What Happens After the Book of Life Closes?
As Jews the world over hearken to the sounds of the shofar marking the hope for a new beginning, it behooves people of all persuasions to be reminded, yet again, of the unique role Israel plays in humanitarian efforts worldwide.
Historically, the very small country of Israel continually emerges as a "world leader in rapid response emergency aid." Ironically because of 60 years experience in emergency responses as a result of terrorist attacks and wars, Israel can "install a field hospital that treats 500 patients per week as they did with the 2010 earthquake in Haiti."
Photojournalist Joe Shalmoni documents the incredible work that "Israeli Heroes in Haiti" accomplished, giving proof, yet again, that Israel is no apartheid state but indeed, takes seriously the Talmudic admonition that "if you save one life, it is as if you have saved the world."
Other examples of Israel's emergency relief include aiding victims of the civil war in Bosnia in 1992, providing medical aid for refugees from Rwanda in 1994, and sending a search and rescue team to the U.S. Embassy bombing site in Kenya in 1998.
Earthquake, flood, and tsunami victims of India, Peru, Sri Lanka, Romania, Ethiopia, Mexico, Romania, Macedonia, and the Dominican Republic have also been on the receiving end of Israeli assistance.
Often countries that have no amicable relations with Israel find themselves accepting Israel's aid during natural disasters. Thus, in 2011 Turkey "finally accepted Israel's offer of earthquake aid, two days after a devastating temblor, and following a number of rebuffed Israeli government offers of assistance. According to a Foreign Ministry spokesman, the Turks made a request through the embassy in Ankara for Israel to send mobile homes to the devastated Van province."
In fact, in 1999, Israel "dispatched a search and rescue team after a massive 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck northwestern Turkey."
Yet, anti-Semitism has often reared its ugly head as evidenced by the refusal of Israeli aid by the Algerian government in 1962. More recently in 2004, Iran rebuffed Israeli aid during a destructive earthquake that affected central Iran. So strong is anti-Israel sentiment that in 2006 Oman refused medical bandages for its own people because the shipment box said "Made in Israel."
An Israeli delegation of trained rescue volunteers provided relief to Hurricane Sandy victims here in America. Headed by Shahar Zahavi, CEO of IsraAID, an Israeli nongovernmental organization (NGO), this group arrived to assist the victims of that natural disaster. IsraAID also facilitates aid and relief program across the world, including in Haiti, Japan, Turkey, Kenya, and South Sudan.
During the horrifying Boston Marathon bombing by jihadist terrorists, an Israeli Hi-Tech firm helped to capture the Boston Bombers. Likewise, the anxiety felt by Watertown high school teachers was confronted by the "¬Israel Trauma Coalition." This coalition of "Israeli mental health professionals who specialize in trauma... have helped stitch lives together over and over again in the aftermath of terrorist bombings and mass tragedies in their own country and around the world."
Which is why it should come as no surprise that Israeli medical doctors and aid workers are helping refugees from the Syrian war. Yet, these Israelis must do so clandestinely because "Syria does not recognize Israel and forbids its citizens to go there." Moreover, "Israeli doctors are not welcome in Jordan, where their work has been denounced as a violation of Jordanian sovereignty." As a result,
an Israeli organization, iL4Syrians, operates anonymously in Syria and other desperate countries. Providing food and medical supplies for those who need them, it relies on secrecy to protect both its local contacts and its own practitioners. Its web site identifies no directors or staff but carries a defiant slogan: 'Nobody asks permission to kill. We do not ask permission to save lives.'
They explain that '[they] focus on countries that lack diplomatic relations with Israel, transcending differences.' They argue that a respect for the sanctity of human life expresses Jewish tradition and culture. As they see it, this applies to Israel's toughest and cruelest enemies as well as anyone else.
As Jews pray for continued life and an end to the appalling antagonism of Israel's and America's enemies, it behooves the world to look at the moral compass of this very young yet very old country in the world.
Notwithstanding Hallmark card slogans, Jews do not traditionally wish each other "happy new year." Instead the Hebrew phrase "shanah tovah" actually conveys the hope for a good year rather than a happy one. Thus, Rabbi Benjamin Blech explains that
Jewish commentators offer a profound insight. The word good indicates that every part of creation fulfilled God's purpose: it was good because it was what it was meant to be.
That is the deepest meaning of the word good when it is applied to us and to our lives. We are good when we achieve our purpose; our lives are good when they fulfill what they are meant to be.
We know many people of whom it can be said that they had good lives in spite of their having had to endure great unhappiness. Indeed, the truly great chose lives of sacrifice over pleasure and left a legacy of inspiration and achievement that they never could have accomplished had they been solely concerned with personal gratification.
powerful idea discovered by contemporary psychologists is that happiness most often is the byproduct of a meaningful life. It's precisely when we don't go looking for it and are willing to set it aside in the interest of a loftier goal that we find it unexpectedly landing on us with a force that we never considered possible.
How can we give genuine meaning to life?
Perhaps emulating the Jewish moral compass as evidenced by the actions of Israelis would be a fine starting point for the year 5774.
Eileen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org