When I was growing up as a child in the 1970s, the concern for Israel’s existence was ever-present. The wars in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973 were discussed vigorously over the dinner table, at Passover Seder, and during Thanksgiving gatherings. The Camp David accord in 1978 was a signature moment not just for the world but for my family. Then, the 1982 Lebanon War seemed to change things. For the first time, Israel was not the victim of an attempt at extermination (the Six-Day War in 1967 was a preemptive strike to stop an imminent invasion) but instead acted proactively to protect Israelis and to ensure their safety.
College in the 1980s was a time when Israel was seen as being safe, and my first trip to Israel in 1989 after graduating college was an incredible experience. We were able to explore as we wanted, had “free days” on our tour to take bus trips, go for walks, and explore the country. From the late 1990s until today, I have returned to Israel 15 times to explore, search, connect, and enjoy this amazing country.
The current violence that has exploded in Israel, where angry Arabs have taken to the streets with knives, screwdrivers, or anything else they can get their hands on to stab or harm Jews, has impacted me like no other uprising. I’ve been in Israel when violence was close and tension was in the air. I was there days before bombings of discos in Tel Aviv. I was outside Jerusalem when the Syrian people starting pushing through the border and we could hear gunshots. I was in Israel when bombs exploded in Netanya and took multiple trips during the second intifada. I have visited Sderot and seen the rockets shells, and the playgrounds and movie theaters that are bomb shelters.
Yet none of those experiences has affected me the way this violence has. What is particularly upsetting has been the reaction from our country’s and other global leaders – ranging from indifference to their failure to call out the lies being spread about a change in the status of the Temple Mount and demand an end to the incitement.
This morning, I learned of rioters setting fire to Joseph’s Tomb (see video clip below). On my many trips to Israel, I was able to visit the tomb only once. It was quite an impactful experience. Located in Nablus, it’s not easily accessible and I only got to see it because I was going to the West Bank to visit a Jerusalem Stone quarry. On our way back, we stopped so that I could experience this holy site that most tourists don’t get a chance to see.
As we went down into the tomb, I was surprised at the number of Israelis who were in devout prayer over where Joseph’s remains are said to be. It was an incredible experience to pray with them, and there was a special feeling I experienced that those of you who have been to Israel will understand and those of you who haven’t, simply can’t. After leaving the inside of the tomb, we climbed to the rooftop, where Israeli soldiers were stationed, both to protect the tomb and to look for terrorists trying to bring bombs into Israel. As I talked to these brave IDF soldiers, they shared the long, boring shifts they endured, how hard it was to continue to scan the horizon looking for terrorists, but how essential it was as they routinely identified and apprehended people with the intent to harm Israel and Israelis. It was an afternoon I will never forget and a conversation I will never forget.
As I looked at the pictures of the tomb on fire, my heart sank. Despite the promises of Israel and Jordan that the status of the Temple Mount will not change, violence is erupting based on the lie that it will. And that violence is now damaging Jewish holy sites without condemnation and without consequences.
In our own Puget Sound community, I see more attacks by Jews against Jews online, via email, or within blogs than I do of statements showing care and concern for Jews and for Israel and Israelis. I am concerned for the future of Israel. I am concerned for the future of Jews in the Diaspora. And I am concerned about the future of Jewish America. I have no answers. I have a lot of questions. And as I watched the video of Joseph’s Tomb on fire, I had little hope.