As many of you likely know, it has been a very difficult time for my new country and my people over the past few weeks. Below are my personal reflection on this intense period of life, of loss, of war, hopes of peace and Thanksgiving wishes.
A few weeks ago my friends and family in NY went through the unbearable tragedy of losing their homes. Watching the news and updates from Israel, we grew increasingly concerned and felt helpless as there was little we could do from here other than pray for their wellbeing.
But as we all know, the worst of times bring out the best in people. A childhood friend's local charity, Achiezer, stepped up, coordinating the care for thousands of families. This included providing hot meals, catered take-home for shabbat (sabbath), housing coordination in partnership with sister communities, coordinating the donation and distribution of clothing and electrical generators, providing children’s entertainment during long days without school or power, pumping out homes and basements and more.
But this wasn't just about one aid organization. My brother-in-law mobilized the entire NY branch of his transportation company, AM Home Delivery to distribute aid across the rockaways. And while he would never admit this, I understand that he not only donated his trucks, gas and workers but he also purchased all or much of the aid out of his own pocket.
And just as it seemed like life was beginning to return to normal, we found ourselves at war.
Our War On Terrorism
When looking into potential communities in Israel, we avoided an entire region of Israel due to the ongoing rocket fire from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. These communities have been under fire for years. New homes being built are going up with thick, heavily reinforced concrete and blast shields over the windows. Children have been living in fear with only fifteen seconds to run for cover in the event of a siren - something that took place with alarming regularity. As the number of rocket attacks intensified, these communities adapted by building large indoor recreation centers in massive bomb shelters for their children and teens. Sounds ridiculous, right?
Rather than attack the terrorists, Israel developed an incredible anti-missile defense system called Iron Dome, capable of intercepting inbound missiles with upwards of an 80% success rate. But even with Iron Dome, the public must run for cover with every missile fired. I am incredibly proud to live in a country where we protect our civilians. And I don't know of any other western country in the world that would tolerate hundreds of attacks on a civilian population without going to war.
About ten days ago the intensity of this missile fire on civilian cities, schools and hospitals increased to an incredible pace. These cities are not in "contested territory" but in the middle of Israel. The local conversation was that it was "raining rockets". Israel had no choice and began picking off terrorists and rocket squads in Gaza. And with every Israeli action, the terrorist activity grew.
About two weeks ago the government began instructing people across half of the country that they were now within range of the rocket fire and we should prepare our in-home bomb shelters. We had to teach our two year old and five year old children about war, about terrorism and about sirens. We slept with the windows open to be sure we heard any sirens, and practiced going to the "safe room" with our kids so they would be prepared in the case of an emergency. My children's school and preschool ran multiple practice drills. We were at war.
While we have remained safe, the psychological impact of war has been very real. I opened the window at work to the sound of a rocket falling on the next town over. We have had multiple false calls when we heard the air raid sirens going off in communities a few miles away or a neighbor reported seeing something in the sky (it turned out to be the Iron Dome). I suddenly found myself noticing that the local pool and rec center is a glass building and Rina (my wife) said that she has kept an eye out for the nearest building while jogging. And hours before the ceasefire, there were terrorists on the loose on the road between two American ex-pat suburban communities. The police put up massive roadblocks and the terrorists were caught with a trunk full of explosives. They were on their way to our local mall. War sucks.
There is an air force base located not far from our home. Warplanes flew directly over our home night and day, running missions against terrorist targets in Gaza. The stories we heard from neighbors and friends in the military were frightening. Hamas and Islamic Jihad were firing missiles from the street in front of the hotel where foreign press were staying. They were firing missiles from homes with retractable roofs, and were gathering women and children in the yards outside these homes to prevent Israeli retaliation. There is plenty of open space in Gaza, but they were hiding their missiles inside of soccer stadiums and underneath playgrounds while their leadership hid behind a shield of journalists (that's why the journalists were injured). The reports of so many secondary explosions verified what Israel had suspected, Hamas was hiding behind civilians. And Iran later boasted about what Israel has long been telling the world, they are supplying Hamas with rockets and munitions to fire on Israeli civilians.
While Israel was making every effort to avoid civilian casualties, these animals were hiding behind their own people while firing on my people. While Israel was doing everything they could do avoid going to war and avoid the loss of innocent life, Hamas and Islamic Jihad were doing everything they could to generate civilian casualties. These terrorists were publicly and actively threatening suicide bombers, and they bombed a bus a city bus Tel Aviv just hours before the cease fire took effect.
And somehow the western media defended them.
I am embarrassed to say that I once respected the leading voices in the western fourth estate. CNN, BCC, Sky News, ABC News and so many others failed to report on thousands of rockets falling on Israeli civilians over the course of the past few years but ran to Gaza to cover "human tragedy" when Israel defended herself. There has been virtually no reporting of the ongoing civil war and genocide in Syria, where the numbers of civilian casualties are far higher than in Israel or Gaza, but "Israel's aggression" was the lead story on every news outlet for over a week. There have been countless “human interest” stories on one side of the border, but there was no reporting of the bris that had to be postponed an additional 15 minutes due to the air raid sirens in Jerusalem.
While western journalists were being used as a human shield by Hamas, these same journalists were assaulting Israel in their accusations of "disproportionate response". I wonder where these reporters were in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We, the US were attacked twice on 9/11. And nobody called for “proportional response” when we went after Al Qaeda.
The media coverage was simply absurd. Why was there virtually no coverage of Hamas killing six people in a public square and dragging their bodies from motorcycles across the city, but so much coverage of explosions on terrorist targets? Why was the background footage during Israel's spokespeople's reports that of bombs going off in Gaza, but Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah spokespeople were interviewed without any background imagery?
I struggle to write these words but this isn't journalism so what is it? Is it anti-Israel and I hate say this, anti-Semitic propaganda? Or is it just pandering to ratings? Either way, it makes me sick you should be ashamed of yourselves.
I have been struggling with this, but I still don't understand the cease fire. I don't understand how Israel can negotiate with terrorists, or how the US, my homeland, can push Israel to negotiate with terrorists (the State Department considers Hamas a terrorist organization). I don't understand how over twenty rockets can be fired on civilian populations in the hours after a cease fire, but Israel is expected to, and did look the other way.
Now more than ever, I understand and appreciate the desire for peace. We have good friends and neighbors, devoted fathers and husbands and yes, Americans with traditional American values who were called up to reserve duty in the south in case of a ground incursion. We are glad that they will remain safe for today. And we pray that Israel remains safe tomorrow.
The Positive Side
But with all of this darkness, fear and pain, there are wonderful stories for which I am incredibly thankful.
A local Anglo (english language) charity served as a base of operations, helping families and schools from the south find safe boarding. The teenage children of the people in my work carpool were all volunteering and bringing home incredible stories. A hotel owner called to offer his entire hotel with just over 100 beds, for free. The next call they received was from a boarding school with just over 100 students looking for a suitable location. This thirteen year old British-born boy made the match. The phones rang night and day with people calling in to offer their help. And the teens (and adults) of Ramat Bet Shemesh made it happen.
There were countless toy drives all across the country, sending games and toys to children stuck in safe rooms and night day.
Our neighbor is a teacher in a school in the south. The students and faculty have been eating, sleeping and teaching in a bomb shelter for the past two weeks. He has been driving down there, sleeping overnight and driving home for the weekends. As his wife explained, you don't leave your students alone in the line of fire.
And finally, my favorite story.
Two days ago a woman in America decided to call up a pizza store in Ashdod, a city that has been under rocket fire for over a year. She asked the owner to deliver the pizza to a family who could use the support, and paid with her credit card. Touched by this gesture to a total stranger, the store proprietor decided to add a pie out of his own pocket as well. He delivered these pies to a wonderful family; the mother is a teacher at a school recently hit by rocket fire from Gaza. They were incredibly touched and called this woman in America to express their thanks.
This American woman posted her story on Facebook. With hours, a storm of humanity joined her effort. I called up the store yesterday and ordered two pies and sodas for two families. The store owner could not stop telling me how incredibly touched they were. His phones had been ringing off the hook with callers from around the world ordering pies of pizza for total strangers.
With this success, someone else decided to create a list of pizza store numbers across all of the communities under rocket fire. Once again, with no centralized planning, this grassroots list was soon shared over email and Facebook across the world. And the good kept going around.
For the first 19 years of my life I spent thanksgiving with my Uncle Al (the kiddies pal). Every year he filled his home with friends and family. After the football game was over and he finally finished carving the turkey, we went around the table and everyone had to say what they were thankful for. Everyone teases my Uncle Al for his heartfelt speaches and my cousin Andy for the year he said he was thankful for potatoes. And every year, we celebrated my birthday with an apple pie.
But this year I have a very different perspective. While this may be the first Thanksgiving in my life that I am not celebrating with friends and extended family, I feel incredibly close to my Uncle Al and the entire extended family, as well as my wife's family (Eve and Yechiel) with whom we celebrated for five wonderful years. Over the past month we have all been through incredible trials. Eve and Yechiel, we think of you guys every day and look forward to hopefully seeing a newly repaired and fully functioning home on my next trip to the US (likely in the spring).
We have seen the best and we have seen the worst. And while we fight for a better world, we are thankful for our health, for our faith, for the man upstairs who has brought us back home and kept my family safe, for our families and for the countless strangers coming together to make this world a better place.
With all the garbage that has been thrown our way, we have seen the incredible power of humanity. We have seen neighbors open their doors for extended periods of time to provide shelter and warmth. We have seen communities and strangers come together and people young and old join in the fight for a better tomorrow.
I hope and pray that we will have far more mundane things to be thankful for next year.
Thank You and Happy Thanksgiving