By Rabbi Avi Weiss
Last week, my family — children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren — were together in Israel, celebrating my wife Toby’s 80th birthday. It was heaven on earth.
Two days later, on Shabbat Simchat Torah, the heavens shattered, as hundreds of Hamas terrorists attacked southern Israel. As news trickled in, it became clear: Never had Israel suffered such an onslaught.
The images echoed events of the past: Hundreds were butchered as they danced and sang at an outdoor music festival; families just awakening on Shabbat were slaughtered in their beds; old and young were kidnapped; women were raped and then dragged through the streets of the Gaza Strip: a microcosm of what has too often happened over the millennia.
But there is one major difference. In the past when attacked, we were defenseless. Today, Israel is militarily strong. Even as it suffered a colossal intelligence failure, Israel will overcome. As America — caught off-guard at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and 60 years later on 9/11 — responded with strength, resilience and a singular sense of national unity, so, too, will Israel.
After months of polarizing debate between the right and the left, political archenemies and the Israeli citizenry have set their differences aside. Even Air Force reservists, deeply upset with the government’s position on judicial reform, hurried to join their units.
Our family, like all Israelis, feels the reverberations of the war. Every time a siren sounds (and it is sounding at this very moment I write these words), we run to a bomb shelter. The doors are locked, the windows sealed; often in absolute darkness, we stand, old and young together.
A grandson breaks out in tears — the kind that might be cries of anguish or happiness or both together. He had just heard that his closest friend, who had been missing, was found. While seriously wounded, he will survive. Those tears, sometimes joyous, sometimes piercingly painful, abound. Today, we are one family, all sisters and brothers.
In the last 48 hours, 300,000 soldiers from all parts of Israel and beyond have been called up to serve. Among them is one of our grandchildren, a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces. Despite having injured himself recently, he insists on joining his comrades.
As a rabbi serving in the United States for decades, I joined many of my colleagues who felt that in times of need, our responsibility was to run to rather than from Israel.
For me, this time is different. I’m just a few months behind Toby. Soon, God willing, I will turn 80. No longer can I easily do what little I once did — visit shiva homes, hospitals, army bases, to lend support. Today, my children warn me of the risks of advanced age. I have been learning that it’s much easier for me to do—to act—than to hold back. To refrain from acting is its own kind of pain.
Many in my generation — the generation born during or just after the Shoah, the “Never Again” generation — tell me that they are experiencing similar feelings. But watching young Jews all over the world flying to Israel to lend a hand, witnessing young Israelis putting their lives on the line to defend Israel, while frightening, is also exhilarating.
Now is the time to call family and friends in Israel to express solidarity; now is the time to lobby our political leaders, reminding them that Israel’s war against terror is also America’s war against terror; now is the time to gather in the tens and hundreds of thousands in cities across America, Europe and the world, to declare, unequivocally, that we stand with Israel.
My head tells me that Israel will prevail, but my heart is shattered. In the midst of the tears for the bereaved, prayers for the dead and tefillot for the injured, there is unabating hope and belief in the opening words of this week’s Torah reading: “And there was darkness on the face of the deep. And the Lord said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Light will come from darkness.
Am Yisrael Chai ve’yichyeh. Yehi Or.
Rabbi Avi Weiss is the founding rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, the Bayit, and founder and co-founder, respectively, of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat rabbinical schools. He serves as the spiritual adviser of Tzofim Garin Tzabar, a national program of Friends of Israel Scouts, whose mission is to support young Jewish Americans who want to make Israel their home and serve as lone soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces.