After a relatively calm night, sirens blared across southern and central Israel today, marking the 18th day of Operation Protective Edge. Sirens went off in Eilat, too.
Unfortunately the number of Israeli soldiers killed in battle rose to 33 with the killing of a reservist, Sgt. 1st Class Yair Ashkenazi.
Earlier today I paid a shiva call to the family of Golani unit soldier Moshe Malko. The Malko family immigrated from Ethiopia and lives in Jerusalem where Moshe was raised. I don’t know the Malko family personally, and have never met them before, but once I walked into the room where Moshe’s parents were receiving visitors, I felt their pain and their loss. With me where Israelis of all denominations and affiliations: secular, Orthodox, Haredi; there were Jerusalemites and people coming from regions in the north and south; young, old, families with children and many teens. Moshe’s death was a collective tragedy, our tragedy.
This war, with its rockets, targets us all. Native Israelis and new immigrants, Israeli Arabs, Bedouins and non-Israelis living here with us are all caught in the crosshairs. Hamas may think that they are gunning for Jews and Israelis, but more than 150,000 foreign workers from Asia and Africa work in Israel, most of them as care givers and in agriculture.
All of these young men and women willingly left their homes and traveled to the other side of the world to earn money and send it back home. Most of the workers left their families behind, many of them left their spouses and children. They are part of a long story of immigration around the world. They seek a better life, hoping to earn money to send home, and to find a foothold in an economy that appreciates their willingness to work. They toil in our fields, grow our plants and they take care of our elderly and people with special needs. They are hard workers, trustworthy, modest and quiet. They find themselves here during a time of crises. Not their crises, but absolutely impacted by it.
Dozens of these workers held a demonstration in Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station, calling for “peace and safety for the people of Israel,” in which they expressed their support of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) operation and waved Israeli flags. Israel’s Home Front Command, which provides ongoing social and psychological aid to these workers, distributed flyers in all languages.
I met two of them yesterday when I visited some lonely elderly people who live alone in Israel’s southern communities and because of the constant missile fire from Hamas and the operation in Gaza are under a lot of pressure and stress. These visits were part of my two days of volunteering in the south with thousands of other Israelis.
During this work, I met Suda from India and Fabrita from Nepal. Suda has worked with a sick elderly woman for two years now. She hasn’t seen her husband and two boys in all this time. Suda is fluent in Hebrew, never stops smiling and looks happy and comfortable in her Israeli environment.
One block away, Fabrita lives with an elderly couple. She, too, speaks fluent Hebrew and after six years in Israel feels this is home.
Both Fabrita and Suda call their employers “ima” and “aba” (mom and dad), learned to cook Israeli dishes, learned to keep kosher since they work for kosher families, learned our Jewish traditions and follow our favorite TV shows. They are not Israelis, but rather are permanent permit workers. But by Hamas standards, they are Israelis.
They fear the sirens and run for shelter, they are under threat and two days ago an immigrant worker was killed. This conflict is not their fight, it’s not their battle, it’s not their homeland, but they know injustice when they see it, and they see it now. They are, after all, only human.
Acts of kindness define who we are and how others see us. There is a deep current of humanity running through our culture and it hurts when others seem blind to the ethics that drive us. Israel is well aware of the unfortunate casualties in Gaza — casualties that could easily be prevented if Hamas would care for its citizens. We learned yesterday that one of the terrorists crawling outside one of the tunnels on his way to carry out a major terror attack on civilians was only 16 years old! He had been severely injured but is now lying in bed at one of our hospitals in central Israel, receiving medical treatment as would any Israeli patient.
Not too far from him lies a 14-year-old girl from Gaza who was injured there and transferred to Israel by Israeli soldiers for treatment. These two join many others receiving treatment from Israeli medical teams working under fire in the temporary field hospital Israel has set up near the Gaza border.
We are moral, we are human; we are right and we mustn’t forget it. Our enemies know who we are and often take advantage of our humanity, what they call our “weakness.” It is a weakness that makes me very proud.
And just before Shabbat comes in, a third Shabbat when we will light candles with special prayers for our soldiers, I want to end this message with the following — Israelis across the country today gave out flowers to soldiers at checkpoints, to families of drafted warriors, to random Israelis. This is a small act of kindness, of optimism, an act that, right before Shabbat, shows our deepest humanity through the smallest of gestures. It is an act that offers the beauty of life, mingled with hope.