There is a parable that says:
When God created the world he decided that Israel would be the land of the chosen people, the land of the Jews. The angels approached God, saying: “You are giving the Jews a land flowing with milk and honey in the heart of the world. Don’t you think it will make the other nations of the earth feel you are playing favorites?”
And God answered: “Yes, that is true… But have you seen the neighborhood?”
In reality, Israel was not “flowing with milk and honey” until Israelis made it so. We were not blessed with a land rich in any of what would normally be considered natural resources. What we have are human resources, the creativity and the drive to make something out of nothing. To solve problems and improve the world, for ourselves and for others.
On the other hand our “neighborhood” could easily be considered awful. We are surround by hostile countries. Blessed with similar (and often better) resources than Israel, our neighbors not only strive to destroy us but do very little to improve life for their own people. Continuing the neighborhood allegory, it is like living in a gang-riddled neighborhood where the neighbors not only break in to your home to steal your things (and possibly rape or murder your family on the way), they also leave their own homes to rot, neglecting their own children so that they too become criminals and even murderers.
It would be easy to look at Israel and conclude that this is a land of opportunity, of beauty and miracles plagued with the violence of the terrible neighborhood we are living in. Watching wave after wave of terror attack batter the people of Israel, it would be easy to think that this is a frightening place to live, that anyone in their right mind would do everything possible to escape the danger.
You could… however that would be missing the important point entirely.
The neighborhood sucks, but have you seen the neighbors? Our greatest danger comes from people focused on destroying us. But these are not the only people in the neighborhood. Our greatest salvation lies with our natural resources, our neighbors.
When there is a threat it is not the government who saves us. It is our neighbors.
I am sure that most people who imagine the protectors of Israel automatically picture Israeli soldiers and big tough Jewish men. Maybe they think of our policemen and women. These are our neighbors, our husbands, fathers, brothers and sisters but even this is a very incomplete image. The protectors of Israel, our heroes are most often, everyday people. They are the grey people you would never look twice at. They are not necessarily men, or strong, or even Jewish.
Israel does not divide by religion, race or gender but by values. By people who stand for what is right and people who do not.
It is possible that there is a terrorist walking amongst us at this very moment. There are many more like Haim Smadar. His story is just one example out of many but it is one I will never forget. Haim wasn’t young or strong. He was determined. That’s all. A guard at the supermarket door he decided that if a terrorist came to his store he would not let the terrorist hurt the people inside. To be clear this is a minimum wage position with no real security training, no commando unit background and no one to back him up. When the suicide bomber showed up and Haim heard her telling some Arab women nearby to get away from the store, Haim grabbed the woman and told her: “You can blow me up with you if you want but you are not getting inside this store.” She chose to murder Haim by killing herself. It is hard to know how many people Haim saved that day by making the choice he made. Had she succeeded in going deeper into the store the impact of the shrapnel-packed explosives inevitably would have killed many more people.
Most of these acts of heroism are events that you will never hear of and they reflect a mindset that most Israelis take for granted. Over and over we hear “I just did what needed to be done,” or “I just did what is expected of anyone in my situation.”
It seemed natural for a shopkeeper in the farmer’s market to show me the folding police-style baton he has now begun carrying to work and back. He explained that he travels via public transportation and he feared being in the midst of a terror attack without a way to help women or children during the attack. His thoughts were not for himself but for others who, if prepared, he could protect.
The waves of terror attacks intensify, fades and return again. The Israeli attitude of “I am my brother’s keeper” remains constant.
Strangers, people you would not normally talk to, people from different ethnic, religious and socio-economic backgrounds, people who support rival sports teams, men and women, young and old, Jews and (sometimes) even Arabs will put themselves in danger to save others.
That is our salvation. That is our strength.
Yes, it’s true that I live in a dangerous and difficult neighborhood but have you seen my neighbors?
My neighbors would die to protect me. Would yours?