Israel's response to the victims of the Turkey earthquake is the Jewish one

My blessing for Muhammed Ahmed - a two-year-old rescued from the rubble

February 16, 2023 12:02

Last week, BBC news online published footage of Muhammed Ahmed, a Syrian citizen living in the Hatay region in Turkey, one of the areas worst affected by the earthquake. 
He was trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building for 45 hours and when the rescuers found him he was pinned down by fallen masonry.

Muhammed is two years old. 
He is so little that the rescuers couldn’t hold a bottle to his lips for him to drink water: it would have been too big for his mouth and too much would have come out at once. They had to pour the water into the bottle’s cap and then hold it to his mouth so he could take baby sips.

As he drank, a little smile spread across little Muhammed’s face. And beneath the grime and filth that had besmirched his face, his big brown eyes shone with relief.

He has since been extricated from the rubble and is now being cared for.

What are we to feel about little Muhammed? Will he be our friend or our enemy in 20 years’ time?

And what is Israel supposed to do about this crisis that has befallen Syria, one of her most implacable enemies, and Turkey, with whom relations have fluctuated between uneasy and downright hostile over the years?

Put another way, what should Jews do when our enemy is in trouble?

I have found some answers in our texts. In Proverbs 24:17 – 18, King Solomon says, “When your enemy falls do not rejoice, lest God will see and it will be bad in His eyes.”

Malbim explains that if we react with cruelty and vengeance to our enemies in their distress,, God will judge us for it. Such feelings have no place in a heart that seeks to be an abode for the divine presence.

In truth, we see this also in the first and the sixth of the Ten Commandments which we read in our synagogues last Shabbat.

We know that the commandments were engraved on two stone tablets, with five on each. The top commandment on the first tablet said I am the Lord your God. The top commandment on the second tablet said You must not kill.

The parallel positioning of these commandments connects them. Murdering a fellow human is like an assault on God, because every single person is beloved of God and is an earthly representation of His glory.

But we don’t just come across this theme in the Ten Commandments. We are required to have an indefatigable belief in the goodness of human beings, to the point that we pray repeatedly and specifically for the most wicked people on earth, not that they should suffer and die but that God should help them to mend their ways and approach Him, the source of all blessing and happiness.

This prayer is said at the end of every single service. It features in the second paragraph of Aleynu, composed by Joshua who led the Jewish people into Israel after the Exodus, “and who had to confront the disgusting and bloodthirsty savagery of the Canaanites”.

There can be few more inclusive prayers than this one: “We hope in You, Lord our God… that you will put the world right with divine majesty and let all flesh call in Your name and turn all the wicked people of the world towards You.”

This indomitable Jewish spirit of affection for all people has found expression in the actions of the Israeli government, which has sprung into action as one of the foremost partners with Turkey in the relief effort.

This is despite Israel being tiny country, no bigger than Wales, and not even Turkey’s next door neighbour.

There are nearly 500 Israeli personnel in Turkey, working to locate and rescue victims, save lives, heal the wounded and provide emergency shelter for the homeless.

And more than 15 Israeli cargo planes have flown hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid to the disaster area.

Even Syria has called on Israel for help via Russian intermediaries, and the Jewish state has responded. It is sending humanitarian aid, medication, blankets and tents to one of its fiercest foes in their hour of need.

As for little Muhammed Ahmed — I have a blessing for him.

That he should learn one day of the Israeli interventions in the land of his birth and the country where he nearly lost his life in an earthquake; that he should see Jewish people as his comrades reflecting the image of God into the world, just as we see him; that he should live in a world blessed by truth, peace, friendship and the kingdom of God.

David Lister is rabbi at Edgware United Synagogue

February 16, 2023 12:02

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