News From The Land

January 13, 2009


Editor: Sondra Oster Baras

Director of CFOIC’s Israel Office


Dear Friends,


Israel is at war.  For more than two weeks, our air force has been attacking targets in the Gaza Strip and for more than a week our infantry and tanks have been on the ground in Gaza, fighting the Hamas terrorists.  And throughout this time, Hamas terrorists have been firing missiles, rockets and artillery fire into southern Israel.  Schools have been closed for most of the two weeks in cities, towns and villages within a 40 kilometer range of Gaza.

Yesterday, students in the 11th and 12th grades went back to school in some areas in order to prepare for the upcoming matriculation exams.  But their classes are taking place in bomb shelters.


Israel is a tight-knit society.  And when one of us bleeds, we all do.  Most conversations today begin with the question – do you have a son inside?  Inside, of course, is in Gaza, in the war.  I am lucky – my son just got out of the army a month ago, so he has been spared this conflict.  Many of my friends have sons and sons-in-law fighting in Gaza.  Others have been called up to do guard duty and patrols in Judea and Samaria or up north, releasing regular units to the southern front.


Some of our soldiers have been injured.  Some have been killed.  And as the public mourns the fallen, it has become clearer than ever that this war has the backing of everyone in Israel.  Even the beleaguered south is calling upon the government to stand strong, not to give in to international pressure trying to impose cease-fires, until the job is done.  They are willing to absorb additional rocket fire in the short term, so that the rocket fire might cease altogether.


But the most powerful voice being heard in Israel today is that of the religious Zionist community – those men and women who are staunchly Zionist and staunchly religious, those who live in the communities in Judea and Samaria, those who settled in Gaza and who are now refugees, and their supporters throughout Israel.  It is this community which I belong to and which sees the establishment of the State of Israel as the beginning of the redemption.  It is this community which follows the path forged by Rabbi Avraham HaCohen Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, who understood that even secular Zionism was holy.  It is this community which combines full participation in secular Israeli life with a total devotion to G-d, to His commandments, to His people and His land.


As secular voices of post-Zionism have grown within Israel, especially within the media, there is a growing interest on the part of ordinary Israelis to listen to what the religious Zionists have to say.  And when fewer secular Israelis are volunteering for elite combat units and seeking more individualistic ways of life, more and more religious Zionists are filling their places in the army and in society.


In the first 12 days of the war, seven soldiers were killed.  Four of them were religious Zionists.  Three of them were from communities in Judea and Samaria.  They had studied in Yeshivas and saw their army service as a way to serve G-d, not just country.  Or, more accurately, to serve G-d by serving country.  At their funerals, family members and rabbis eulogized them.  A rabbi from the community of Eli spoke at the funeral of Yoni Netanel of Kedumim and I want to share part of his message with you:


“Yoni, you knew what we are fighting for.  Not only for the communities near Gaza, not only for quiet for the Negev residents, not even only for the existence of the State of Israel, which was so holy to you, were you fighting for.  The slogan that motivated you was the call of Yoav, the general of the ancient Kingdom of Israel which stirred the spirit of King David’s army: ‘Be strong and be strengthened for our nation and for the cities of our G-d’, for our nation, in its spiritual essence. . . Our dream is to bring spiritual life to the nation, the vision of a Kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (courtesy of Maariv)


A few days ago, on national television, one of the commentators made an incredible statement.  Discussing the war in Gaza, he mentioned the fact that if not for the disengagement and the subsequent rise to power of the Hamas, the South would never have suffered the attacks of recent years and we would never have had to fight this war.  And then he talked about the tragedy that was disengagement, the forced removal of Jews from their homes.  He ended by quoting from the Book of Genesis, a portion which we read in the synagogues just a few weeks ago:  “But we are guilty concerning our brother in that we saw the anguish of his soul when he besought us and we would not listen to him; therefore, is this distress come upon us.”  (Genesis 42:21) And, the commentator continued, we are guilty for not listening to our brothers in Gush Katif when they begged us not to throw them out of their homes.


This statement was not just a political commentary that found military consequence.  This was a spiritual statement – we are guilty, we are being punished.


Something is happening in Israel.  There is an awakening among so many in Israel.  It is slow, it is most easily felt during war and suffering, but it is there.  There is a search for meaning and a return to our most precious sources – the books of the Bible and the ancient words of wisdom of our sages.  May G-d grant us the strength and the wisdom to respond to this awakening, to enable our secular brothers to come closer to G-d.  May G-d help us vanquish our enemies and may our soldiers return home, safely, soon.




Sondra Oster Baras

Director, Israel Office

Christian Friends of Israeli Communities