Emissary takes pulse of family and friends


Fearing danger, some joke and go about daily routine

Jerusalem – Daniel Katz, left, son of Jewish Alliance Director of Jewish Learning Larry Katz, and Matan Graff during Graff’s visit home for the High Holy Days. Daniel is spending a year in Israel on a gap-year program, “Nativ.” /Matan GraffPROVIDENCE – Just a few weeks ago, in late August, I flew back to Israel to spend Rosh Hashanah with my family in Moshav Tel-Adashim (near Afula), after spending last year as the community (emissary) here in Rhode Island. It has been a wonderful year and I would like to thank everyone. I hope that my second year here will be as good as or even better than my first.

As some of you probably know, the High Holy Days in Israel are special. Everywhere you go, you see people getting ready, buying groceries and cleaning the dust off their extra tables and chairs. Sometimes it’s a real challenge to fit everyone into one room! But it’s not just that. It’s that feeling, the atmosphere that you can feel everywhere.

This public feeling is there all the time. Holidays, Shabbat, elections and, especially, when the Middle East heats up and security issues pop up. A few days before Rosh Hashanah this year, the media reported on a possibility that the United States would attack Syria and, as a result, Syria would attack Israel.

That’s not the first time Israel has been threatened by others, but some people in Israel felt that if Bashar Al-Assad uses his weapons against his own people, he wouldn’t hesitate to use them against Israeli citizens. This time the news – newspaper, online, TV, etc. – was full of pictures of Israelis waiting in lines to pick up their gas masks, just in case something happens.

It was definitely something that made some people in Israel nervous. Yet others were joking that if Syria wants to bomb Israel, they should wait and do it after Rosh Hashanah, because Jews have been waiting for it for a year now and they wouldn’t want to miss it. Yes, some Israelis joke about this kind of stuff. It’s one funny way of dealing with the ever-present threat.

I spent the holiday with my family and I had a great time. I felt very safe and secure and I trusted that the Israeli government and the international community wouldn’t let anything happen. In my opinion, most Israelis feel very safe these days – even when the threats become more real. Even when Syria threatened to attack in September, most people continued with their everyday routine and the shopping areas, malls and restaurants were full.

In a way, one’s level of comfort depends on where you live in Israel. Some people who live in the Golan Heights can see and hear the bombing in Syria (the fights between the Army and the Syrian rebels) and I’m sure that, for them, it was different than for people in Tel Aviv because they felt it was more likely to happen to them. Many of my friends are still serving in the Israeli army. From the updates I get from them, I know that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) will make sure we are all safe. But I also hope that [the IDF] won’t need to do anything and that they, too, get back home safely.

In the last few years, Israel has been threatened on a daily basis by Iran and their former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Many people in our region want to harm Israel. I believe that Israeli citizens are aware; they follow the news but also listen to the people on the streets, their friends and family – others may differ but, in my opinion, the main feeling about security threats to Israel today is to live normally.

Matan Graff (Mgraf@jewishallianceri.org) is the Israeli Emissary to our community, a position arranged by the Jewish Agency for Israel.