Over the past few years, it feels like everywhere I turn I am exposed to horrifying pictures and upsetting headlines about terrorist attacks around the world. We have witnessed group beheadings, drownings and torture at the hands of Islamic State, with alleged “traitors” being thrown off buildings or dragged through the streets in Gaza, and American soldiers being ruthlessly blown up in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At what point are we going to stop reading about these brutal events while shaking our heads in disgust, and actually understand in our soul what is really happening to our world? What is it going to take for each one of us to wake up – to really wake up – and be a passionate voice for the countless victims across the world? My breaking point was this past month. While reading that more than 30 British tourists were killed in Tunisia as they enjoyed a day at the beach, I did a little more than simply shrug my shoulders in disapproval at yet another attack. My heart started beating faster and my mind became overwhelmed with sadness. Something about this attack made it feel personal. It was then that I truly woke up and realized that this international war of terrorism is real, and none of us is immune.
Then, a few days later, the “breaking news” app on my phone started beeping like crazy once again. “Over 70 Egyptians killed by ISIS terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula in the worst Egyptian terror attack in over 25 years,” the headline read. Instead of scrolling down to see the rest of the breaking news updates – as if I was reading an entertainment magazine – I stared, frozen at this headline. Finally, it hit me. Hard. These vicious terrorist groups are trying to take over the world, just as Communists and Nazis tried to do in the not-too-distant past.
And we must wake up to this fact before it’s too late.
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Then another alert came in. “Terrorists might have control over cities in the Sinai Peninsula.” My legs went numb. That is within a stone’s throw of Israel. And indeed, that is exactly what the terrorists were thinking – “ISIS threatens to take over Gaza and uproot Israel” was the headline just a few minutes later.
As I sat in my office, struck with the bitter reality that Israel is not immune from Islamic State, al-Qaida or any other terrorist group, something strange began to happen. The terrifying plight of the Druse community in Syria kept running through my head.
At this very moment, more than 550,000 Druse in Syria are surrounded by terrorists, and being threatened with extinction. Others have escaped to Jordan, but are living in squalid conditions without enough to eat.
How do I know? Because they’ve turned to our organization, The Fellowship, for help.
I have learned from my work with The Fellowship that just because something horrible or unacceptable is reported in the media, it doesn’t mean that something is being done about it.
For years we’ve seen the statistic that one in five children in Israel goes to sleep hungry each week, yet there is still no national food program. After thousands of rockets struck southern Israel in the previous years, and despite the 5,500 bomb shelters The Fellowship has built, there are still thousands of vulnerable residents of Israel without bomb shelters. And until The Fellowship donated seven MRI machines to Israeli hospitals, there were only two MRI machines in the entire country.
I have gotten used to my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, being briefed on a disturbing situation and then yelling out the words, “How can this be? I can’t believe it!” and then taking swift action to help where others have failed to.
That is exactly what happened two weeks ago when Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, the Druse spiritual leader in Israel, approached The Fellowship asking for emergency food aid for the terrorized Druse families being targeted in Syria.
“This is an international headline news story, yet the world can’t get it together to provide food to these innocent people being threatened with genocide?” my father rightfully asked. The Druse leader said that was indeed the case. And, after lots of research, we learned that he was telling the truth. Two days later, my father, along with the Fellowship executive staff, approved six months of food aid for the Syrian Druse refugees in Jordan.
Learning about the plight of the Syrian Druse facing genocide was very powerful for me. As I looked at pictures of the terrified eyes of mothers holding their children, starving kids, and fearful fathers, I saw my own people.
The plight of the Syrian Druse – and of all of the other innocent minorities being ruthlessly persecuted around the world – is strikingly similar to the plight of the Jewish people before the formation of the modern State of Israel. Today, thank God, the Jewish people has an army, government and homeland to protect us – but for the past 2,000 years we were a persecuted minority, screaming as loud as we could for help, our cries sometimes making headlines, yet ultimately falling on deaf ears.
And suddenly it all came together.
The famous poem of Pastor Martin Niemöller, a German who spent years in concentration camps during the Third Reich for his opposition to Hitler’s evil regime, summed up my feelings perfectly on the need – especially among the Jewish people, who have suffered so much for so long – to enable ourselves to feel pain, sadness and mourning for the terror striking millions of innocents around the world, and to turn these feelings into action. He wrote: First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
Yes, there is great need in Israel, and in Jewish communities around the world. Yes, anti-Semitism is on the rise. But today the Jewish people has an overflowing reservoir of blessings: We have our own sovereign nation, are the source of great technological innovation, Jews around the world live in freedom and comfort, and so much more. Yet we must not fall into the trap of complacency. Yes, the Jewish people is stronger than ever, but our world is in peril.
The decision to supply the persecuted and threatened innocent communities around the world – such as the Syrian Druse – with weapons and help is up to the government. To make the decision to care and provide humanitarian aid is up to each and every one of us.Yael Eckstein is senior vice president of The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.