Rabbi Zev M. ShandalovRabbi Zev M. Shandalov served as the rabbi of Kehilath Jacob Beth Samuel (KJBS) in Chicago, Illinois, until his family's Aliyah in 2009.
Let me say from the outset that I have made my feelings known in a very public way that I was against the so-called disengagement. I can respect another person's opinion, but I believe in what I feel.
However, now that the inevitable has occurred, I feel I must look at the situation as it unfolds and try to glean something positive out of it. I keep telling myself that everything HaShem does is for the good.
As I sat down to write these words, I experienced feelings that I can say honestly I have never had. Along with thousands of Jews around the world, I have been watching as many residents of Gush Katif voluntarily leave their homes and as many are forcibly extricated.
Yet, I am focusing on something that actually should make us proud; other images that will haunt me and others for years to come. Images of Israeli soldiers and civilians embracing each other. We all saw how incredibly difficult it has been for so many soldiers to have to evict residents from their homes and to oversee the largest relocation of Jews since World War II.
Both the residents and the soldiers had a very hard time with this and that fact should make us proud in the midst of a very difficult situation. It is a measure of comfort to know that this was not easy for the IDF (for the most part) to do.
What form did many of the protests take as the IDF came knocking on their doors? Singing and dancing in the streets - not out of joy, but out of defiance. These were not tears of joy, but tears of sadness.
How amazingly eerie that this should all occur in the week of Shabbat Nachamu. The very Shabbat following our day of national mourning on Tisha B'Av. The day on which we read the words of the prophet as he says: "Nachamu, nachamu 'ami...." HaShem Himself attempts to comfort those who witnessed the tragedy of the burning of the Beit HaMikdash. I believe that there is a message that is by no means hidden: no matter how bleak and how bad things seem, as they do right now, HaShem Himself is there to help us and comfort us. He is there to help you, the ones who have been displaced, and comfort you right now, at this time of national tragedy.
The country - actually, world Jewry - has been torn apart by this issue. There have been vehement arguments on both sides and visceral emotions have been exhibited in all spectrums of the debate. But now, the veil of doubt has been lifted. Now we see what the short-term future holds. We now see that Gaza will no longer be the physical home of Jews after the next few days. And we, their fellow Jews, need to help them cope with that reality and do what we can to make their transition easier.
For now, many of those evicted and many who left voluntarily find themselves in temporary dwellings. Many find themselves in strange surroundings. Not all of the governmental promises have come to fruition and they await their fate.
We, the Jews of the Diaspora, need to declare with one voice: no matter what side of the debate we have been on until now, there is only one side to which to show our allegiance now - the side of helping our fellow Jews.
In this past week's Torah reading, we read: "U'vikashetem mi'sham es HaShem Elokecha u'maztata ki tidreshenoo b'chol...." - that you searched out G-d and found Him due to the power of your personal, heart-felt davening. It goes without saying that we davened for acheinu Beit Yisrael before this crisis came to its zenith, and we daven with and for them now, as well.
Furthermore, we read about the topic known as the Arei Miklat, the cities of refuge. Although now, in many cases, they find themselves in their own type of Ir Miklat and need to be absorbed in a location that certainly is not "home" to them, these displaced persons need to know that cities around the world want to help them in that absorption. There are many who will look to them for guidance and to others in Israel who are trying to assist in what they will need to make the transition that much easier for them.
Mr. Ephraim Bluth of Neve Tzuf, Israel sent out an email last week to many people. In part, here is what he said:
"I was in one of Jerusalem's hotels yesterday (Thursday) and witnessed the new reality for some of the evictees from Gush Katif.
"They were well-received by the staff, who tried to provide them with all the services a hotel needs to give and even made a snack bar available on a continual basis in the lobby.
"The lobby was a maddening scene, filled with reunions between the evictees and their friends and relatives, who came to give support, but also filled with the wrenching shouts and sobs of those who still carried with them the trauma of the last 24 hours.
"There were activities for children, led by semi-professional performers, who tried to keep the children's focus on light entertainment - while the parents were talking to bureaucrats from the city's social welfare agencies or to volunteers who came because they innately understood that they needed to be there, while not always knowing what they needed to do.....
"Official agencies will offer assistance, mostly financial, but I have no illusions as to the effectiveness of their efforts. Life in a hotel is only a very temporary solution and those of us who truly care need to offer new communal options, quickly, to help our brothers reestablish the foundations of a new life, in a supportive environment."
It would obviously be a very simple matter for the average Jew to say, "It is all over," and for him to now turn his back. We can not turn our backs on them. We just read the words of the Torah as it spoke to us and said, "V'asita hayashar v'hatov b'einei HaShem...." - we are told to do that which is proper and just and it will be good in the eyes of HaShem.
Although we have heard the phrase over and over that "Yehudi lo megaresh Yehudi," (a Jew does not expel another Jew), that is now part of our collective history. An axiom that is just as true, though, is a Jew does not turn his back on his fellow Jew.
Others may be tempted to say, "What are you getting so worked up about helping a handful of people? There are so many other, more deserving people in Israel." My response to that is again found in last week's Torah reading: "Lo mirubchem mikol ha'amim chashak HaShem bachem...." HaShem did not choose Klal Yisrael based on its size. As a matter of fact, we are a tiny little nation, as the Torah testifies. Why were we chosen? HaShem unconditionally loves us. That is the same point I wish to make now, as well.
To my fellow Jews on both sides of the disengagement debate, I say: It does not matter how many or how few people we are talking about. We love our fellow Jew just as HaShem loves us - unconditionally.
Undoubtedly, over the next few weeks, there will be many emails and letters that will circulate regarding what the needs are for the people from Gush Katif. Any assistance that they will require and is something we can do, we will do. We, of the Diaspora, can not and will not forsake them. I know the government plans to give them compensation for their homes, etc. But there will be things they will need that they may not even realize at this difficult moment in time. We are ready and willing to help.
Finally, I remind you of the words of the Torah reading, where we read: "For what nation is there so great, who has God so near to them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for." HaShem is there, and here, right alongside all of us.
"Nachamu, nachamu 'ami...." ("Be comforted, be comforted, my people, says HaShem"). May HaShem comfort you in this difficult transition, and may He comfort all of Klal Yisrael to help heal the rift that this situation has caused.