The ‘impossibility of Israel’s predicament’
OpinionGuest columnist

The ‘impossibility of Israel’s predicament’

I was asked to confront the impossibility of Israel’s predicament.

Eyal and Elana Kaminka. (Photo by Rabbi Aaron Meyer)
Eyal and Elana Kaminka. (Photo by Rabbi Aaron Meyer)

Elana Kaminka grew up in Davis, California, and, together with her husband Eyal, decided to raise their family in Tzur Hadassa, a small town some 30 minutes to the west of Jerusalem. Their oldest son, Yannai, had his bar mitzvah at Kehilat Shir Chadash, the Reform synagogue in Tzur Hadassah, and was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces (as is required for young non-Haredi Jews). Yannai declined a combat unit in favor of serving on a search and rescue training base and was stationed at Zikim, an hour’s drive from his home, along the Mediterranean Sea — right along the border with Gaza.

When the initial volley of some 3,000 rockets was launched by Hamas on Oct. 7, landing in and around and flying over Zikim, the basic trainees at Zikim were replaced at their guard posts by their officers and sent to take shelter. Yannai’s post looked over the Mediterranean and the popular Zikim beach, where hundreds of people were camping during the holiday weekend.

As Hamas terrorists began landing on the beach, killing 20, the campers scattered and some made their way to the base looking for safety and protection. Yannai killed the terrorists chasing the campers and ushered them to safety near the new recruits in his care. He returned to his guard post to continue the fight until the commander beside him received a head wound. He brought her to the shelter before returning to his guard post to fight again.

These heroic actions of a 20-year-old soldier sound like they could be taken from a movie script, or perhaps over-valorized by his parents as they were mourning their son and telling me his story. But they are verified and preserved in a WhatsApp group — a popular international texting program — that the officers used to communicate. It was through that texting group that Yannai received word the soldiers in the guard post facing Gaza had run out of ammunition and were about to be overwhelmed. Yannai stopped the wave of terrorists on his side of Zikim, and ran to their post to continue the fight. He arrived just before the rocket-propelled grenade that ended his life, but he did not die in vain. Only one Hamas terrorist managed to enter Zikim, killing only one new recruit. Yannai’s actions saved the lives of 130 people.

I so wish every American calling for Israel to lay down its weapons would have to hold their signs and chant their slogans in front of these grieving parents who understand what that would have meant for their son and the many lives he saved on Oct. 7.

But Elana’s message wasn’t done. When Yannai died, a friend of Elana’s from that Palestinian village near Tzur Hadassah brought a platter of dates, a traditional Muslim expression of consolation during a period of mourning. Elana wrote those friends a letter recognizing the impossibility of this time for Israelis and Palestinians alike. She described Yannai’s service in the IDF as one focused on humanitarian relief efforts and spoke in detail about the ways he built loving relationships with all people.

Her letter concluded with the most powerfully hopeful line I heard while on my recent trip in Israel: “I don’t blame you for the deeds of the Hamas, and I hope this cursed situation will somehow bring our two nations to at last learn how to live together, with mutual respect, so there may be no more parents, Israeli or Palestinian, that must grieve for their sons.”

I so wish every American calling for Israel to flatten Gaza would have to hold their signs and chant their slogans in front of these grieving parents, who understand what that would mean for other people’s sons after Oct. 7.

While in Israel, I was heartbroken to speak with the Kaminkas, to hear from the families of hostages and those who have been displaced, and to learn with politicians and community leaders. I was asked to confront the impossibility of Israel’s predicament: simultaneously needing to fight a war to remove the security threat from its borders and to do everything possible to get its citizens back.

The Israelis with whom I spoke believe Israel must stop fighting and that it can’t stop fighting: the impossible, terrible reality of this time. PJC

Rabbi Aaron Meyer is senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel of South Hills.

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