A wake-up call for us all

Dear coworkers,

We’ve just come through the bloodiest day in the history of modern Israel. The body count is slow but has surpassed 700, apparently more even than on the first day of the Yom Kippur War.

Like that war this too was a surprise attack as Jews were in the synagogues on a holy day, the day of Simhat Torah (“rejoicing with Torah”) which crowns the end of Sukkot. And it too was a complete failure on the part of the Israeli defense forces. There will be much soul-searching by the nation when they get past the grief.

Almost exactly 3000 years ago Solomon brought the ark of the covenant up to the newly-completed temple during Sukkot. And as he spread his hands toward heaven before all Israel he spoke these prophetic words:

When your people Israel are defeated before an enemy…

When their enemy besieges them in their cities…

When they sin against You—for there is no one who does not sin—and You become angry with them and deliver them to an enemy who takes them as captives to his own land, whether far or near, and when they come to their senses in the land to which they were taken, and they repent and plead with You in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and done wrong; we have acted wickedly,’ and when they return to You with all their heart and soul in the land of the enemies who took them captive, and when they pray to You in the direction of the land that You gave to their fathers, the city You have chosen, and the house I have built for Your Name, then may You hear from heaven, Your dwelling place, their prayer and petition, and may You uphold their cause. May You forgive Your people who have sinned against You and all the transgressions they have committed against You, and may You grant them compassion in the eyes of their captors to show them mercy…

These are hard words on such a terrible day when over a hundred Israelis have been taken captive to Gaza. But they must be heard. Israel, from the least to the greatest, is asking “Where is God? How could he allow these things?”

Solomon saw things differently. By the spirit he seemed to know–as many of us are slow to learn–that our loving father will discipline us severely if need be to turn our hearts back to him.

Tonight there are reports that 260 bodies have been recovered from the site of an all-night trance music festival that was going on three miles from the Gaza border fence. These are often drug-fueled events infused with pagan symbolism. As Jews were dancing in their synagogues holding Torah scrolls, an online video shows that thousands of young Israelis instead chose to hypnotically dance by a giant Buddha statue in the desert, even as rockets started appearing in the early morning sky. It was eerily like the scene the Torah describes when Moses came down from Sinai and found the childen of Israel dancing with the golden calf:

buddhaMoments later the Hamas gunmen swept in and began to massacre the fleeing partygoers:

reim festivalOne religious family in Jerusalem wrote that their beloved son took his backpack and left for the festival after synagogue services Friday night; the last thing they heard from him early Shabbat morning were two texts: I love you. And then: I’m sorry.

It’s not in our power to say why God allowed these things to happen. But Solomon’s prayer for repentance is a wake-up call for us all. Why God were the young people of Israel seeking joy and vitality in the desert instead of the synagogue? Why Lord was Israel again confident in its own strength and woefully unprepared? Did incitement and division and sinat hinam–the baseless hatred which the rabbis say caused the destruction of the two temples–weaken and distract the people of Israel, and embolden and embitter Israel’s enemies?

For we Gentiles grafted into this people and their story: will we give in to the demonization of the people of Gaza, and judge them unworthy of the ahavat hinam–unconditional love–by which we ourselves live before God? Will we be advocates for one people in this land instead of two?

For the people of Gaza, whom we’ve loved and served these many years in partnership with the people of Israel: can you justify the massacre of those defenseless partygoers, or civilian families hiding in their homes? Is this really the command of God? Are the Jewish people any more guilty and deserving of punishment than the rest of us?

Most of the attackers from Gaza came through the Erez crossing, killing and capturing some of those same Israelis who’ve worked faithfully with us for years to allow children from Gaza to enter Israel for heart surgeries. It will take weeks if not months to rebuild the infrastructure and the trust to allow this to resume. And it’s unclear how the five Gaza children now with us in Sheba and Hadassah hospitals will be able to return home when their treatment is done. One of the escorts is eight months pregnant.

Today our coworkers in Ashdod and Jerusalem rushed to the hospitals to comfort and reassure these Gaza families, who must be feeling quite vulnerable at the moment in Israel. A particular joy was Keyla’s report that seven-year-old Naim from Gaza seems to be out of danger, after a difficult recovery from the surgery to place his organs into his abdominal cavity (after a lifetime of carrying them in a sac outside his body):

Naim and Joanne
It was interesting and at the same time sad as the mothers were scared and uncertain whether the situation will get worse; and even one of the mothers told us that she was the only one from Gaza who was in the ICU area and that made her feel bad because she did not know what people might think of her for being from Gaza. It was a great opportunity for us to talk to them, comfort them, hug them and make them remember that we love them, that they are important to us, that they are not the problem and that they are not alone because God is with them and even that we are here for whatever they need.

Another thing that the mother was telling us is that yesterday when the war between Israel and Gaza started Naim was very scared and crying a lot because they heard the sirens sounding and the rockets falling, today he was calmer and was even asking how Shevie was. Shevie is our little dog here in our house in Ashdod that Naim loved to play with, so we used that tool to encourage him to be strong, recover soon and he can come to our house to play again with Shevie.

naim and shevieFriends, there is so much hope for Naim’s life. Let’s not give up on him because he is from Gaza.

The ending of Solomon’s prayer is glorious:

And may these words with which I have made my petition before the LORD be near to the LORD our God day and night, so that He may uphold the cause of His servant and of His people Israel as each day requires, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God. There is no other!

Yes we ask God to uphold the cause of his people Israel. And we do it so that all the peoples of the earth may know that he is God. That’s the end point of this whole grand story of salvation. Israel–Israel’s Messiah–is described in Isaiah as the suffering servant who makes it all possible. Lord on this day of their suffering have mercy upon Israel, upon us, and upon the people of Gaza.

Jonathan for Shevet Achim

“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133).