Yesterday afternoon, as I always do, I brought my son to Hebrew school. We live in a small Southwestern community, so Hebrew and Sunday school are the only opportunities he really has to interact with other Jewish children, and he prizes the social opportunities, even if he's not so interested in the Hebrew language itself or in the doctrinal aspects. Personally, I call myself a "Secular Jewmanist," so I see where he is coming from.
Last night, instead of having the kids go to their classrooms, our new Rabbi, who has worked at our Temple for six months, had them pull their chairs into a semicircle in front of a whiteboard.
"I wonder if you've heard anything about Israel being at war over the last few days," he said.
For the next 45 minutes, he "explained" about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an audience composed of nine-to-thirteen-year-olds.
"How would you feel if you had been under attack by rockets for months?" he asked. "If you never knew whether a rocket would explode near you while you were trying to go to school?" he said.
"I would be really scared," one of the children said.
"And the Israelis are really scared, and that's why they are defending themselves." The Rabbi explained that Jews believe they have a right to defend themselves. He cited something: "When your enemy rise up and attack you, kill him first, for who is to say that his blood is redder than yours?" And he asked the children what that might mean.
"There's another strain of thought in America, from Christianity, which is that when your neighbor hits you on one cheek, you should turn and let him hit you on the other cheek, and that your love alone will bring peace between the two of you, but Jews don't believe that,' he said.
The Rabbi talked about tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, and said that rockets were being brought into Gaza from Iran, to fire at the civilians in Israel. He said that the Gazans were led by Hamas, which had "taken over" and was dedicated to the destruction of Israel. He said that Gazans purposely bring their families to stand on the roofs of buildings that the Israeli army has targeted, in order to prevent them from doing their jobs.
I was sitting there quite calmly throughout this whole thing, getting more and more horrified, until finally I could be still no longer. "You're purposely eliding the morality of this whole thing," I said, to the Rabbi in front of all the kids. "Israel could and should be much more surgical in its approach to even a question of self-defense. There's a reason that the world is condemning Israel today. A UN school was bombed and 40 civilians were killed, including 13 children."
"Why did the world say nothing when the rockets attacked Israel?" The Rabbi asked, brushing off the question of civilian casualties. He did later say that civilian casualties should make us all very sad, but he never did engage the question of whether Israel has a moral responsibility to use every strategy to AVOID killing civilians.
Later, on the car ride home, I "debriefed" my son. "If you had a little brother and he was slapping you, and kept slapping you, would you be justified in taking a gun and blowing his brains out to get him to stop?" I asked. "Of course not," he said, understanding my analogy at once. We talked about diplomacy. We talked about why Israel didn't attack IRAN if it thought the Iranians were really supplying rockets to Gaza. We talked about the rules of just warfare. I also told him that the Gazans had ELECTED Hamas in an election facilitated by the US. "The Rabbi left out that piece of information, which was crucial," he said.
"Why did the Rabbi lie?" My son asked me. "I don't think he thought he was lying," I said. "I'm sure he does see it that way. But he did leave out some important things."
I don't have any grand conclusion to my piece. It really happened. What do my fellow Kossacks think?