This is not the first time I’ve come to Israel during war. But this time is different.
I’m here not only because I love Israel. I’m here as a grandfather with two grandsons in the IDF – one on an air force base doing important defense work, another in Gaza, putting his life on the line with thousands of others in Operation Protective Edge. It is excruciating to witness the concern of my daughter and son-in-law preoccupied every minute about the well-being of their son in Gaza. Their concern is shared by the parents and family members of thousands of Israeli soldiers.
What I have found here is an unbelievable sense of unity.
With rare exceptions, this is not a war of the Left or Right. It is an operation that has united all of Israel. No nation-state can tolerate rockets fired at more than 80 percent of its population.
And no nation-state can tolerate tunnels, often dug beneath mosques and schools, that allow terrorists to infiltrate, to maim and murder.
The most basic right and responsibility of government is to defend its citizens. Imagine rockets fired from Cuba into southern Florida. Cuba would not have long to live.
There is also a great sense of unity in the ethical underpinnings of the operation. There are no two sides. The moral compass is clear – a simple choice between right and wrong. To paraphrase Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: We use missiles to protect our children; they use children to protect their missiles.
I would add that while Hamas targets and revels in the death of Jews, we mourn the loss of innocent Palestinian life.
This is a time for the Jewish community in the US and around the world to rally around the Jewish state, to march and demonstrate in the hundreds of thousands in Washington and elsewhere. Especially in this difficult hour, it is a time to run to Israel rather than from Israel.
Just being here shows support.
And once here, there is much to do.
One of the people who gets it is Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City.
Defying the Federal Aviation Administration ban on US airlines flying to and from Israel, Bloomberg arrived Wednesday on El Al. He understands that prohibiting planes from landing here grants a victory to Hamas. While Hamas, much like the Russian separatists in Ukraine, might have no compunction about taking down a commercial airliner, Bloomberg understands that if Israel says it’s safe, you can depend on it.
Israel knows much more about safety considerations here than the FAA.
Standing among the 30,000 mourners who attended the funeral of St.-Sgt. Max Steinberg, 24, an American lone soldier, a soldier without a family in Israel, who was killed in action this week, I was overcome. Max was no longer alone. He had become a soldier of all Israel.
Moments before the service began, an announcement was made. It directed the crowd at the Mount Herzl Military Ceremony in Jerusalem to follow orders in the event that a rocket- warning siren is sounded during the funeral – to lie down on the ground for 10 minutes after which the service would continue. Standing shoulder to shoulder with such a mass of people, I wondered how the order could be followed. I thought of the rabbinic legend that even though all of Israel stood crowded one against the other in the ancient Temple, there was still space for each to bow down before the Lord. Such is the power of pure unity.
At the burial, Max’s father remarked that joining the IDF was Max’s decision. He continued, And if you’ll ask me whether I regret Max’s joining the IDF, my answer is no.
A powerful message. If Max can join the IDF, put his life on the line and ultimately give his life for Israel, we too can demand of ourselves that we give all we can to the Jewish state.
The words of Max’s brother at the funeral, quoted from the songwriter Bob Marley, still ring in my ears: “Live for yourself, and you will live in vain. Live for others, and you will live again.”
Rabbi Avi Weiss is senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in Bronx, New York. He is the founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and Yeshivat Maharat. His most recent book, Holistic Prayer: A Guide to Jewish Spirituality, was just published by Maggid Books.