Standing with Israel, Praying for Peace

My remarks from the Jacksonville Jewish Center‘s Israel Solidarity Service for Peace that took place on Monday November 19th, 2012:

Esrim v’shmoneh Rehov Kaf Tet b’november, Kenisah Alef, Dirah Chamesh. 28, Kaf Tet b’november Street. Entrance A, Apartment 5. This was our address, when my wife Andrea and I spent 2008 and 2009 living in Jerusalem as part of my rabbinic studies. This will forever be my address  – just as Dayton, New Jersey, my childhood home will forever be my address, just as Jacksonville, Florida, my current home will forever be my address. Jerusalem, Israel will forever be my home.

To be honest, I couldn’t even tell you where the miklat was, where the bomb shelter was. All I know is that the landlord used it as storage, keeping his bicycle, some furniture, and some of our boxes in there. He didn’t even show it to us. No problem – Ain Ba’ayah – he said. After all, air raid sirens hadn’t sounded in the holy city since 1970.

I was brought to tears in my office last Friday when I heard that Hamas was now shooting rockets towards Jerusalem – the holy city for Jews, Muslims, Christians, and so many ethic and faith traditions. This is after rockets were also launched at Tel Aviv last week. This is of course on top of thousands of rockets raining down on the roughly three million Israelis in Southern Israel for the past decade. Bomb Shelters have been converted to classrooms, to indoor playgrounds, to guarantee safe space for children. This has forced the Israel Defense Forces to respond with air strikes towards Hamas militants which ultimately (although unintentionally) lead to civilian causalities. My heart breaks any time an innocent man, woman, or child is killed, whether they are Israeli or Palestinian. There are no winners in war. There is only heart break. We do not want war, we do not hope for war. As Golda Meir once said, “We do not thrive on military acts. We do them because we have to.”

More so than anything before, Israel is God’s greatest miracle to the Jewish people. More so than redemption from slavery, more so than freedom, more so than the exodus from Egypt, more so than revelation at Mount Sinai, the modern State of Israel was created against all odds, and has survived – and thrived – despite it being the only democracy in the Middle East, despite it being surrounded by neighbors that vow to destroy her. Miracles do not happen twice. The miracle of the establishment of the State of Israel will never happen again in history. That is why we must make sure that Israel continues to survive and thrive. That is why we celebrate Israel, why we support Israel’s right to defend herself, and why we pray for Israel. All of us in this room may not always agree on Israel’s policies, on the lack of religious diversity, on its political or governmental decisions. However, one thing is true: no matter where we stand, we stand with Israel. So let us stand with Israel, let us celebrate Israel. Let us pray for Israel. Let us join together in song and in prayer.

As we pray for Israel, we pray for peace. I believe that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians support peace, support a two-state solution. The voice of peace needs to be louder than the voice of hate. The voice of friendship, coexistence, and brotherhood needs to be louder than the air raid sirens and rocket explosions. We pray for peace. We hope and pray for an end to this violence. We hope and pray that half of Israel’s population does not have to sleep in bomb shelters. We hope and pray that the moderates in Gaza, the Palestinians that believe in a two-state solution, that want peace, that also want to live without fear, will rise up against Hamas that currently controls the Gaza Strip. Hamas is identified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, the European Union, Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan, and others, and their purpose is to destroy the Jewish State. A cease-fire, as is the case in the past, is only a temporary solution. We must pray for peace – for permanent peace in the region among Israelis and Palestinians, among Jewish Israelis and Arabs. David Broza wrote his song Yihyeh Tov, meaning “It’ll be good, It’ll get better,” decades ago. This is his song, his hope, his prayer for peace. At one point he added a final verse that reads:

Still, we’ll learn to live together
among groves of olive trees
children will be without fear
without borders, without bomb shelters

Upon graves, grass will grow
for peace and love
a hundred years of destruction
and still hope is not lost

It will be good, It will be good, oh yes!
Sometimes I break, but the night, oh the night, I remain, I survive with you!

Many friends, colleagues, and congregants tell me that peace is unfortunately not the reality. It is true that it seems impossible to imagine at this moment, but that is why it is a prayer, that is why it is our prayer. We continue to pray, to hope, and to believe that one day it will be reality. It may be hard to imagine as air raid sirens go off throughout the land, but to no longer have faith in peace, to no longer believe that one day — next week, next year, twenty years from now, a hundred years from now — peace will be reality, is to no longer believe in God’s miracles, and is to no longer believe in the power of humanity made in God’s image. Yihye Tov. I believe in peace. I hope, pray, and believe that one day it will be better. May we all see that peace, that Shalom, that Salaam, speedily in our day.


Please click here to see News4Jax’s coverage of our prayer service.

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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