Friday night, Sabbath eve. I was sitting with my son-in-law at the Tapuach community synagogue, in the Shomron, north Samaria. We were just about to begin the beautiful Shabbat service, when suddenly, sirens started whining and blasting.
The sound wasn’t really strange to me. I hear it, not first-hand in Beer Sheva, Ashkelon, Ashdod, or other places. Rather sitting, staring at my computer screen in Hebron. I have a program which notifies me whenever sirens start sounding. It too is a siren. The only difference is, that in Hebron, I don’t have to run for shelter. Anywhere else you hear it, you have to scurry pretty fast to avoid the possibility of being hit by one of the Hamas rockets.
But, I must admit, hearing a siren in a Samaria synagogue, well, it sort of makes your hair stand up. After all, we are quite a ways away from Gaza. They do have long-range missiles, but still…
We all looked at each other, trying to figure out what to do, where to go. The shelters there weren’t really ready for a public stampede. After a few minutes someone came in and exclaimed that sirens were sounded throughout all of Israel. “I guess that means war,” I remarked, “all-out war.”
But a few minutes later we were informed that a rocket had been shot towards Jerusalem, and, ‘just in case,’ sirens were sounded over much of Judea and Samaria. We later heard that the missile had fallen in an Arab village near Gush Etzion, halfway between Hebron and Jerusalem.
So much for sirens.
Actually as I’m writing this, listening to the radio in the background, I can’t even begin to count the virtual sirens warnings I’ve been alerted to over the past 10 minutes. Basically, that’s the way it is all day.
Here in Hebron, many reservists have replaced the regular IDF brigades usually here. Older men, from around Israel, are standing guard and patrolling. Yesterday I met a man from Netivot, near Beer Sheva in the south, one of the cities being bombarded day and night. “Ah,” I told him, “here you’re safer here than in Netivot. Here there aren’t any missiles or rockets, just rocks and firebombs.”
For the time being we are all sitting, watching, and waiting: what will be next? Will Israel commence with a ground war? We all have friends and relatives who’ve been called-up in the emergency draft. One of my sons and a son-in-law were swooped out of civilian life to take part in the defense of Israel. My son-in-law, a Rabbi, living in a mostly secular town not far from Beer Sheva was notified on Shabbat that he should report immediately to his unit. So he caught a ride with a resident from his neighborhood, even before Shabbat was over. (Orthodox Jews usually don’t drive on Shabbat.)
So it goes when our country goes to war. And make no mistake: war it is!
This is a very emotionally trying week. Current events are undoubtedly stressing. But I find myself dwelling on other thoughts too.
Every week, a different member of the community writes a short Torah message, distributed to soldiers in Hebron on Friday, before Shabbat, with all sorts of goodies – cookies, cake, and the like. A few days ago, my friend Yoni Bleichbard, (himself also drafted and now serving – here in Hebron), who initiated the Sabbath soldier program, asked me to write an article for the coming Shabbat.
Here is a brief version of part of the essay:
“In this week’s Torah portion, we read that Ya’akov (Jacob) left Beer Sheva, fleeing from his brother Esau, who wanted to kill him. The primary commentator on the Torah, Rashi, writes: The departure of a righteous man from a place makes an impression, for while the righteous man is in the city, he is its beauty, he is its splendor, he is its majesty. When he departs from there, its beauty has departed, its splendor has departed, its majesty has departed.
It was exactly ten years ago, this coming Shabbat, that 12 righteous men departed from our city, and that definitely left an impression. A shining light extinguished that Shabbat eve. Twelve men, officers, soldiers and civilians, caught in a terror ambush outside the south gate of Kiryat Arba, were killed on what was called ‘worshiper’s way.’ Colonel Dror Weinberg, commander of the Hebron brigade, and Kiryat Arba security chief Yitzhak Boanish, were among those gunned down.
These men, serving their people, doing their job with their amazing heroism, worked to protect the lives of the residents of Kiryat Arba and Hebron when three cursed terrorists tried to end the lives of innocent civilians. They gave their lives, they sacrificed themselves, for their people and their country.”
I read an article, published last week, dealing with this horrific event, and it made me shiver, even after a decade. These men knowingly took part in the bloodiest battle in Hebron since 1929, and went to their deaths as genuine heroes.
This is the fabric of Am Yisrael, of the Jewish people. There were days, months and years when Hebron was under daily attack. Israel’s north came under rocket fire for years; Kiryat Shemona was showered with Katusha missiles shot from South Lebanon. So too the brave people who lived in Gush Katif, as well as those in Sderot, and today, Beer Sheva, Ashkelon and Ashdod.
There isn’t anyone, anywhere in this small country, that hasn’t faced an enemy threat, be it in his home, on the roads, or on the battlefield.
What keeps us going?
Jeremiah 46:27 - Fear not, My servant Jacob, and be not dismayed, O Israel! for behold, I will redeem you from afar and your children from the land of their captivity, and Jacob shall return and be quiet and at ease, and there shall be none who disturb his rest.
In this week’s Torah portion, G-d promises Jacob that he will come back to Eretz Yisrael, safe and sound. So, too, the L-rd has promised us, the children of Jacob, that He will protect us from afar (shades of the Iron Dome Missile system). In the end, none will disturb us, we will be fully redeemed. So it will be. For all the people, from Kiryat Shemona to Eilat, are heroes, and there are none who are afraid. And we will never be dismayed. And that’s what keeps us going.
Photos: David and Raphael Wilder