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Easton, PA 18042
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Thursday, 7:25 am
Minyan

Friday, 8:00 pm
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Saturday, 9:30 am
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BAS Rabbi's Message

December, 2012

This column ran in November in the Express Times. Israel is surely a subject close to all of our hearts; I would welcome your thoughts, comments, and feedback on this rich topic.

Daniel Stein is rabbi of B’nai Abraham Synagogue in Wilson Borough.

March 8, 2008. A cool, late winter evening — spring comes late in the Judean Hills. My future wife and I were on a date at the Jerusalem Theater, enjoying a concert by one of her favorite singers. Between songs, the performer stepped off stage. When she returned, she announced, “I would like to dedicate the next song to the victims of the pigua — the terrorist attack — that just took place.”

Startled, people turned to their neighbors, and, while the audience mostly ignored the plaintive song now filling the auditorium, I witnessed for the first time one of the saddest, most anxious rituals in contemporary Israeli society: fathers, mothers, sons and daughters pulling their phones from their pockets, a dull blue haze illuminating their faces, as they typed a simple question, “atah beseder — are you OK?”

Later, when I returned to my student apartment, I discovered firsthand the psychological impact terrorism has on a community. That evening’s attack was a shooting at a rabbinical seminary.

Although I was studying to be a rabbi, the violence was at a school I did not attend. But my community back home in the States only saw the headline: “Shooting at Jerusalem rabbinical seminary. Eight dead, eleven wounded.” My inbox was flooded with concerned emails from friends and family, worried that I might be among the victims.

As I responded to emails, I began to understand that the deep, traumatizing fear caused by terrorism expands like ripples from a stone cast into a pond. Terror impacts not just victims and their families, but also neighborhoods, communities, and entire nations.

I am a rabbi, not an expert in foreign policy. I can speak only toward the emotional truths I understand from my personal experience.

As I look at the current situation unfolding in the south of Israel, my heart breaks. It breaks for the family in Kiryat Malachi, killed by Palestinian rocket fire, when they could not find shelter in the brief seconds between the time the air raid siren sounded and the mortar landed. And it breaks for the innocent lives on both sides yet to be lost in a conflict that could have been avoided, if only Hamas did everything in its power to stop rocket fire into southern Israel.

On that March evening in Jerusalem, I discovered the impact of a single terrorist attack. This past year, Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip launched 800 rockets into southern Israel. Last week, rockets landed within a few kilometers of Tel Aviv, Israel’s most populous city. Eight hundred times, parents and children flipped open phones, looked toward the screen, and wondered for a moment if someone in their family had been killed.

I empathize deeply with the Palestinian people, especially those civilians living in inhumane conditions in Gaza — conditions I believe result from the combined failings of Israeli and Palestinian leadership.

My faith tradition teaches that every life is sacred and that every human being carries the image of the divine. Civilians living in Gaza surely deserve essential human rights, many of which they are denied because of the current security situation.

No humanitarian crisis, though, justifies an endless barrage of rockets, and no responsible government enters into negotiations with a party that either refuses to or is incapable of achieving a cease-fire.

Over the next few days, the situation in Israel will likely escalate. Israel as it always does, will do its best to be tactical and precise in its strikes while fighting an enemy who places artillery battalions next to playgrounds and mosques.

As you watch these events develop in the news, I ask you to put yourself in the shoes of an Israeli — going to sleep each night wondering if you would have to hastily wake your children while trying to appear calm and get them safely to the nearest bomb shelter.

Imagine going to sleep each night knowing that only 90 seconds — the time it takes for a mortar to reach Israel — stands between you and your family's safety. What would you expect from your government?

I am among those who pray every day for a speedy resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is just and equitable to all in the region. I look forward to the day when I can return to Israel knowing that, if I receive a message of “atah beseder — are you OK?” — it won’t be a question of life or death.

Rabbi Daniel Stein