It's been a week since we were first herded into a bomb shelter at the Hartman Institute in Israel, and now that I'm sitting in the lounge at the airport in Amman and am finished with my teaching program, I have some time to reflect on the experience. As an aside, when we landed and entered the airport one of my fellow Israeli passengers asked me, "Aren't you going to remove your kippah?"
"No, I said. Unless it is absolutely dangerous I will always carry my Jewish identity with pride. Being the object of someone else's stare is an insufficient reason for an act of self-denial. "Kind of ironic that I, an American diaspora Jew, be giving an Israeli lessons in pride.
The bomb shelter, however, is an entirely different matter. I have been traveling to Israel for fifty years and have always seen the signs for the 'miklat' (shelter) but have never taken them seriously. What does it mean that because you are present in a Jewish state you have to run for shelter because our enemies would actually like to kill us all? The sense of vulnerability, of how cheap our lives are in their eyes, their shear inhumanity, their visceral hatred, is astounding.
Those of you who know me are fully aware of how reluctant I am to give voice to and to reinforce feelings of Jewish paranoia, but this experience was frightening, disorienting and jarring. "What if iron dome didn't work just once and the missle landed in the middle of Tel Aviv or Ben Gurion Airport or right here in Jerusalem," I thought. The one thing I knew for sure was that those responsible for firing the missiles didn't care who they killed. They simply had no regard for life. What a chilling reality!
And so I thank God that Israel happens to be the first (and only) country in the world with a fully deployed missile defense system (today's Haaretz). And I pray for an immediate cease fire and that, as R. Benny Lau taught this past Shabbat in the name of Nahmanides (Deuteronomy 23:10), when we are compelled to go to war we are careful not to act with brutality and cruelty as is natural for nations waging war. This is the same Rabbi Lau who in the midst of rocket attacks saw fit to dedicate last Shabbat's lesson (shiur) to the memory of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the 16 year old Palestinian who was burnt alive by a Jewish terrorist gang. That was an act of sanctification, of extraordinary humanity. It was the act of a religious Zionist who cares deeply about his people and is willing to take responsibility and look inward and not get too self-absorbed. Benny Lau is one of the reasons that I love Israel and the Jewish people.
From the safety of the Amman airport on the way to Burma,
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, Executive Director, Hillel at UCLA