Safe in the land that has been promised to us

Reflections on a year in Israel

By Rikki Mangel

Since August 2020, I have been in Israel for a gap year in a women’s college in Jerusalem. I expected challenges to come up with the Covid-19 restrictions, but I never imagined that I would go through all the events that have taken place this year. I always felt safe knowing I was in Israel, in the land of the Jews and the land where God’s protection is clearly felt.

On May 10, I ran into a bomb shelter as sirens went off around Jerusalem. At that moment, I didn’t know how the conflict would continue or what it would mean for me.

While watching the news throughout the next week and a half, I saw how close to home this all was.

Hamas terrorists were shooting rockets at Israel indiscriminately with no regard for innocent civilians, neither Jews nor the Arab citizens of Israel.

Rockets were hitting cities throughout Israel, some just minutes away from me.

Besides the threat from Hamas, local Arabs were physically attacking Jews in places that I go to everyday: some just a short walk from my dorm. These events resulted in many Jews injured and even killed. Meanwhile, the world’s reaction was to hold pro-Hamas and Palestinian riots.

During this time, I was scared by the fact that the world could reach such a point. Jews started feeling unsafe in places that we never would’ve imagined such a thing could happen.

Along with all the lies spread in the media, many Americans have been openly antisemitic and criticized a country protecting itself and its citizens.

Social media was full of posts condemning and attacking Israel. Celebrities were posting false narratives to their millions of followers and supporting the Palestinians. Yet they failed to mention the terrorist attacks that Hamas committed or the innocent Israeli lives upended and at risk.

Rockets launched toward Israel from the Gaza Strip, May 12. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

It angered me that people could blame Israel for being oppressors, committing ethnic cleansing, and stealing land when, in reality, the opposite is true. Using these fabricated claims as a justification for the targeting of Jewish lives is wrong.

A week later, I was thinking about these facts when I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance museum in Israel.

I saw the propaganda that the Nazis made up and spread to the world to convince them that Jews were a danger to humanity.

I saw how many countries stood by and just let the Nazis attempt to rid the world of Jews. I saw how the world believed the false media and stood silent while the Jews were tortured and killed, how the Nazi soldiers were ruthless: treating people with cruelty beyond belief and no sympathy.

Their goal was to strip the Jews of their humanity. I saw how generations of Jewish communities were ripped apart and how the survivors had to start life anew.

As I walked through the museum, my head kept going back to the current situation in Israel and throughout the world. It pained me to see how more than 75 years later, the world can be in such a similar place.

Even after Nazi Germany was defeated and the Jews liberated from labor and death camps, we are still in a position where so many in the world wish to see us gone.

Going to Yad Vashem clarified for me the importance of pointing out what was happening in Israel. The same mistakes of the world standing by and false media spreading are being repeated.

Again they are trying to kick us out, and this time from a country that rightfully belongs to the Jewish Nation.

As I was processing the current situation, I thought back to another recent tragedy that I, and the Jewish people as a whole, have gone through: what took place in Meron, Israel on April 30.

My friends and I were there to participate in the holy celebration, an experience that was highly uplifting and inspirational. The joy and excitement were evident until the event took a turn for the worst.

Just a day after the Holocaust museum, I went back to Meron for the first time since being there on Lag B’Omer. I stood in the exact spot that 45 Jews tragically lost their lives in a stampede. I saw the place where I was standing while everything was going on but still didn’t comprehend exactly what happened. I remembered the confusion of the moment and the sadness from the news we heard. I walked down the same road which I excitedly had walked up when I arrived for Lag B’Omer and then hours later, ran down as a scene of terror surrounded me.

I thought back to the eerie feeling I had as thousands of Jews walked down a road trying to get on a bus, and the chaos there was as many were still trying to find their family.

Each time I saw another ambulance or stretcher pass by, I was reminded that people not far from me had just lost their lives. Each of these 45 Jewish lives holds so much value; each one a role that can never be replaced.

Israeli rescue forces and police at the scene after a mass fatality during the celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel, April 30. Photo: David Cohen/Flash90.

As days went by, we were still in a state of confusion and shock, not processing how a night that was meant to be pure joy had turned into despair.

As I think about these events, I see sadness, hurt, and injustice. It would be easy to sit in sorrow and dejection and feel lost by the craziness of the world around us.

But I can also see that God is there for us and gives us a purpose to fulfill. I see how God protects the Jews and gives us the strength to continue on.

That 4,000-plus rockets can be fired at Israel and barely make a dent. Yes, each life lost is one too many, but miraculously, the numbers are few. We remain safe in the land that has been promised to us.

My visit to Yad Vashem helped solidify my thoughts on the Meron tragedy and the current events in Israel.

I am proud that my grandfather is a survivor of the Holocaust and went on to establish generations to come of God-fearing Jews. My grandfather always tells us stories with such belief that God is there every step of the way. He is proof that only God can decide what will be, and that one can always trust Him.

I realized just how real everything was, and with this message in mind, I can look at the recent events I have gone through and know how to continue.

I know that though I may not understand God’s ways or why the tragedy at Meron happened, I do know that I am still here now, and there is more I can do to make this world a better place. I know that God gives each of us a mission, and it is up to us to live a life of meaning.

These events all show me that when tragedy hits, the Jewish Nation stands in unity, and we do all that’s in our power to add more light to this world.

A Dayton native, Rikki Mangel completed her year in Israel on June 16. This summer, she’s working for Camp Gan Izzy at the Chabad Jewish Center of South Metro Denver. In the fall, she’ll join the staff of the Early Learning Center at Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh.

To read the complete August 2021 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

Previous post

Beyond the letter of the law

Next post

Marc Jacob returns to lead JCC