I am writing you from Jerusalem, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. This morning I walked through the neighborhood where I am staying, enjoying the cool, summer Jerusalem air, with the ancient walls of the old city of Jerusalem in the distance. As always, I am moved to be in this city where past, present and future touch.
Yet, as you are probably well aware, these are tense days in Jerusalem. Let me first assure you that I am safe, and that, for the most part, life goes on as usual here. While the tensions of the beginnings of “Operation Protective Edge,” aimed at ending the rocket fire coming from Hamas terrorists in Gaza, 246 as of this morning, have brought the frightening sound of sirens signaling rocket attacks across the center of Israel, thus far there have been no civilian casualties and the “Iron Dome” defensive shield seems to be doing its job of intercepting missiles (90%) aimed at cities. Granted, our hearts raced earlier this evening when the sirens first sounded here in Jerusalem, but they ended before we even had a chance to make our way to the shelter in the basement of my hotel. Business as usual resumed almost immediately.
This past week has been one of the most tragic times in recent years in Israel. The discovery of the bodies of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel brought a sense of profound mourning and loss, both here and around the globe. It was heartening, however, to hear so many voices of reason from all quarters. While the pain of the families burying these young victims of senseless hatred was almost unbearable, their dignity and compassion was inspiring.
In contrast, the horrifying act perpetrated by the hate-filled Israelis who kidnapped and burned to death an Arab teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was the lowest possible act, almost unimaginable. The vile acts that followed, including the beating of his fourteen-year-old American cousin by the Israeli police and the riots and rallies filled with hatred, have shown a side of some of the Jewish citizens of Israel that are shameful, at the least.
These last few days have shown the worst of both sides in the ongoing conflict. Hatred knows no boundaries, yet neither do love and compassion. I have been deeply moved to hear of courageous people from all faiths and ethnic backgrounds speak of the need for calm, ethical, kind and respectful behavior. We cannot allow extremists to hijack our vision for the world – a vision of peace and tranquility, a vision that has always been symbolized by the highest aspirations of our people – and our dream of a Jerusalem, Israel, and world of peace.
My time here in Jerusalem is filled with learning – both in the classroom during my studies at the Hartman Institute, where I continue to be privileged to learn from brilliant and insightful teachers and with inspiring colleagues, and also in the streets of this city and across this country. Everywhere I go I learn something new and continue to be inspired by the people who live here and work to fulfill centuries-old dreams. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
I am on the way back,
Rabbi Aryeh Azriel