As violence intensified in Israel and Gaza on Tuesday, Jewish community leaders in the Bay Area shared calls for de-escalation, condemned attacks on civilians, and expressed at times fear, sadness and resolve.
Israelis rushed to bomb shelters again Tuesday night amid a barrage of rockets as sirens wailed in southern and central Israel, including in the Tel Aviv area. Three Israelis, all women, had been killed: two who were inside a house in Ashkelon when it took a direct hit and another in Rishon LeZion, a suburb of Tel Aviv. More than a dozen people were injured in missile strikes, including one that hit and incinerated a civilian bus in Holon.
Retaliatory attacks from Israel had killed 30 Palestinians as of Tuesday night, including 10 children, according to Palestinian officials, and wounded 200. Israel said it killed three Islamic Jihad and one Hamas commander in the strikes.
It was some of the most intense fighting in Israel and the Palestinian territories since the 2014 Gaza war, as concerns about further escalation shot through the international community. Senior U.S. diplomats, including Secretary of State Tony Blinken, engaged in talks Tuesday with Israeli and Palestinian officials trying to calm the violence, while many Arab states expressed outrage at the Israeli government.
According to reports, approximately 480 rockets had been fired from the Gaza Strip as of 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, including 150 that fell inside Gaza. Israel’s missile defense system Iron Dome intercepted about 200, according to an Israeli army spokesperson, Haaretz reported.
Riots and skirmishes broke out between Arabs and Jews inside Israel, and airplanes were briefly grounded at Ben Gurion Airport.
Residents of Israeli towns such as Sderot are accustomed to hurrying to bomb shelters because of missile launches from Gaza. Now, “Tel Avivians are trying to adapt to the lifestyle that southern Israel has become all too familiar with,” said Danny Grossman, a former resident of Sacramento who now lives in Israel.
On Monday night, Grossman helped tuck in his three granddaughters at Kibbutz Lahav east of Gaza. In a photo, the girls smiled and clutched stuffed animals, as though they were having a sleepover. Their dog curled up at the foot of the bed. But it wasn’t exactly a sleepover. They were sleeping in the family bomb shelter.
It was safer that way, so “they won’t have to get up every few minutes and run to the shelter,” Grossman told J. in an email with the subject line “Resilience.”
Israeli schools were to be closed Wednesday in Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, Herzliya, Holon, Lod and some other cities.
“Growing up in the Northeast [United States], we used to listen to the radio in the morning to hear if our school district would be closed due to snow,” Grossman said. “Here they listen … if another type of object falling from the sky will determine if they stay at home or not.”
In the Bay Area, religious and lay leaders tried to grapple with the disturbing and jarring news reports and video footage.
On social media, images of Israeli police using stun grenades and rubber bullets inside the al-Aksa mosque during Ramadan spread rapidly. The police were responding to violent clashes stemming in part from Palestinian protests over eviction threats to several families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
The word “Zionist” trended for hours on Twitter and with it, harsh critiques of Israel that went well beyond policy disputes.
Tasha Kaminsky, a young Jewish activist in St. Louis, used the hashtag #SaveSheikhJarrah (as have thousands of others) in her comment on Twitter: “[G]enuine question if you still identify as a zionist … is it really worth it? is all this worth it? is firing on people in a mosque worth [it]? are the dead children worth it?”
Rachel Nilson Ralston, executive director of San Francisco Hillel, sent a message of support to college students associated with the Jewish organization, including to students currently studying abroad in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
genuine question if you still identify as a zionist…is it really worth it? is all this worth it? is firing on people in a mosque worth? are the dead children worth it?
— #SaveSheikhJarrah (@tashakaminsky) May 10, 2021
“The unfolding news and images … elicit a wide range of feelings and thoughts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, peace and justice, and the experience of being Jewish in the world,” Ralston wrote. “If you are looking for a place to respectfully, emphatically, and compassionately discuss and process what is going on, we’re here to hold space for your questions and reactions with listening and support.”
Some Jewish leaders sent statements directly to J. One was state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, who warned about an “escalation of violence [that] hurts everyone.”
“It pains me to witness this endless cycle of death and destruction,” wrote Wiener, a progressive. “The rocket fire attacks from Gaza are beyond unacceptable, and I condemn them.
“As Jewish Americans, we must also hold our beloved homeland to the highest of our ideals and ensure that we treat our Palestinian neighbors with dignity,” he continued. “Israel has a responsibility to seek diplomatic solutions and avoid escalating an already explosive situation — in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.”
Behind-the-scenes efforts to ease tensions were underway Tuesday, and involved the United States, although no agreement had been reached. The U.N. Security Council was preparing to release a statement, according to Haaretz, expressing “concern about the clashes and the potential evictions” and calling on Israel “to cease Jewish settlement activities, demolitions and evictions and urge general restraint.”
Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin of Temple Sinai in Oakland stressed, in an email reply to J., the need to “condemn all violence, especially violence against civilians.”
“If we only condemn one side or the other, we are betraying any argument we make about justice and the worth of human life, and we become an essential part of the problem,” she said, adding, “It is scary how quickly so many people rush to cry for the destruction of Israel when clashes happen.”
Noting that Israel should be held “accountable when it needs to be doing better,” Mates-Muchin continued, “We are not hoping for a winner here, we are hoping for peace for everyone.”
Rabbi Mark Bloom of Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland wrote that he was “mostly just very saddened by the whole thing, and the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives.”
Reflecting on his time spent in Israel, Bloom recalled the “mini traumas” of huddling in bomb shelters, “knowing that Hamas and other terrorists still have the goal of destroying as many innocent lives as they can.”
He said he remains concerned about “increasing anti-Semitism” particularly on social media, “much of which is bathed in ignorance.”
“I really believe Israel should let go of claims to Sheikh Jarrah,” he added.
The Israeli Supreme Court delayed a decision on whether to evict several Palestinian families from the neighborhood on Sunday, as some Israelis have asserted pre-1948 Jewish claims that would displace current residents.
“Even though there are valid reasons for Israeli Jews to live there, not only does it add fuel to the fire, [but] banking on a right of return to pre-1948 lands sets up a dangerous precedent for all sides of the conflict,” Bloom said.
Tye Gregory, executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, said JCRC has been watching the escalation of violence in Jerusalem “with great sadness.”
He wrote: “Jerusalem has been a sacred city and home to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike for millennia, and residents of all faiths must have the freedom to worship. Calls for restraint, condemnation of violence, and actionable measures to de-escalate the situation are necessary at this time to prevent the crisis from metastasizing further.
“Additionally, we strongly condemn the reckless rocket fire and incendiary balloon attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups from Gaza toward civilians inside Israel, including the cities of Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh and other areas in the south. Israel, like any sovereign nation, has the right to protect its civilians.”