The Jerusalem Post
Why Israel went to Surfside
Awakening the woke culture
Although Israel’s quick-response medical team in Surfside, Florida, was generally well-received, there were some notable naysayers. Some of them were simply garden-variety antisemites and anti-Zionists (nowadays virtually the same). But even more prominent critics of Israel often betray their basic ignorance of hessed, the core Jewish concept of grace, benevolence and compassion.
Among the lesser-known detractors was Rafael Shimunov, a longtime political activist from Queens, New York, who tweeted that Israel’s “expertise is crushing buildings with people in them, not rescuing them.” The suggestion was that the IDF’s efforts in Miami were little more than reflections of governmental propaganda and hypocrisy. Palestinian-American political activist Linda Sarsour responded with a gleeful, thumbs-up emoji.
Eric Garland, a self-styled “nice intellectual combatant” whose Twitter page has over a quarter-million followers, likewise questioned why, “given the presence of Israeli Defense Forces in this mess, [the] building was demolished in such a rush.”
A perennial criticism is that the Jewish state promotes and glorifies its inclusive social policies in order to distract people from its oppression of the Palestinians. Similarly, Israelis who work to protect the environment are ridiculed as “greenwashing”; those who celebrate Israeli cuisine, of “dishwashing.”
The implication, in other words, is that Israelis always have an ulterior motive.
This is little more than a subtle form of group defamation. To infer that Israel went to Surfside only because of that community’s substantial Jewish population ignores the tiny state’s similar rescue teams sent to places like Ghana, Kenya and Mexico City. Israel takes seriously the idea that it should be a light unto the nations, forever engaged in tikkun olam (“repairing he world”).
It responds immediately to emergencies around the world not because the victims are Jewish, but because they are human.
Its history in this regard is hardly a new phenomenon. In 1953, when an earthquake in Greece took more than 1,000 lives, Israel Navy ships were on the scene to provide medical treatment to survivors. In 1985, an even more devastating earthquake in Mexico City that claimed 10,000 lives was met with an IDF delegation of search-and-rescue teams.
In 1994, after a terrorist attack on the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires that cost 85 lives, the IDF was there almost immediately, as it was in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1998 after a car bomb exploded near the US Embassy, where teams were able to rescue three people buried beneath the debris.
In 2005, following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans, Israel sent 80 tons of humanitarian supplies. In 2006 and 2012, the country responded to building collapses in Kenya and Ghana. In 2017, it helped rescue earthquake victims in Mexico City.
But for Israel’s perpetual critics, these expressions of hessed go virtually ignored.
Not so, however, in Surfside, where in the early morning of June 24, a 12-story beachfront condominium suddenly disintegrated. By Friday, an Israeli task force was on site, sifting through layers of rubble in 12-hour shifts.
The IDF’s National Search and Rescue Unit, along with members of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit of United Hatzalah, arrived Sunday
morning. With them were volunteers from ZAKA, the Israeli emergency-response organization that specializes in gathering body parts for Jewish burial. It was known that many Jewish residents, including 20 Israelis, were among the missing. As a result of these efforts, the recovery of bodies was much faster than would have otherwise been possible.
Their presence was greatly appreciated and acknowledged
by the people of Surfside, who lined the streets to give the Israeli rescue team warm embraces and rousing waves of applause as the IDF left for home, having demonstrated once again that kindness is always in season.