By Nathan Mayberg
FALLSBURG September 5, 2006 In mid-August, on the day the dust settled and the blood stopped spilling in the war between Israel and Hezbollah, the terrorist organization operating in southern Lebanon, 22 rabbis from the Americas visited Israel in solidarity.
Among them was Rabbi Yakov Barros of the South Fallsburg Hebrew Association. And his experience provided an interesting outlook into the events that plagued the troubled state of Israel.
The rabbis, part of the Rabbinical Council of America (the largest rabbinical council in the world) arrived in Israel on the day a cease fire was announced between the two sides. The cease fire followed weeks of deadly fighting between the two sides which killed hundreds of people.
Over an eight-day period, Barros visited much of northern Israel, where cities were hit by thousands of rockets fired by the terrorist group. They visited wounded soldiers who had lost limbs and were in comas. They saw buildings hit and battered by the rockets, as well as fragments of the rockets themselves.
When Barros visited the trauma center at the Rambam Hospital in Haifa (the third largest city in Israel), he and other rabbis offered their thanks to the soldiers who had risked their lives to defend their country. The rabbis gratuities were refused by the soldiers, who said it was their duty and honor to protect their country and help fight the global war against terror, relayed Barros.
One of the young men, who broke his leg after a grenade went off, told a courageous story widely reported in the Israeli news media. His commander jumped on a grenade thrown by Hezbollah guerrillas during close- quarters fighting on the ground. He did so to save his fellow fighters. The young soldier felt he should have jumped on the grenade because he was young and without family, whereas the commander had a wife and two children.
According to the rabbi, the soldiers said the fighting in Lebanon was very difficult, due to the heavy media scrutiny that required them to be extra careful about which areas they bombed. In one instance a building which was the scene of outgoing rocket fire, was bombed by the Israelis, but many civilians were killed.
The katyusha rockets being shot out by Hezbollah, carried 60,000 bullets. Their damage was evident in the hundreds of pictures Barros took of the northern part of Israel. Some communities were ravaged. Much of northern Israel was evacuated by its residents. They visited a forest where nearly one million trees were burned from rocket fire. For a state like Israel, where trees are relatively scarce, that is a huge number.
The contingent also visited an orphanage in northern Israel, below Nazareth in a town called Afula. The children there had been traumatized before by suicide bombers from the intifada of five years ago. Now they have been further affected by a barrage of rocket attacks by Hezbollah. Hezbollah fired its thousands of inaccurate rockets indiscriminately across the border into Israel. Many of them spent a lot of time in bomb shelters.
Barros learned how many Israelis in the south opened up their homes to their fellow citizens of the north. Even poor people allowed fellow countrymen, who they didnt even know, to sleep on their kitchen floors. There is a tremendous sense of brotherhood, said the rabbi.
The council raised funds for Israeli families affected by the war. The trip by Barros was sponsored by his synagogue and the local Jewish community. He joined rabbis from across the U.S. to Canada and even Venezuela. They sponsored a recreation day which will be held twice a month in one northern town deeply affected by the war.
Overall, noted the rabbi, soldiers and citizens were generally upbeat about the state of affairs in this country. Soldiers and military officials believed they had crippled the terrorist group ,though they acknowledged the organization could quickly regroup with the assistance of their state sponsors in Iran and Syria.
He said there was a general feeling in the country that the recent war was only a prelude to a larger battle in the future.
Barros said that many Israeli Arabs, which make up 20 percent of the population in Israel, were upset with Hezbollah for starting the war. Up in the north, many Arabs were killed from the rockets. In Haifa, the Jews and Arabs enjoy a good relationship, he said.
I never felt safer in my life, the rabbi said of his experience. He said the country was back to its normal routine once the cease fire was in effect.
Asked whether there is fear about Iran, which has called for the destruction of Israel and is developing nuclear weapons; Barros said slightly. Israel is watching Iran closely, he said. But, Israel has lived with threats since its birth. Life goes on as normal, he commented.
On September 6, Barros will have a slide show presentation of the pictures he took in Israel at the South Fallsburg Hebrew Association Synagogue on Lake Street at 7 p.m. Admission is free.