By Doron Krakow
The War Comes Home
Tomorrow will be three weeks. Three weeks since the horrific, savage slaughter of innocents—children in front of parents, whole families burned alive, concertgoers mowed down by the hundreds—the images provided by the butchers themselves are now etched into our minds and hearts. The death toll continues to climb, as does the number of known hostages, which earlier today was raised to 229—229 men, women, and children dragged into the dungeons of Gaza by their sadistic captors, no doubt bent on further, unthinkable horrors. I am told that more than 180 people are still missing and unaccounted for. Israel is a country in mourning. Three weeks and we are still burying our dead. Three weeks and the cries of the families of hostages grow stronger, more desperate—each one a heartbreak, not only to those who have long known and loved them but to all of us. Three weeks.
On Tuesday morning, I awakened to a most welcome message from my son. Aaron was among a small group of soldiers from his unit—those with newborns at home—to be granted a 24-hour leave. I drove up to meet him where the bus let him off, and with coffee and pastry in hand, took him into my warm embrace. The sight of my boy walking through the door and into Zoe’s arms and cradling his son, David, now two months old, and of the reunion that unfolded before my eyes warmed my heart in ways I hadn’t quite realized how much I was missing until that very moment.
The day, of course, passed far too quickly. Laundry. Good food. A trip into town to sit, talk, and share a meal. He spoke to his mom and his brothers back home in a WhatsApp video call that brought them all together for perhaps 40 precious minutes. A nap. A haircut. And a simple gift. A quiet night alone with Zoe, a friend and I taking care of David for all but feeding times. Wednesday began with a good breakfast, but altogether too soon, it was time for him to put on his uniform and head back. I drove him to the place the bus would pick him up, and when it was delayed, we had time to sit and have coffee. A few more minutes to talk about—well, much of it is already hard to remember.
Though he couldn’t share much, he told me a little bit about what he’d experienced when his unit initially had been deployed to the Gaza border. He said they’d accomplished their assigned task, but I found myself wondering what horrors he’d seen. What horrors lay ahead. A father’s job is to be strong for his son. He for his. And me for mine. I hugged him close when he got out of the car to join other soldiers waiting for the bus. I reminded him of our deal. He needs to look after the guys in his unit and keep his eyes on the task in front of him. I would do the same for his wife and son while we wait for his safe return.
Throughout this past week, we have been glued to the news. Each day brings additional casualties—up north in the growing skirmishes with Hezbollah; in the south, as the slaughtered and missing continue to be identified; and elsewhere in the country where the occasional missile from Gaza eludes Iron Dome, crashing into residential areas. The death of Omer Balva, z”l, struck particularly close to home. He grew up in Rockville, Maryland, and having served in the IDF, was back in the U.S. spending time with friends when the war began. He rushed back to rejoin his infantry unit and was killed by a Hezbollah anti-tank missile. A beautiful boy. A boy very much like mine.
Three weeks. What did the world look like three weeks after 9/11? Three weeks after Pearl Harbor? Three weeks after George Floyd’s death? What does it look like today, three weeks after the largest slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust?
Increasingly, the sound and fury we hear come from those who celebrate the slaughter—in cities and towns across the Western world and on university campuses, where initial outrage and solidarity with Israel are being drowned out by angry demonstrators who are applauding the killers, calling for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews. Posters and flyers of kidnapped children are being ripped down by so-called progressives, who are gleefully removing or defacing reminders of the depravity of Hamas, an internationally recognized terror organization whose charter expressly reflects its desire to kill Jews and eliminate Israel.
Hamas itself issues press releases about victims in Gaza that all too frequently are accepted as truth by major media outlets, feeding the anti-Israel and antisemitic frenzy. Not only do they not defer stories pending verification, but they sensationalize every sordid claim made by the terrorists. I wonder if The New York Times would have so quickly published and endorsed the claims of Goebbels.
Many in leadership stand firmly on the side of truth and alongside Israel—beginning with President Biden and his administration and including voices from all walks of life condemning the actions and statements of the haters. Voices of truth and justice. On the side of freedom. Overcoming this growing wave of hate and the embrace of evil will require a long, loud, and steadfast response. The alternative is not merely the increasing isolation of Israel and the Jews, but perhaps the end of Western civilization as we know it.
More and more, my time is spent in conversation with colleagues across the JCC Movement in Canada and the U.S. Many are taking leading roles in their communities, coming together in solidarity, providing support and comfort to those with family in Israel, and, increasingly, those who themselves or their children have been confronted by hate. They are fostering alliances with community partners and capitalizing on their “big tent” responsibilities to serve as the anchor of a Jewish community under duress. They do us all proud. But the work that lies ahead will be challenging: The ongoing mission to serve as an engine for greater Jewish community and more vibrant Jewish life. To be a beacon of Jewish peoplehood at a time of growing darkness. To welcome and embrace new arrivals from Israel, many of whom have been displaced from evacuated communities along the borders with Gaza and Lebanon. To help staff and lay leaders work through their unease about the suddenness with which former social justice allies have taken on the mantras of our enemies.
It seems that once more, we are navigating a crisis. Bomb threats. Natural disasters. COVID. And now this—all in the space of a few short years. Today is the fifth anniversary of the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh. On that terrible day in 2018 and in the days that followed, the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh became the home of the Jewish community and all those who stood with it. People came together there to mourn, and it was to the JCC that they looked for support and guidance when the healing began. That JCC has been a model for our movement. A model worth noting and replicating at this new moment of crisis and need.
The war in Israel has only just begun and the defeat and annihilation of Hamas as a threat to Israel and to humanity will come at great cost. Our deep, personal connections with Israel and with those serving in her defense bring the war into our homes. And make no mistake: The anti-Israel clamor will only grow louder as Hamas makes certain its human shields pay dearly to feed the propaganda machine unleashed across the globe. This is a time for determination, for resolve, and for coming together. A time for unity.
Am Yisrael Chai | עם ישראל חי and Shabbat shalom | שבת שלום
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America
JCC Association of North America stands in solidarity with Israel and encourages support of Jewish Federations of North America’s special campaign to help the country meet its many needs at this difficult time.