that both in the pandemic and in politics the groups were coming together. Nobody knows what this means for the future but it is not good. It took a while for both Arab and Jewish leadership to speak out on the violence on both sides, but they finally did last night.

On a personal level, we are well and we appreciate the many people who have sent us notes to say they are thinking of us.
Two requests: Don’t let the media or the general public get away with equivalency arguments. Israel is using surgical strikes to attempt to destroy the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leadership as well as their missiles and armaments. They have issued warnings to vacate buildings in Gaza before they attempt to destroy the intended targets. On the other hand, the terrorists are sending out rockets indiscriminately attempting to kill as many people in Israel as possible and it makes no difference to them whether they are Jews, Christians, Arabs or Bedouin. Secondly pray for the safety of those under attack and for a peace and quiet to reign in the region.

Stay well and healthy,
Rabbi Vernon Kurtz