By Leah Garber
At the end of this August weekend in Israel: 55 hours of fighting; 1,100 missiles aimed at Israeli civilian targets; 96% intercepted by the Iron Dome, and 20% of the rockets launched by Islamic Jihad terrorists failed and exploded inside Gaza, killing 15 civilians. The assassination of two senior Islamic Jihad officials, directly responsible for severe terrorist attacks inside Israel. Repeated and documented attempts by the Israeli Air Force to bomb weapons depots and launch sites, to avoid killing innocent civilians and endless phone calls from Israeli intelligence to homes of residents in Gaza close to weapons depots to evacuate.
All this in just a few hot days of summer. This report is an Israeli reality.
Israel initiated the military operation to prevent a significant attack planned by the members of the Islamic Jihad against an Israeli civilian target, and these initial warnings came through intermediaries. When the efforts to prevent the attack and military flare-up did not bear fruit, Israel initiated a short, surgical, and precise operation to paralyze the terrorist organization, threatening the safety of hundreds of thousands of Israeli residents living near the border.
And all this on Tisha B’Av, or the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av; a day dedicated to commemorating various tragedies that befell the Jewish people throughout history. Particularly the destruction of the two Temples, the First in 586 BCE and the Second in 70 CE., and most recently, the terror attack on AMIA, the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, which is the Buenos Aires Jewish Community Center, where 85 innocent people lost their lives in 1994.
What is it about this day that summons tragic events? Are summer’s heat and desert winds stirring up the atmosphere, or is it a terrible coincidence?
From the dawn of civilization, attempts have been made to degenerate our national cohesion; destroy our religious symbols, expressions of worship, and connection with God; and challenge our right as a people to self-definition, existence, and sovereignty.
But antisemitism and hatred are not our biggest threats. Unfortunately, the grim reality teaches us that sometimes, the greatest enemy is within.
It is said that the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred. Disputes and hatred between brothers, political rivals, and conspirators led to weakening morals and, in turn, the weakening of national resilience, which allowed an outside enemy to conquer Jerusalem and destroy the Second Temple.
The Temple, a public building and a house, was much more than that. It embodied the expression of Jewish ritual, faith, and religious sovereignty. It was a symbol of Jewish unity, and when that cracked, the walls of the Temple cracked with it. When unity and national cohesion, the foundation of the Jewish people, eroded, that erosion gnawed, too, at the foundation on which the Temple rested and led to its destruction.
Nearly 2,000 years later, a sovereign State of Israel is about to celebrate 75 years of independence. As we deal with recurring elections, political and social disputes, and tensions among various sectors, one might assume the elders of the nation are despairing in the face of so much internal rivalry, longing nostalgically for days of greater social cohesion.
But the reality is quite different.
As Israel prepares for the upcoming elections in November, our governing parties’ dissonance is different from its public presentation. In fact, through repeated attempts to reach compromise and peace between our Arab and Palestinian neighbors at home and abroad, and the bitter and painful disappointments of violent conflict as we experienced once again this past weekend, our country’s Israeli political extremes meet on almost all the core security issues that previously were disputed—and I am not embellishing the reality.
Disagreements are part of our reality and certainly, as an Israeli citizen, I am exposed to disputes and deal with their consequences every day. But these disputes, in a way, are grown-up disputes—disagreements regarding Jewish and social values on which the state was founded.
Considering the many threats to our country, the foundation of its security establishment was laid when the state was born. Now it is time for an in-depth look at identity issues.
As we recover from the pandemic, we are seeing the greatest number of visitors to Israel this summer, including adults from Jewish Community Centers and teens from Jewish Community Camps. But these summer trips are so much more than a vacation abroad. They are an opportunity to get to know the Jewish homeland deeply, to take an active part in the life of the country, and to feel connected and engaged with the land, people, history, and culture of Israel. I am privileged to visit and travel with these groups, and as I watch the wonder in the eyes of nearly 300 teens who are seeing Israel and its beauty for the first time, my own appreciation for the country I love so much only grows.
In Tel Aviv, we explored the growing LGBTQIA+ community. Tel-Aviv is recognized as the “Gay Capital of the Middle East” and each year hosts one of the world’s leading Pride parades. We learned about the liberal movements in Israel and their struggle to worship and celebrate Jewish rituals in an egalitarian way. We explored social challenges through the art of graffiti. We discussed attempts to coexist with Arab neighbors through sports, high-tech, and art, and we participated in various Tikkun Olam activities, all aimed at bettering the lives of underprivileged people.
The events of the last few days have brought together the political right and left in agreement and justification on the recent military operations.
Many Israelis, from all sectors, have opened their homes and invited the residents of the Israeli towns near Gaza and offered them a night of sleep without the interruptions of explosions or the need to run to shelters. And in mutual responsibility and support of all Israelis business owners offered to hold events at no cost to support everyone during this moment.
We tend to amplify the negative, to allow it to take over and overshadow everything else, but as witnessed in the last few days, and through vital initiatives such as bringing JCC groups to Israel, the opposite proves true. The light is great; the positive social action is a tremendous blessing, and it is growing. All these actions are the impetus of sincere brotherly love, of genuine caring. The good people of this country and their courageous actions are the real building blocks of our existence, of our homeland, and no enemy, nor their missiles, nor ongoing political disputes will be able to destabilize our existence.
In these days of mourning the tragedies of the past and the disappointments of the present, there is no greater comfort than recognizing the wonders of a society that chooses to confront complex issues of identity and spirit to ensure that its security and political achievements will be a suitable foundation for a deep and meaningful values-based homeland for the Jewish people.
Leah Garber is a vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.