Realities and Questions on Israel

By Victor Rabinovitch

I still feel like I have been living two versions of reality. Before leaving on our recent Partnership 2Gether mission to Israel, so many people warned: “Stay safe”. Others were more direct, even asking: “Why now - why go at all?”

But when I arrived in Tel Aviv, things felt so different from what I expected. Highways were crowded. City streets were filled with shoppers and diners. There were no sirens and no indicators of war, except for signs pointing to shelters. 

It was evident that the images we have of Israel today aren’t true. Yes, there is a war on the southern border in Gaza. There are active hostilities on the northern border with Lebanon. Memories of the murders, rapes, and kidnapping by Hamas and others from Gaza on October 7, remain raw. But within most of the country life goes on in its lively, noisy and seemingly Israeli way.

This points out a paradox in Israeli society. Every family is touched by the reality of war. Young adults serving in Israel’s citizen army are now deployed to active battles. Other adults in the military reserve have left their jobs and homes to fight on frontlines or in tunnels. Families worry. Business is impacted. Relations between Israeli Arabs and Jews are more tense and suspicious. 

And yet, from outward appearances, people’s lives are normal. Perhaps it is part of a national wish to avoid being viewed as victims - the Jews of Europe were victims in the Holocaust, and the Jews of the Muslim lands were victims of mass expulsions. But the modern Jews of Israel share a sense of strength, unity, and readiness to sacrifice. This sounds like bravado, but it is the reality we experienced. Warnings to us to “stay safe” were hardly needed. 

Our group from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa had joined with representatives from Canada’s smaller Jewish communities: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, and Winnipeg for this mission.

Our Israeli hosts created a packed agenda - long days of meetings with local leaders and ordinary people, political and military leaders, educators, businesspeople, and social service workers. Discussions were open, with lots of opportunities for private chats.

My Ottawa colleagues will write about many details from our intense, informative visit.  My comments have focused on the spirit and mood that we experienced. 

I wish I could offer insights into the politics and diplomacy that will bring an end to the current hostilities. I cannot. But here are some questions about people and their lives, reflecting what we heard in many conversations.

1. As the settlements near the Gaza border and the city of Sderot are now being reopened to their citizens, what portion of the original population will choose to return to Israel's south? Will they feel secure? Are the thousands of Israelis who have been displaced, living as internal refugees, soon be able to resume normal living?

2. Will a war that is comparable to what is happening in Gaza also be needed in the North to ensure security?

3. How soon will inhabitants of northern communities - the kibbutzim of the Galilee, and the residents of towns and cities - be able to return home? 

4. What major initiatives can we help, as Canadians, to improve the lives of Israelis who live in border areas? How can the miracles of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and Modiin be expanded to all regions?

5. Finally, and answers to this are well beyond my own knowledge, how will the lives and conditions of Gazans be re-built, in a manner that protects their safety and Israel’s security?

The bottom line is clear. Israel has the right to exist as a normal country. Israel is an essential part of modern Jewish existence. All people who live in the Mid-East region will benefit from peace and tolerance.

--Victor Rabinovitch is Past President of Kehillat Beth Israel synagogue and served on the Board for the Federation for eight years.

Displaced children from Kibbutz Dan