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Jewish Journal

If an app can make you cry

by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin

July 15, 2014 | 7:51 am

Yes, that’s a direct “steal” from Daniel Gordis’ memoir of life in Israel, If A Place Can Make You Cry. http://www.amazon.com/Place-Can-Make-You-Cry-ebook/dp/B000QCSA1S/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1405435927&sr=8-1&keywords=gordis+make+you+cry

Along with every other feeling known to humanity – joy, anger, fear, numbness, and even boredom – there is no doubt about it, especially now. Israel can make you cry.

And so can an app called Red Alert. Every time there is a rocket attack in Israel, it produces a tone and a report on where the rockets have appeared. 

I downloaded the app this past week when I was still in Jerusalem. First, I had the harrowing and sobering experience of hearing the sirens go off and having to rush into a shelter. Several evenings later, I was eating dinner in Tel Aviv with a friend, and we were watching television in the restaurant, with reports of rocket warnings. It was a kind of perverse “weather report” flashing across the screen: "Lightly scattered rockets over Beer Sheba..." At that point, I decided that it might be a good idea to have that kind of information as close at hand as possible.

Red Alert comes equipped with any number of sounds: sirens, or announcements with a human voice, or the friendly, familiar IPhone tritone. Whichever sound you choose, it will pop up and sound off at random intervals. I've tried, but there is no way (as far as I can tell) to set up Red Alert so that it will be silent, or merely vibrate.

All of which means: You simply cannot turn down the sound on what is happening in Israel.

Even as I sit in the comfort of my New Jersey kitchen writing these words, the sounds keep coming, and the words keep flashing: rockets attack, Ashkelon; rockets attack, Rishon L'Tziyon; rockets attack, Rehovot; rockets attack, Tel Aviv; rockets attack, Holon; rockets attack, Jerusalem.

Here, it's a sound and words. But in Israel itself, it means grabbing your children, and/or your elderly parents, and rushing to the shelter, and praying that the Iron Dome (kippat ha-barzel, "the iron kippah") will do its job, as it almost always does. Irony: the kippah is a symbol of faith in God; the "iron kippah" is a symbol of faith in technology -- the same kind of technology that brings us Red Alert. 

It is tempting to say that we are confronting a Jewish version of the movie "Groundhog Day."  Except in "Groundhog Day," Bill Murray eventually figures out how not to merely repeat the past, but to improve upon it. I go back through my files, referring to the most recent times that Israel has confronted this horror from Gaza, and the facts remain the same. Hamas fires upon Israel, deliberately targeting civilians. Israel fires back, deliberately targeting terrorists. Hamas, compounding their war crimes, not only fires upon civilians in Israel, and yet, puts its own civilians in harm's way, and even encourages them not to seek shelter.

What is Hamas’s apparent strategy? First, draw Israel into a war. Try to kill as many Israelis as possible. But, failing that, force Israel to inflict death and mayhem upon Gaza, which will build up world opinion to further isolate Israel. Hamas imagines that this is a win-win: if they win, they win; if they lose, they win. It’s a suicidal strategy, in every sense of the word. That's why there are so many (tragic, regrettable, ultimately preventable) casualties in Gaza.

To many people, it seems “unfair.” But as Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, recently said, German citizens suffered far more casualties during World War Two than, say, England and (certainly) the United States. That did not hand Germany the moral advantage. If it were not for the Iron Dome, there would be far more casualties in Israel itself. Some Jews are ambivalent about that – almost as if the Jews “owed” the world at least an equal number of deaths so that we do not have to embarrass ourselves with the imagined taboo of Jewish power.

Really?

Seventy years after Auschwitz, we have to apologize for not dying?

Back to Red Alert. Be aware: there are other apps called Red Alert. They are video games. This one isn't. No way. This is not a game -- by any stretch of the imagination.

No, Red Alert might be the first app that can actually connect you – emotionally and viscerally -- to what is happening in Israel, in real time. It is the first app for Jewish peoplehood.

The late Israeli poet, Uri Zvi Greenberg, wrote an epic poem in which a young man, during the time of King Herod, who leaves the land of Israel to seek his fortune in the Diaspora. One night in a faraway place, as he is sleeping, his pillow bursts into flame, and he awakens, shocked and terrified.

As it turns out, it was precisely at that moment that the Temple in Jerusalem was put to the torch.

To be a Jew -- then, as now -- is to go to sleep in the Diaspora and to awaken, feeling the heat of your pillow bursting into flame.

Or, in my case, to hear the alarms of Red Alert going off all night, having it interrupt my sleep, knowing that at any moment I could simply delete the little nuisance from the IPhone, or turn off its notifications, and turn over and get back to a good night's sleep.

But I can't.

And I won't.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is one of America’s most prolific and most-quoted rabbis, whose colleagues have called him an “activist for Jewish ideas.” An award-winning writer...

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