So How Was Israel?: Shabbat Message by Rabbi Dan Levin

Shabbat Message by Rabbi Dan Levin graphic for Temple Beth El of Boca Raton

Since returning home from Israel just a few hours before last Shabbat, so many have asked me a simple question.

“How was Israel?”

That simple question for me is overwhelming in its complexity.  It’s so hard to answer.

I tried to capture some of the essence of Temple Beth El’s Solidarity mission in a series of Facebook posts.  If you’re curious, you can read them here with some of the pictures.

But how was Israel? 

It’s a place of deep grief.  Too many cemeteries have too many fresh graves with too many young, and not so young, laid to rest.  Everyone knows someone who was murdered, or was killed in combat, or was taken hostage.

We had the privilege of visiting Kibbutz K’far Aza and the site of the Supernova Dance Festival at Re’im.  These places, that just months ago were so filled with beauty and life, are now overrun with horror and mourning.  The rubble of burnt out homes remains. Like the beautiful wildflowers that have begun to blossom and bloom, makeshift memorials spring up from the ground, and new trees planted to sanctify memory.

Beyond the grief, there is deep worry.  With children and spouses serving in combat, every car door closing causes the heart to jump.  “Is that them coming to tell me s/he’s wounded … or worse?”  So many worry for their loved ones taken hostage.  Where are they?  How are they?  Are they still alive?  Will they ever come home?

And beyond the acute worry over whether a loved one will come home is the broader worry of how to hold it all together, with so many businesses that have no business, and so many people who have been away from work for months, and an economy that has collapsed.

Beyond the worry, there is anger – anger toward a government so many think failed them, anger toward an enemy who attacked with such vicious, inhuman ferocity, anger at a world that blames us for defending ourselves, anger at those who callously ignore the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Gaza, anger at those who would absolve the attackers of responsibility for the consequences of their actions, anger at those blind to the realities Israel must face.

Beyond the anger, there is fatigue.  It’s exhausting to be constantly mourning, worrying, and angry.  It’s exhausting to try to hold it all together on a daily basis. It’s exhausting to keep pressure on politicians and the public to remember the plight of the hostages.  It’s exhausting to support thousands and thousands of soldiers, to ensure they are not only equipped, but embraced with love and moral support.  It’s exhausting to care for children as a single-parent while your partner is fighting a war.  It’s exhausting to live for months in a hotel room away from home, school, businesses, and normal routine.

But in the midst of it all, Israel is inspired.  Israel is inspired by a younger generation who leapt with willing hearts to serve and to sacrifice, to fight to defend their homeland and their people.  Israel is inspired by a mixed-multitude who have embraced an ethic of unity without uniformity.  Israel is inspired by so many who have risen to help, in so many ways large and small.

During our days in Israel we met volunteers from ZAKA who did the agonizing, holy work of recovering the remains of those killed in the massacre.  We met school children who regularly leave the classroom to help out on the farm.  We met a family who daily bakes dozens and dozens of pizzas and provides BBQ and supplies for soldiers who can stop by for a few moments of respite, and a lawyer from Tel Aviv who drives down once a week to bake those pizzas.  We saw how two of our sister Reform congregations are doing everything they can to support those who have lost their homes and are building new lives in new places.

And through it all, we saw resilience.  There was laughter and life – families out for a meal, young people out for a drink, people at work or eating a Shwarma, people hoping for a better tomorrow, determined to continue to build the State of Israel.

It was heavy, and it was hopeful.  It was drained, and it was determined.  It was grieving and it was giving.  It was reeling, and it was resilient.  Israel was wounded, and worried, and worshipping, and wishing for peace.

To be there in this moment was a blessing – to offer an ear to listen, to offer our hands to help, to offer our embrace to hold, to offer our presence to bear witness.  And mostly, to offer our care, our concern, our love.

יחד ננצח – Yachad N’Natzeach – together we will prevail.


Rabbi Dan Levin
Temple Beth El of Boca Raton

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…”


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