Our role in this orchestra

Dear coworkers,

We’re finally reaching the critical days of the Simhat Torah war. Israel is about to move against the last Hamas stronghold in the Gaza Strip, our family’s former hometown of Rafah on the Egyptian border, where our oldest daughter Renanah graduated from high school and our youngest son Zech was born:

rafah refugee campIsraeli forces are so hot on the heels of Hamas leaders in neighboring Khan Yunis that our friend Joel Rosenberg this week stood in the same underground bunker that they’d fled just a few days before:

joel undergroundThe Western nations which have pledged their sympathy with the Jewish state seem nonetheless desperate to keep Israel from going into Rafah and finishing Hamas off. Their claim of overriding concern for the well-being of Gazans civilians founders on their support of Egypt’s steadfast refusal to allow the million+ refugees in Rafah to escape across the border into Sinai. This would endanger the establishment of a Palestinian state, which we’re somehow told must now be the inevitable reward of Hamas’ unprovoked attack.

It’s all enough to make us long for the “non-hypocritical” faith which Paul says is the goal of our instruction.

And if only Israel was blameless. The story on a hundred million screens around the world this week was of six-year-old Hind, driving in Gaza with her aunt and uncle and three cousins when their car allegedly came under attack by Israeli forces on January 29:

hind graduation

Hind, who the Red Crescent said was 6 years old, survived along with her 15-year-old cousin Layan, who called emergency dispatchers for help, warning that an Israeli tank appeared to be closing in.

A burst of gunfire rang out and the line went dead, the Red Crescent said. And when dispatchers called back, it was Hind who answered. She said Layan had been killed along with the rest of her relatives and pleaded for help.

“Come take me. Please, will you come?” she could be heard imploring in a recording of the call, which was released by the Red Crescent. At one point, dispatchers asked her if she was surrounded by gunfire, and in a small voice, Hind replied, “yes.”

Dispatchers stayed on the phone with Hind for hours as they sought permission from the Israeli military through a third party to send a rescue crew into the area, which was considered an active combat zone, the Red Crescent said.

Once permission was secured, two first responders, Yousef Zeino and Ahmed al Madhoun, were deployed in a bid to save Hind, but the Red Crescent soon lost contact with them, along with the little girl.

“Where is Hind? Where are Yousef and Ahmed? Are they still alive? We want to know their fate,” the Red Crescent asked in a post on X one week ago as the case gained attention across social media.

At the time, the Israel Defense Forces told NBC News they were “unfamiliar with the incident described.” Asked for comment by NBC News on Saturday and Sunday, the IDF said it was looking into the matter.

After Israeli forces appeared to pull out of the Tel Al-Hawa area, a rescue worker on the ground said crews were finally able to search for her on Saturday morning, leading to the discovery of her remains. Hind’s family was also among the group that found her dead, the Red Crescent said.

Now skeptical friends might suspect this heartbreaking drama, like the one I shared last week, is an elaborate hoax meant to blacken the name of Israel. (It’s hard to see how Hamas could have pulled off such a performance, with so many parties involved, and during wartime.) Be that as it may, it’s absolutely incomprehensible that Israeli forces couldn’t investigate and respond as this story dominated international news feeds for 12 days. And when Israel finally pulled out of this Gaza neighborhood yesterday, the Red Crescent reported finding the bodies of Hind and her family and the ambulance crew and their two destroyed vehicles exactly in front of the gas station where they were reported to be 12 days earlier. Did Israel stand by and do nothing to check out the scene to confirm or deny the claims?

This can’t be explained. Just as in the events of October 7 we’re thrown back on Isaiah’s biblical language to come to terms with such a massive failure:

Stop and be astonished;
blind yourselves and be sightless;
be drunk but not with wine;
stagger, but not from strong drink.
For the LORD has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep.

The Hebrew word for “deep sleep” is the one used for anesthesia in Israeli hospitals today. Is it possible that the Great Physician himself is causing Israel’s slumber? Does he actually have a purpose for the wave of rage and violence rising against Israel, turbocharged by stories like Hind’s? How unsearchable are his ways.

And what can we do in the face of such events? Overnight everything in the world has changed. If nothing else we can learn how truly inconsequential our efforts are to change the course of history. Man proposes and God disposes.

17 times the psalmist speaks of God directing our paths. It’s the same Hebrew word used today for the conductor of an orchestra. In our community readings this week we reflected on our role in the grand symphony: to sit quietly, our eyes fixed on the conductor, ready to add our little note when he finally points in our direction.

Can we change the fate of Gaza? No, but I will share with you a special joy we had Thursday night to share in the birthday celebration of the mother of Naim from Gaza:

birthdayNaim is one of the six Gaza children we’re sheltering in Bethlehem, who were in Israel for heart treatment and stranded at the outbreak of war. You’ll remember that all Naim’s siblings were killed in Gaza in November when Israel took down an apartment building full of families in the safe zone; in that case too no explanation was ever given.

Friday morning I found Naim and Leen scrubbed and dressed and eagerly waiting to go off to their weekly children’s club run by believers in Bethlehem:

And Naim’s mother herself–every time I see her I feel as if the comforting spirit of God is resting upon her:

Friends, if that’s our role in this orchestra, to be in place to care for one grieving family, and to see their mourning turned to laughter–dayenu. It’s enough. Thank you Father.

Jonathan for Shevet Achim

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