I had intended – and written – a different Chanukah message, but I cannot, with fires still burning in the Carmel forest, simply send out a message of good cheer. Over forty lives have been sacrificed. Many of us helped plant trees that are now scorched earth.
Tragedies like these tend to bring out the best in people. Not only have emergency relief funds been pouring into Israel, some of Israel’s harshest critics in these past months have sent aid and assistance. Israel has always been there for other countries in their time of need – from teaching irrigation techniques in Africa to urgent medical care in Haiti – and now that good will is being reciprocated.
So what’s our personal responsibility? I’ve heard critics, even Jewish journalists, say that this is the fault of the Israeli government so we should give no charity to help. Insufficient fire protection led to the country being ill-prepared for a fire of this scale. Why help out when the government is to blame? It’s a good question, but not the right response.
We’ve seen levies in America, not built to standard, fail with disastrous consequences during Hurricane Katrina. We’ve seen homes and schools world-over flattened by tsunamis and earthquakes because they were not built to code. Bridges not appropriately strengthened have collapsed, taking victims with them in a spiral into the sea. Terrorists not caught by our security systems have taken their causalities. Do we say to any of the victims or their families – we can’t help you because the government made a mistake?
Of course, we feel angry and even betrayed, at times, by these errors. We have to learn from error and pay attention to issues that are important, even if - at the time - they don’t seem urgent. But not for one moment do we stop the beating of a human heart that tells us that where there is pain, there is kindness. We feel compassion and do our part. In a world where inexplicably bad things happen, we respond with a thousand small kindnesses.
This Chanukah, let’s respond to a big fire with 8 small flames.
Let’s be a light to others in need.
Dr. Misha Galperin is President & CEO of the Jewish Agency International