Roughly midway through a presentation at Temple Avodah in Oceanside on Dec. 19, a man sitting in the audience raised his hand and asked, “What exactly are you asking us to do here?”
The presentation — led by visiting Rabbi Moshe Pitchon and titled “Seeds of Hope and Peace” — was billed as a discussion to address the Syrian Civil War, which enters its sixth year of bloody conflict. Most recently, the fighting has spurred more attention, as Bashar al-Assad’s government and its allies gain ground on rebel-held territories.
Pitchon had so far talked about the brutality the Assad regime has inflicted upon its own people and the selfless efforts of the staff at Ziv Medical Center, a hospital located in northeastern Israel, where wounded Syrians were being treated. But he neglected to tell the audience what it could do to help.
What do you do when a foreign country uses chemical weapons, starvation tactics, homemade barrel bombs dropped from helicopters and incendiary weapons on its own people? What do you do when the international community sits by and watches as almost 500,000 people are killed and millions displaced by their own government?
“We ask you to donate,” said Pitchon. He was seeking funds for the non-governmental organization, Amaliah, which was ferrying injured Syrians across the Israeli border to Ziv.
According to Pitchon, it costs $468 to ferry a Syrian both ways across the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to Ziv. Amaliah would like to bring 3,800 people to the hospital in the coming months for medical attention, he said.
At the event, which featured poetry readings and musical interludes, Pitchon asked the group, which included people from communities across the south shore, to help Amaliah in its cause.
For the injured Syrians, their medical costs are covered through collaboration between the Israeli government, the Israeli Defense Force and the hospital itself.
“They are never going to love us,” Pitchon said, referring to Syrians and Israelis. “But we want them to not hate us.” Israel and Syria have been at war since 1948.
Pitchon spoke of how extraordinary Ziv and Amaliah’s efforts are considering Israel’s relationship with Syria. “Israel has no worse enemy than Syria,” said Pitchon, while recounting stories told by Israeli fighter pilots who were downed over Syria during the 1972 Yom Kippur War.
He spoke of the dangers concerning Hezbollah, the paramilitary Islamist organization that controls southern Lebanon, just north of the hospital, which currently fights in Syria on behalf of Assad’s government, and destroyed part of Ziv via a rocket attack during Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon, also known as the Second Lebanon War.
In the face of such hostile actors, Pitchon asked the people gathered at Temple Avodah to raise their hands if they thought Israel should completely seal off its borders. No one raised a hand. Then he asked, “Who wants to extend a helping hand?” The hands went up.
For the most part, the event avoided addressing the fraught politics of the region. Instead the focus was on humanity, “Jews have a concept,” said Pitchon. “It’s called the ethics of responsibility.”
He called on the audience members to accept that responsibility and donate to Amaliah and their mission to reduce the suffering of injured Syrians, even if it is only a temporary reprieve,
If you would like to learn more about Amaliah, visit the organization’s site at www.amaliah.org.