In December, my wife and I moved from Columbus to Tel Aviv when I retired after 38 years of great times in Columbus, where I was cantor at Congregation Tifereth Israel. The primary reason for making aliyah was personal. Our daughter and son-in-law live in Tel Aviv (our son in San Diego) – and our first grandchild arrived last July.
It’s been a tough week in Tel Aviv and in Israel – and all the folks from Columbus are naturally very concerned. We have lived through terrorist times in Israel before – our first and second four-month sabbaticals took place in Israel during the first two intifadas. We know from experience we would rather be here than in “chutz la-aretz,” or outside of Israel, during difficult times. It’s natural to worry when you’re far away, and you really can’t tell what’s what. Being here kind of in the middle of things? In our neighborhood, it’s mostly safe – and in terms of what we feel about Israel, it’s mostly sad.
We are safe because we live in a new apartment building which has a safe room inside the apartment. We have at least 90 seconds to respond to a siren, quite different for those who live in Ashkelon, Sderot, Eshkol and other places.
Israel’s Iron Dome system is amazing. So, what we typically hear are sirens ... get to safety ... and because we’re inside significant shelter, muffled boom ... boom ... boom.
Yet there was a rocket that reached an apartment building in Ramat Gan the other day and a man was killed. Ramat Gan – a place I biked to a month or two ago – about 5 or 6 kilometers away.
Our safe room is actually our den. It’s also where the baby’s crib is. He spends Mondays and Wednesdays with us during the day, but has slept here since Tuesday. It’s now Sunday as I write this – because our place is safer than the kids’. Last night, his parents slept over, too. It’s not exactly optimal, but we have it way better than many people here in Tel Aviv – more so for people closer to Gaza. And for the Palestinian residents of Gaza, words fail.
What’s different – as citizens and permanent residents – and in this round of violence?
The No. 1 thing I would say is the arguments at home and around the world about “What are they saying about Israel?” and “Should Israel be stopped?” seem very far away, and mostly a waste of time and words.
I am a longtime critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his governments, but we really don’t have choices at the moment. We will fight against those who are launching rockets into our cities with all the power at our disposal – doing the best we can to isolate the perpetrators, but understanding that their choices put many innocent Palestinians in the line of fire.
What we can do is create a different reality so that we don’t renew this violence in three or four years. Years of refusal to make it easier to be a Palestinian or Arab in this country or the West Bank – to own land, to build, to stay where one lives. It is a disgrace what has been done in the name of the Jewish people and the state of Israel. That needs to change.
What can you do? Stop arguing – on either side of the question. Find an organization doing good work to bring together Jews and Arabs. Learn about it. Support it. Talk about it. Talk about how it gives you hope. Visit allmep.org and you will find over 150 such organizations. Whatever your profession or personal interest, there’s something there that you’ll love.
Saturday morning, on my way to synagogue, I saw a young Arab man helping an old Jewish man with his groceries. All these Arabs who speak Hebrew so effectively and who do little or big things in Israel – from taking the man’s groceries home for him and with him, to being crucial parts of the medical and nursing system and involved in all kinds of work and commerce – can we make them full partners in the state that we’re building together?
We should have done so before. But each year that we don’t, it gets a little harder, I think. Still, the trauma of this week tells us so clearly that we don’t want it to be this way. We need to find partners – and I believe that we can.
Saturday night there was a gathering of over 1,000 people less than a kilometer from my apartment – Jews and Arabs standing together to say “We will not be divided” and “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” I didn’t know about it – I missed it. I hope to be there next time.
The opportunity is before us to make Arabs and Palestinians believe we can be better partners than the terrorists who “protect” them in ways that only make their lives more miserable. It may seem risky, but failing to take that risk will produce even worse results.
I’m hoping for a better outcome for us, and for our kids and for our grandson.
Cantor Jack Chomsky was cantor of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Columbus from 1982 to 2020 before making aliyah.