Editor’s Note: Reb Carl Viniar, a Jewish Sacred Aging contributing writer and rabbinic pastor from Voorhees, NJ, is currently traveling in the Middle East. He filed this story from his hotel room in Jordan.
In July 1970, I left Kennedy Airport for my junior year of college in Jerusalem. The day before I left, a bomb exploded at a supermarket, killing a student. In August, after Ulpan, I spent a week at a kibbutz. The first thing they taught us was how to distinguish shells going out from those coming in. In September (Black September), all the young men disappeared from campus in a call up to the Golan, as Jordan was expelling the PLO. My mother was scared for me, but I felt safer walking the streets of Jerusalem than the streets of the Bronx.
I came to love this ridiculous place, this Israel. But I objected to the treatment of Arabs that I witnessed. I also objected to the treatment of the minority Mizrachi Jews, who were the “other” Jews. I missed Israel when I left, so I went back twice in the next 10 years. I got to see President Sadat’s plane on the tarmac when I landed on one trip. I had great hopes for this Israel I loved and was irritated by at the same time.
Then I got married, had kids, and didn’t get to return. I made plans to go back for the 50th anniversary of my junior year, but Covid ended that possibility. So, I finally booked a tour for this year. My first trip in 45 years. My wife’s first visit ever. We left Newark airport Thursday night October 5th. We arrived in Tel Aviv Friday afternoon, October 6th, met our tour group, and made plans for Saturday morning. It was a good group, and I was glad to be amongst people my own age, or even older. We were all, Jews and Christians and secularists, so excited to be traveling in this holy historical land.
We woke up Saturday to sirens and instructions to go to the sub-basement bomb shelter. It was sheer lunacy. Hamas warriors came across the border in force, killing civilians. They kidnapped some and brought them back to Gaza. Some they killed and brought back to Gaza so they could violate their remains and post the videos online. They attacked a music festival on the beach. They sent missiles up and down the coast, aimed at civilian areas. Some got through the Iron Dome and landed not far from my hotel. The pictures are horrifying. The numbers are staggering.
I saw sadness, and fear, and anger on everyone’s face. I watched my guide break down crying. No matter how much I dislike the current controlling government, I could never think that they were involved in any way in this horror. No matter how much I dislike the way this government deals with the Palestinian people, I could never get any joy from watching a group of them bulldoze a fence that now would not stop that group from indiscriminately killing and kidnapping innocent and defenseless civilians.
And I fear what this action will generate. My guide said she hoped this complete failure to prepare or respond would cost Bibi his power. I fear in the interim he will use this attack to grab more power, and in the process even more civilians, on both sides, will be the collateral damage. We have already heard commentators say that Israel was caught off guard because they had been negotiating with Hamas, which tricked Israel by appearing to be willing to strike a deal in return for economic accommodations. I cannot have any idea if any part of that statement is true, but it is frightening on so many levels.
I write this on Monday, mid-day here, while sitting in my hotel room in Jordan. After waiting out the day Saturday, my tour was canceled, and the tour company bused us here. Before we left, on Saturday afternoon, I saw that blood was being collected because of the number of casualties. The drive was over by the time I tried to volunteer. I truthfully did not know what else to do, but I wanted to do something. Many in the tour group were struggling and really scared. So, I offered, as a Rabbinic Pastor, to give any support needed. I did what I could, and then we had to leave.
I am still trying to figure out what I can authentically do. I know I must condemn this attack and everything about it. I will not justify this attack in any way by mentioning any provocation in the same breath. After condemning the attack, when all of the fighting has ended, and we have buried our dead, and cried our tears and done our mourning, I know I will go back to objecting to certain Israeli policies. But now I must support those in need after their losses and help them grieve. And when the loss of civilian life occurs on the other side, which it most certainly will, I must support those grieving and work towards empowering those who support a lasting peace, with safety and dignity for all people.
And I must call out the viciousness of some of the comments made by Jews about other Jews in the aftermath of this attack. Pointing out the failures of Israeli policies does not make you pro Hamas, or even anti-Zionist (a term that I say should only be used to describe someone who does not support the right of the State of Israel to exist as a state of and for the Jewish people). And expressing unfettered support for Israel does not make you a fascist or a racist. Those nasty comments will do nothing to help the situation. They will just add to the trauma.
We as elders are supposed to have attained wisdom. Let’s share that wisdom by at least being thoughtful, maybe civil, and even stretch to be kind to each other, in this time of yet another trauma for the Jewish people.
I remain filled with sadness, hurt, confusion, upset and anger, but still love. I think that is sometimes what it means to be Jewish Sacredly Aging.
CARL VINIAR has been a lawyer, mediator, teacher, professor, seminar leader, trainer, service leader, pastoral counselor, son, father, sibling and friend. Now he is now an author, having completed A Guide To Premarital Counseling For Clergy Working With People Remarrying or Marrying Later In Life, which has been posted here on Jewish Sacred Aging.
He can be reached for inquiries about this manual and other related topics at RebCarl2022@gmail.com.