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Sunday, October 4, 2015

RISING TIDE

It has been quite a while since I blogged on this site. Mostly I have posted small items of interest on Facebook, but recent events in Israel, especially those in Jerusalem, demand more than snippets of information. If you do not read the entire piece, please read the final section entitled, “RAY OF HOPE”.

Having just returned from the Holy Land in the last 24 hours adds additional poignancy to this article. These are the “happy holidays” of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). Sukkot is a time of great happiness for Jews everywhere, but especially when celebrated in Jerusalem. I was in Jerusalem as part of our Israel Allies Foundation's “Chairman’s Conference” held yearly during Feast of Tabernacles. In partnership with the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and the World Jewish Congress, we bring parliamentarian representatives from around the world for three days of education, dialogue and deliberation. This year, as always, a declaration was developed and signed by our attending parliamentarians, presented to Israeli Government leaders and taken back to the represented parliaments for action. This year's resolution was a powerful statement against BDS (Boycott, Divestment & Sanction-BDS is a global campaign attempting to increase economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with the stated goals of the anti-Israel movement).

As I stated earlier, this is the “Happy Holiday” for adherents of Judaism and those who join with them. But instead of happy hearts, singing and dancing in the streets and the smells of holiday meals, there is painful concern. Just this weekend, two terror attacks put the spotlight on growing violence against innocent holiday celebrants.

The first came this past Thursday night. From yesterday’s report in ALJAZEERA: “Eitam and Naama Henkin, both in their 30s, were shot dead while driving on Thursday night between the settlements of Itamar and Elon More, in the north of the Palestinian territory. Their four children, aged between four months and nine years, were found unharmed in the back of the car.

The family attacked in this horrific incident lived in Neria, north of Ramallah. They leave behind six orphaned children, four of whom – aged 4 months, 4, 7 and 9 years-old, were in the vehicle at the time of the attack. Afterwards, the news of Israelis killed was cause for celebrations in Palestinian neighborhoods across the region, even in Jerusalem. Though I am sure many Palestinians silently sorrowed at the violence, crowds of adults and children alike shot off fireworks and sang in the streets.

In Sukkahs both in Israel and around the world there were quiet prayers, perplexed angst and deep sorrow for this loss of life; the normal happiness of the holiday was tainted with anguish. But there is more.

Yesterday, just as Shabbat was ending, two more Israelis were stabbed to death. The first incident occurred close to the Lion’s Gate in the Old City section of Jerusalem. Aharon Bennett a 21 year-old father visiting Jerusalem with his wife, two-year-old son and baby daughter, was stabbed to death. They were headed to the Western wall for prayer when they were attacked by a 19 year-old Palestinian. The second victim was Rabbi Nechamia Lavi, 41, a rabbi at the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva in the Old City and a father of seven. He too, was killed trying to defend Mr. Bennett’s family. Mr. Bennett's wife was seriously wounded, while their son suffered minor injuries and their baby was unharmed.

The JEWISH TELEGRAPH AGENCY reports: The Islamic Jihad terrorist organization claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that the attacker — identified as Muhannad Shafeq Halabi, a law student at Al-Quds University — was a member of its movement. Halabi posted a message on his Facebook page on Friday saying that the third intifada has begun. Hamas applauded what it called the “heroic operation” in a statement, saying: “We support and welcome any resistance activity that harms Israeli soldiers and settlers. Our people in the West Bank are ready to die, to sacrifice themselves to defend the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

Just a few hours later, another stabbing took place near where the first attack occurred. In this attack, a 15 year-old Israeli teenager was stabbed by another assailant who is also believed to be a Palestinian terrorist. The teenager was sent to the hospital with wounds to the chest and back. He is expected to recover.

These attacks underscore the rising hatred and violence we see against Jewish people in Israel and around the world. But let me be clear, it is a rising tide of hatred of “People of the Book”, the phrase used by Islamic Fundamentalists to describe Jews and Christians alike. When added to the rising tide of hatred of all things religious, as demonstrated this week in Oregon, it is a clarion call for us to pray as never before. The same hatred connects these two incidents that occurred hemispheres apart. Hatred, whether anti-Semitic or anti-religious, has no bounds. Now is the time for people of faith to stand together.

RAY OF HOPE

You likely remember the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and killed in June of 2014. This event made worldwide headlines as the Israeli government furiously searched for them for 18 days, only to discover they had been killed the very same day they disappeared. One of the teenage boys was 16 year-old Gilad Shaer (also spelled Gil-ad Shaar).

Last week, I sat in the shade of a private sukkah in the Judean/Samarian region listening to Gilad’s mother and father speak about their tragic journey. Two young girls, two of their five remaining children, stood to the side as they spoke of their murdered son, their pain and their hopes for the future. They told of us Gilad’s love for Torah, music and adventure. They talked bout how his loss has impacted so many, especially his younger siblings. They talked about the overwhelming support and love expressed to them from around the world. They talked about their desire to live in the Land in peace. It was very poignant, inspirational and heartrending. However, what struck me most is what they did NOT talk about. They did not talk about Gilad’s murderers. They did not talk about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. They did not talk about hatred for anyone. They talked about life. They talked about humble courage and hope for the future.

This is not a time for people of faith to cower and fear. As with the Shaer family, it is not a time for our own version of circumstantially justified hatred or violence. It is instead, a time for us to give a voice to the martyrs and call upon spiritual, secular and governmental leaders everywhere to stand against this rising tide of hatred and violence.

Jerusalem is a moral test for the world. How we deal with it will either invite the blessing of God upon our lives, nations and world or bring the consequences of His judgment. Please pray for the Shaer family, the families who have just this week suffered so great a loss and for all families who have lost loved ones to religious hatred, whether in Israel, Oregon or anywhere else. And, as always, pray for the peace of Jerusalem.