Thursday, November 2, 2023

Redeem Hostages: From the Beginning a Jewish Imperative

Three times a day observant Jews recite the “Shemoneh Esrai,” also called the “Amidah,” a central prayer cataloging God’s blessings and seeking God’s interventions. One of the first paragraphs of the prayer is: 

“Sustainer of the living with kindliness, Resurrector of the dead with great mercy, Supporter of the fallen, and Healer of the sick, and RELEASER OF THE IMPRISONED [emphasis added], and Fulfiller of His faithfulness to those who sleep in the dust. Who is like You, Master of mighty deeds, and Who can be compared to You, King who causes death and restores life, and causes deliverance to sprout forth.”

According to the Bible (Genesis XIV, 1-17), one of the first exploits of the patriarch Abraham after he left his father’s home in Haran to settle in the land of Canaan was the rescue of his nephew Lot who had been taken hostage by Chedorlaomer, king of Elam and allied kings. 

Is there any wonder, then, that Israel and world Jewry are fixated on the release of the imprisoned hostages taken by Hamas? 

Equally important to the safe return of the hostages are the discovery and destruction of the missiles Hamas has hidden inside Gaza. Any ceasefire undertaken before those objectives are accomplished would simply guarantee future aggressions by Hamas.

Charlie’s Bat-Mitzvah: Through tears, hearts filled with sorrow, stuck in our throats, we partied. 

News of Middle East atrocities reverberated throughout the week. And yet, hundreds gathered from near and far to celebrate a rite of passage, the entry of a Jewish girl to adulthood. 

All had been planned for a joyous weekend in London, three weeks ago. Our grandniece Charlotte, Charlie to most everyone, was celebrating her bat mitzvah with all the pomp and circumstance and 21st century party planning her parents could muster. 

It was, however, impossible to ignore the elephant in the room. So her father David didn’t. 

“This isn’t the speech we wanted to write, but we can’t ignore the horrific events of the past week,” David said. “Given the number of children here, I don’t intend to say too much, but clearly many of us have been deeply affected by the evil attacks by Hamas against Israel, and our hearts go out in sorrow and solidarity to all those affected.  

“However, even in times of sorrow, Judaism commands us to be joyful. In fact, the word joy is often used as a translation for the Hebrew word “simcha”, which is Charlotte’s Hebrew name, while Joy is her middle name. When we chose these names for her, it was primarily to give her my grandfather Sam’s Hebrew name, as well as to recognize his long term partner, Auntie Joy.

“But today we have another reason. Jewish people throughout the most dire times in our history have gone to extraordinary lengths to celebrate our joys. As we read in Ecclesiastes, in Megillat Kohelet in shul last week, ‘To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.’ And we hope that despite experiencing one of the most painful weeks many of us can remember, we can still find time to show joy and celebrate together.”

Resiliency runs through Jewish blood. 

I could have said Jewish genes or DNA. No, blood was the right word, for in each generation, as our Passover Haggadah relates, an evil rises up to try to spill our blood, to destroy us. 

As Hamas has done this time, lots of blood soaked our homes. But, as in times past, the Jewish people refuse to go away.