See each other as family

Dear coworkers,

The first thing I noticed at the Sheba Medical Center this morning were the banners at the entrance to the ICU:


In a play on the biblical phrase “Blessed is the one who comes,” these banners read “Blessed are the returning ones.”

And indeed Sheba was ground zero just 20 hours earlier, when four rescued hostages were helicoptered in from Gaza for medical evaluation and an emotional reunion with their families.

Noa at Sheba

Shlomi at ShebaIt was a transformative moment for the people of Israel, who just days before were telling us in these same hallways of their hopelessness and despair. I’m not sure we Gentiles fully appreciate just how much the whole Jewish people at some gut level see each other as family. Click on these X posts and read some of the comments:

Levy postShaiel postAnd praise God, that love of Jewish neighbors was also overflowing to our Muslim neighbors at Sheba this morning, as three-year-old Montaser from near Bethlehem was wheeled in for his long-overdue heart surgery:

Montaser to surgeryAnd a few minutes later a big team gathered in the ICU to try to wean Eva from Kurdistan (her astounding story was in last week’s letter) from ECMO heart-lung support (so far unsuccessfully):

Eva weaningNow if you study the above two images you’ll see from the head coverings that the medical teams at Sheba are about evenly divided between Jews and Arabs, all flowing together in harmony for the higher purpose of saving lives. And in fact one of the outstanding continuing stories of the war is the counter-intuitive increase in Israeliness among Israeli Arabs. Listen to what Nuseir Yassin, who has 65 million daily followers on social media, had to say this week:

Nas Daily

After October 7th when the country was attacked, I think a lot of us, including me and a lot of my family members, woke up, realizing, “Oh actually we kind of have one country, not two.” And that is Israel.

And so that for me was the realization that in the case that Hamas has been successful, which of course was not successful and never will be, we kind of don’t want that to happen. We kind of want to stay within the confines of the Israeli country and the borders of Israel.

And if that’s the case, 75 years later, why am I calling myself Palestinian first, and Israeli second? It should be the other way around. I’m not giving up my identity, but now my primary goal in life is to make Israel better. That’s my primary goal in life: is how do we fix Israel from the inside. And if you do that you can fix the world from the outside. But I think it all starts with the inside with Israel.

Hmmm….that sounds suspiciously like Israel’s biblical calling.

And as life-giving as the hostage rescue was within Israel, it also brought renewed moral clarity to the global discussion of the war. There’s been so much focus on Israel’s excesses toward Gazan civilians (including in this weekly letter) that the proximate cause of the conflict (the killing of Israeli civilians and taking of hostages) was in danger of becoming obscured.  The discovery that these hostages had been held in civilian homes in a crowded market area has helped to refocus attention on the culpability of Hamas in every civilian death–including on the street in Gaza:

NYT article

A day after the Israeli military rescued four hostages held by Hamas militants in Nuseirat, Gazans described an intense bombardment during the raid, followed by chaos in the streets from an operation that killed and wounded scores of Palestinians.

Bayan Abu Amr, 32, was carrying her 18-month-old son Mohammad on the edge of Nuseirat’s main marketplace when she was surrounded by the heavy booms of strikes from aircraft, which Israel’s military said targeted militants in an effort to ensure the safe extraction of the hostages and special forces.

“People were rushing like the day of judgment; I did not know where to run,” said Ms. Abu Amr, who was on her way to pay a condolence call to her uncle’s family after two of his sons had died. “Kids were screaming, women were falling down while running…”

To rescue the hostages, Israeli troops entered two residential buildings in which they were being held, according to Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military spokesman. Admiral Hagari said there were families living in the apartments, as well as armed Hamas militants guarding the hostages, making it “impossible to reach them without harming the civilians of Gaza.”

Another Gazan who lives in Nuseirat, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said he and more than 10 family members hid inside for hours as heavy airstrikes rattled the neighborhood. He said he had no idea hostages had been held in the area.

After the bombing subsided, he headed out into the devastated market area, where he said he saw the street covered in blood and bodies. Gazans there were cursing not just Israel, but Hamas as well, he said, blaming them for bringing this disaster upon them.

He said neither Israel nor Hamas cared about the destruction as they sought to attack one another. Everyday people, he added, were the victims.

And our community also has a direct personal connection to this side of the story. One of the Gazan mothers we are sheltering in Bethlehem is from this same area of Nuseirat, and she told Michelle and me this evening that she spent two terrifying hours yesterday before she could confirm that her loved ones had survived.

Friends, it is a gift of God that our community is able to love and support people on both sides of this conflict. Until we see and know and care for the actual people involved–seeing them as family–we really have no basis to opine about what is happening.

But once we have built loving relationships with our neighbors we are then invested with a responsibility to both defend and rebuke them as necessary. I pray that we will be a community of both hesed and emet, loyal love and truth, speaking fearlessly to both Israel and Israel’s neighbors.

I’ll leave you tonight with an excellent message given this morning by Joshua, our former Jerusalem coordinator (and firstborn son). It’s worth listening to the whole 32 minutes as he discusses the challenge of Messiah to the rich young ruler, but I’ll excerpt a few key quotes below.

Josh message

We have to embrace the reality that loving our neighbor according to God’s standards does not always mean that they will feel loved by us. It doesn’t always mean that we won’t hurt their feelings. It will never mean affirming or supporting them in decisions that lead to death.

And it also doesn’t mean that we get to be jerks by the way. This isn’t a ticket to be vindictive or cruel. If our neighbor can feel loved by us I think that’s the preferred outcome, but it cannot be the defining outcome…

So look back at Mark 10 with me…It is impossible to be more loving and compassionate than Jesus, I think we can all agree with that. And in this account he was willing to say something and to take a stand that he knew would hurt the feelings and shake the very core of this man for the sake of his genuine good. And we don’t now what happened after this. Did the rich young man eventually become a believer? Did he ever look back with thankfulness that Jesus didn’t withold love and truth from him in that moment? Will he someday embrace Christ in the resurrection and thank him for not taking the easy way out, and not letting him go, happy and content in his ways, feeling loved by the world’s standards?

The standards we follow for loving our neighbor can potentially be a matter of life and death…To love our neighbor by God’s standards takes courage. It takes courage to do and to say what is actually loving, instead of what will make our neighbor feel loved. And the more we speak truth to this generation, the more that we will be cursed for it. But if our hearts are truly obedient to Christ’s commands, and if we are truly seeking the genuine flourishing of our fellow man, then let the cursing come…

When we’re standing across from that person we know will hate what we are about to say, and we know they will hate us for saying it, it’s harder to love. It’s less easy when we know opening our mouth out of love for this person will lead us to be mocked and ridiculed and ostracized and even abused, or that it can cost us relationships. The easier command to follow in those moments will be our neighbor’s: “If you love me, show me, by obeying my commands.”

That will make us friends, for as long as we can keep up. That will make us relevant and welcomed. But it will also make us selfish, avoiding pain for ourselves at the cost of the true well-being of this person we claim to love. If we really believe that a decision or an action or a lifestyle of our neighbor will lead to their current or future detriment, supporting or affirming them in that decision, even if it’s the easier thing for us, and for them in the moment, is the opposite of loving.

Jonathan for Shevet Achim

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