Many interesting things happened in Israel last week.
The Nation-State Law was passed, which solidifies and codifies a Jewish connection to the country (with a fair amount of controversy) related to issues that deal with non-Jewish Israelis and religious pluralism there.
A Conservative Rabbi was forcefully arrested for performing a wedding in Israel (Conservative- and Reform-officiated weddings are not recognized by the state).
Israel shot down a Syrian fighter jet which crossed into its territory, and it continues to bomb Iranian factories and military sites throughout Syria.
And yet another law that bars single and gay men from using surrogates to become parents has become law.
Yet as the country wrestles with these developments, something happened across the border that speaks to the heart of what Israel could and should be (and what it shouldn’t be as well):
In response to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brutal and vicious bombing of his own people, a group of citizens have organized and trained themselves to rescue people buried beneath the rubble of buildings.
These so-called “White Helmets” are the best of Syrian society, risking their lives to save their fellow citizens under the worst conditions. They have been recognized internationally and have even been considered for the Nobel Peace Prize (Of course, the Syrian regime has branded them terrorists).
Recently, as Assad gains the upper hand in the civil war, the White Helmets have been pushed to Syria’s borders with Israel and Jordan, with nowhere else to go.
It was a desperate situation. If captured by the approaching Syrian army, the White Helmets were sure to be killed.
But that didn’t happen. Israel, at the request of the United States, Canada and the United Nations, rescued these people and their families, safely transporting them to Jordan where they will wait until they are resettled in Europe and Canada.
The Israeli army has such a capacity for humanitarianism, and this is just a small example. It also has treated thousands of Syrians who have approached the border in need of medical care and have provided humanitarian assistance to recently arrived refugees escaping the war and camping out mere yards from the Israeli border.
It is this kind of humanitarianism that should make us all proud to be Zionists.
What is happening in Syria is a moral outrage, and the White Helmets’ situation is just a small example. This country is being used by Iran to support Hezbollah in Lebanon and to threaten Israel. Russia uses it to maintain bases in the Mediterranean. Turkey uses it in its long-running battle with the Kurds — and Sunni Arab states in a never-ending battle with the Iranian-backed Shia.
So many of the Syrians who have approached the border with Israel now recognize that their true enemy was never Israel, but all these other countries who have their own geopolitical agendas at the expense of innocent civilians.
As Jews, our entire history teaches us to seek justice and act morally. It is why we celebrate Israel’s humanity, compassion and contributions to the world, and why we speak up with love and pride when we feel Israel is not living up to this very high standard.
It is also why we are so involved with human rights around the world, injustice in the United States, and charitable endeavors in our own communities.
The Jewish Community Relations Council is the avenue for all of this and we will continue to think and act morally, consistent with Jewish values and interests.
(Matt Goldberg is director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.)