It’s been a stressful and heartbreaking period in Israel during what’s supposed to be a joyous holiday season.
On the first day of Passover, the sanctity of the holiday was violated with dozens of rockets fired at Israeli communities from Lebanon and Gaza. The risk of escalation increased with three rockets fired at Israel from Syria on Saturday night and reports of Egyptian troops preventing terrorists in Sinai from firing rockets at Eilat.
As of this writing, anything could happen that might trigger an all-out war, made all the more possible by threats and incitement from Arab terrorists and even the President of Turkey in honor of their holy month, Ramadan.
As much as Israel is on edge, the community where I live is grieving. On Friday, neighbors set out to go on vacation for Passover when Palestinian Arab terrorists fired at their car. Not content to leave the car of injured people, the terrorists came up alongside my neighbor’s car and opened fire at point-blank range. Two sisters, 15 and 20, were executed. Their mother is fighting for her life. On Sunday, a father and his remaining children will bury their daughters/sisters amid prayers for their wife/mother’s recovery.
When the girls’ death was announced, Palestinian Arabs celebrated by handing out candy in their communities, while our community responded by spontaneous prayers. The prayers continued through Saturday night: reciting Psalms, singing, and tears. As we prayed, sobbing was audible.
As much as Maya and Rina’s murders have shaken us all, bringing the reality of terror close to home, again, I imagined it through their father’s eyes, as a father myself.
I was out in meetings on Friday when my phone started to blow up with messages asking if we were OK. The names of the victims had not been released until relatives overseas could be informed, but friends heard that a family from my town had been targeted. Israelis reached out, as did Christian friends from all over the world. I had not yet heard the news and only found out who was murdered after I got home. While their names were not released officially, it’s a small town. People heard and shared.
Friday night, as Shabbat began, I was profoundly struck that my neighbor was in the hospital praying that his wife would survive, at the same time as knowing his two daughters had just been murdered. It was unthinkable.
I had a hard time staying composed when I blessed my children as I do every Friday night. For my neighbors, their families had just been broken. He was in the hospital. Where were his surviving children? Could he bless them? How could he not? I couldn’t imagine. I still can’t.
It’s not the first time terror has hit close to home. I have sent my children to the funerals of others whose children have been murdered. In one case, all but two children of an entire family were butchered to death by terrorists who broke into their home on a Friday night. The mother who was murdered was the oldest sister of a girl in my daughter’s 12th grade class. The mother and her baby, husband, and two other children were all buried together. A few years later, the kidnapping and murder of three teenage boys from nearby our community also shook us and the county and was made all the more personal, with one of the boys being our next-door neighbor’s nephew. There have been more.
Despite the threat of terror and war being real here, there’s an indescribable sense that our children are actually safer here than in most parts of the world. A recent survey revealed that Israel is the fifth safest place in the world for tourists, far more so than the US. In addition, year after year, Israel is ranked in the top ten happiest countries on Earth.
How is this paradox possible? I think it’s because of our faith that we live our lives with purpose. We are here as part of God’s promise to restore us to the Land He gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their descendants. That’s us. We celebrate that at Passover, our redemption from slavery in Egypt to freedom in our Land. Sometimes, there’s a horrible price to pay. It’s not always easy. But even at times of great domestic strife, we come together as we have now.
We pray together, hug and comfort one another, and realize that whether it’s two girls from our community, two brothers from Jerusalem, or anyone else, we’re all part of an extended family with a common purpose. Unfortunately, sometimes we need these horrible things to remind us of that.
Before my neighbors were murdered, I set up an opportunity for people to donate to help. In response to the rockets, many Christian friends asked what they could do to help. Prayer is one and always needed. But also material support. The heightened threats create trauma for people throughout the country, including orphans and at-risk youth. This week, I heard that a high-level military unit that has a specialty in preventing imminent terror attacks, ticking time bombs that might happen any minute, has been stopping one such attack on average every week this year so far. So, we’re also providing equipment for rapid response civilian security teams in communities like mine where there’s a higher risk of threats. Unfortunately, there are many that need this help.
After the girls were murdered, we added to that the opportunity to send condolences and words of comfort to the family. Churches are stepping up to take an extra offering this holy week to bless Israel. We are privileged to be part of that, to use whatever resources we receive to make the most significant impact possible.
Please join us in sending your condolences and words of comfort to the family, and all of Israel, at this time of enhanced grief.