Haas Promenade, Jerusalem. A site known to every tourist visiting Israel. Blessing Shehecheyanu upon arrival to Jerusalem while admiring the spectacular view of our Jewish capital.
This same site symbolizes more than anything our Jewish journey—one that reflects our glorious history, flourishing present and promising future. At the same time, it reminds us of Jerusalem’s complexities, of a very fragile line between Israeli Jews and Jerusalemite Arabs. Of a city that often mourns for its victims, and buries its dead children. It whispers softly to keep holding on to the dream, not to lose hope, not to fall into despair.
On Sunday this majestic site was a gathering place for officers’ cadets. As part of their training, these cadets, like any other IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) soldiers, go through a week of sightseeing and study, so that they become better soldiers, not only on the battlefield, but also more humane and moral ones.
At this spectacular site, the lives of four Israeli soldiers ended and another 13 were wounded when a vicious terrorist ran over these cadets, taking innocent lives, dreams and hopes, killing them all at once.
In the same week 16 JCCs in the United States received bomb threats, which fortunately turned out to be hoaxes. These are JCCs that proudly serve all, Jews and non-Jews alike, regardless of religion, race, or any other distinction. These are JCCs that announce, “All are welcome”. Whenever I visit these JCCs, I enjoy seeing children of all backgrounds in their early childhood programs, who sing Shabbat songs together, celebrate Jewish values and rejoice, knowing they are at home, protected and loved. These pluralistic, diverse and engaging JCCs were the target of hatred, of narrow-minded individuals, who do not understand the essence of what a Jewish organization means.
This all happened in the same week that the Israeli society was divided into two camps over the case of Elor Azaria, an IDF soldier.
In March 2016, a Palestinian terrorist stabbed an Israeli soldier in Hebron. Following the stabbing, the terrorist was shot and held by the IDF. A few minutes later as he lay wounded on the ground, Azaria shot him in the head, killing him and claimed self-defense. Azaria was arrested and the Israeli Military Police opened an investigation against him for charges of manslaughter.
The soldier’s act sparked widespread public debate in Israel, dividing Israeli society between those who supported Azaria’s action, and view him as a hero, and condemning the army for opening an investigation, and the many of us who believe that it is of paramount importance that ethics and morals guide us on the battlefield. We are who we are because of our ability to remain human at all times, and that killing a wounded “neutralized” terrorist is manslaughter. Yes, this terrorist was the personification of evil, yes, he was our enemy, but he was a human-being, that once wounded and captured, had the right to stand trial. Our IDF won’t allow its soldiers to kill a wounded man that is no longer a threat.
Azaria was convicted this week of manslaughter, and the streets of Israel wore two faces: the ones who sang his praises and the others who blessed Israel’s high moral standards that led to his conviction. I don’t know how many countries would have even begun an investigation. I’m so proud of mine!
One of the four soldiers who was killed during Sunday’s malicious attack, was 20-year-old lieutenant Yael Yekutiel. Yael was my daughter’s friend, serving with her in the same unit in the IDF. Yael was a blooming flower, a caring and loving person that will be remembered most of all for being a hardworking officer, extremely devoted and committed, always asking questions, wanting to learn it all, so that she can lead her subordinates with meaning and purpose. Yael wanted it all. It’s as if in some mysterious way she knew she only had 20 years to accomplish everything, to leave her mark, to live.
Yael, served on the IDF Education Corps, where my daughter Roni currently serves. The Israeli army was the first in the world, and today among very few anywhere that has an Education Corps which offers a variety of educational programs focusing on Israeli history, sites, values, Zionism and Jewish identity.
It’s another example of how the Israeli army holds to the highest standards of ethics and morals, because as Jews, that’s the only way we know.
“The State of Israel will prove itself not by material wealth, not by military might or technical achievement, but by its moral character and human values” David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister
May Yael, Shira, Shir and Erez, four unfulfilled dreams, be remembered forever, and may the Jewish people celebrate our values in pride and dignity while facing no threat of any kind.
Leah Garber, Vice President. Director, JCC Israel Center