I had to rip up my article for this new moon, it was a day late anyway. It was about embracing change, reflections on graduation and reunions, which have preoccupied the campus for the last few weekends. It seemed trite in light of the text I received yesterday afternoon sitting at my desk. “Hey Leah, there was a terrorist attack at the Sarona market in Tel Aviv…..” I checked the time, went on line and continued reading “…all the students checked in and are fine.” This was only minutes after the attack. I picked up the phone and called the head of Yale’s Office of International Affairs, the office responsible at Yale for risk management. We have 60 Yale students in Israel this summer.
What did I feel? Grateful that the staff member, Yoni Millo, who we have sent to Israel this summer to oversee our Yalies in Israel program is responsible, sensitive and attentive. Relieved that none of our students were hurt. Sickened that I felt relieved, and saddened for those killed and their families. Angry that terror has struck again. Powerless, because the Sarona market is not considered a risky place to be. Silly, because I know that just down the street people were still enjoying the night life. When you are there, life just seems to go on, and off shore worrying often feels disconnected from the reality of life in Israel.
But a new feeling began to creep in. Am I crazy? Or more specifically, am I culpable if anything should happen to one of our students this summer? I don’t mean legally; I mean morally.
Over the course of the year, I work tirelessly to raise money to send students to Israel. Often times, I help lead trips to Israel. On campus, I work with the staff to recruit students and create opportunities for them to go to Israel. There is something a little bit crazy when you stop and think about it. I am responsible for sending hundreds of young people to a place where lethal, random acts of terror occur on a not infrequent basis. I still remember the summer of Operation Protective Edge and communicating with students and parents about bomb shelters. It felt strangely surreal and normal at the same time.
What is the calculus of risk? My friends point out the recent New York Times article about the large number of homicides that occur on a weekly basis in Chicago. This doesn’t help. I think about the students who are there now, the color of their eyes, the preference of their gender, the range of their political views, the variety of their religious practices, their personal idiosyncrasies. For some it is their first visit, others have been many times. They are all quite different, but they have one thing in common. They all chose to spend their summer in Israel.
I settle down and focus on the task at hand. Our fiscal year ends June 30th, just a few weeks away. A few more calls to make, a few more letters to send, a few more pledges will come in, a few more dollars will be raised before we close the books on this year. I do the math. A few more students will be able to go to Israel, a few more Israel related speakers will be able to come to campus. A few more Israel educational programs will be held and a few more students will be touched.
In the end, the math adds up. I wouldn’t subtract one student, not one trip, not one Israel related opportunity. The sum of faith and love is greater than fear and doubt when it comes to Israel for me.
I’ll be signing off for the summer, but looking forward to coming back in the fall. Let us all pray for a quiet summer.
Rabbi Leah Cohen