Elazar, Gush EtzionIt was my first morning in Israel this past summer. Being jet-lagged, I awoke just before the sun rose over the Hills of Judea. Though I'm not particularly religious, I decided to step outside into my brother's backyard to say Shacharit, the morning prayer. As I began to wrap my tefillin, chills permeated throughout my body. The wind brushed my skin as if it embodied a message. Before I donned the shel rosh, I gazed at the clouds that were moving quickly overhead. In that moment, I felt more connected to the Land of Israel, the ancestral homeland of my forefathers, and the eternal homeland of my descendants, in an unprecedented way.
God was there. He was just above me. His presence had manifested itself in the form of a guardian cloud. He was making His rounds, ensuring the safety of his coveted people, just before they were expected to awake. For the first time in my life, the abstract took form. I had spent much of my adolescent years searching for God, and in a moment of simplicity, yet overwhelming emotion, I found Him.
The Old City, Jerusalem
As the sun fell and Shabbat was about to begin, my friend and I hastily made our way toward the gates of The Old City. When we neared the entrance, it became increasingly difficult to maneuver through the large flood of people who were similarly eager to make it to services on time. Finally, we emerged at the steps overlooking the Wailing Wall, the Kotel. Awestruck, I surveyed the surrounding area, and estimated that at least a few thousand people would be joining us for afternoon prayers. After my friend and I parted ways, I made my way into the crowd on the men's side of the holy site.
In that relatively minuscule area, I found myself surrounded by each conceivable faction of global Jewry. It appeared to me that they, too, felt God's presence in the air, and were willing to disregard the religious differences that distinguished them for the sake of collective prayer. And so began my understanding of the unifying nature of the Land of Israel.
Gush Etzion, The West Bank
Three Yeshiva students, one with dual US-Israeli citizenship, are kidnapped near my brother's home, the place where I first felt God's presence in my life. Suddenly, the unity that I so strongly felt in the summer of 2013 is broken. Suddenly, a piece of Am Yisrael is missing.
Why We Should Care
Why should we, detached American Jews, care so strongly for the three adolescents who were tragically abducted in the West Bank this past week? Why should we pray for their safe return home?
Because those three Jewish teenagers are us.
Our bond to them is as inseparable as our bond to our parents. We were born into this covenant, into this religion in which a piece of ourselves is embedded in our fellow Jews. There is no shaking such an eternal bond. There is no elasticity. It is absolute, beautiful, and what distinguishes this religion from all others. Our family members are missing, and it's in our best interest to have them returned home safely.
Just as I leisurely strolled through the Hills of Judea, relishing my time spent in the presence of God, they sought to enjoy a similar experience. Unfortunately, we are dealing with a portion of the Palestinian population that seeks the utter and absolute annihilation of the State of Israel and the Jews that inhabit it. With each terror attack perpetrated by Hamas, they are slowly severing the tie that bonds global Jewry together. They are taking and destroying pieces of the whole of Am Yisrael.
Such acts should not, cannot, and will not be tolerated by the Israeli population, and it's my hope that such sentiments are shared by the rest of global Jewry. It is our duty to be concerned for our brothers. It is our duty to call out to the God who has been with us throughout the tumultuous 3000 years of our miraculous existence. We must pray and plead for the safe return of these three boys because they're far more than "just" three boys.
Israel is in a state of mourning. Thousands gather at the Kotel each night to give the name "The Wailing Wall" a whole new meaning. Secular or religious, they cry out for God's help because they understand that the Nation of Israel is nothing without each member. They are unified by God's explicit presence, and such a feeling of unity drives them to despair until their fellow Israelis are returned home to their families.
We don't have the luxury of feeling God's presence in the same manner, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't cry louder or work harder to gain His attention. I haven't been praying enough. I could cry louder. I could plead in a more crafty, persistent way. And I will begin to do just that. It's the least I can do to keep my people fully intact. I hope you do the same.