A note to my non-Jewish neighbors

A note to my non-Jewish neighbors

Dear readers, please feel free to pass this message on to members of our community.

Out of respect for me, a very old woman, I ask you to please read my words and understand them as the pleas of a Jewish person who strives to continue to live amongst you in tolerance, affection, and understanding. These words are meant to instill in all of us a pathway to peace, not to war. And, if you disagree with any of them, or wish to expand the dialogue, please email me. I will respond immediately.

Let me tell you a very little bit about myself. I’m New Jersey born and bred. I come from Newark and am a product of local schools, including Newark Rutgers. I also taught third grade at Miller Street School in Newark. My four adult children were all born in New Jersey.

I’m a local, just like many of you, my friends and neighbors. And I, like you, care about our community. I care very much. It is my home, the place where I live, eat, pray, socialize, shop, and relax. I don’t know all of you, but I may see you when I walk around the lake, or stand in line at the supermarket, or put out my recycling. If so, we probably exchange friendly neighborly greetings, since we feel safe among each other.

If you have a dog, I’m probably the one who greets him and compliments you on how adorable he is. Same is even more true if you have a baby. I love babies, yours and mine. I am a great-grandmother of five, but our family, God willing, looks forward to greeting three more in the next few months.

Like most in our community, our family is neither rich nor poor. We pay our bills on time, are always amazed at how high prices have become, dress and live modestly but decently, and love to travel, read, and enjoy life as much as we can. We are charitable and always try to help our neighbors.

My husband and I are both Jewish by birth and commitment. Our home is kosher, and we attend a local synagogue very regularly and frequently. A lot of our family members are Israeli, and if you knew them, you would like them. They are liberal, tolerant, and among the nicest people I know. They are very supportive of those who dream of a Palestinian state. They are not hate mongers or militants. They too long for peace. They understand that groups like Hamas are the enemies of peace and the fomenters of war.

Next month we have plans to travel to Israel to attend the bar mitzvah of our great-nephew, an occasion that Jewish boys celebrate at the time of their 13th birthdays.

Our Israeli family wants you to understand exactly who your enemies really are. They are not the Israelis or the American Jews. Not at all. They are a terrorist group called Hamas and they wreak havoc with all of our lives. You may have heard that on October 7 they invaded Israel in a surprise attack and committed the most heinous crimes that one people could commit against the other. They beheaded people. They put living babies into ovens to die. They sliced off the breasts of still living women before they raped them. They burned people alive in their homes. In one day they killed over 1,200 residents of Israel, including Americans.

And they also took hundreds of people hostage, including many whose whereabouts remain unknown to this day. Many are already dead, but many languish in underground tunnels, deprived of human necessities. There is no parallel between legitimate prisoners, criminals, held in Israeli jails. Yet Israel has traded some of those criminals to save some hostages. The numbers have been vastly disproportionate and many of the criminals pose a genuine danger to society when released.

Hamas employs barbaric methods of incitement and warfare. And they treat Palestinians with criminal intent. These innocent foils are used as human shields for the members of Hamas who situate themselves at schools, hospitals, homes, and other places where civilians proliferate. And Hamas has built a system of vast tunnels, hundreds of miles under the bloodstained streets of Gaza, protected by Palestinian victims of their goal to obliterate Israel. Billions of dollars of money meant to uplift the Palestinian residents of the Strip have been diverted to protect Hamas leadership and build these tunnels. It must be understood that the deaths and destruction of Palestinians in Gaza is due to the inhumane butchery of Hamas. Israel could not survive if Hamas was allowed to continue its murderous actions unscathed.

Perhaps you have never been to Israel. Perhaps you need to go and to see just how intertwined the lives of Palestinians and Israelis really are. For example, you may believe that Israel is an apartheid state. Nothing is further from the truth. If that were true, then what would be the likelihood that both of the Palestinian orthopedists who treated my fractured pelvis recently in a Jerusalem hospital were named Mohammed? Coincidentally, when my late mother suffered from a broken hip, her orthopedic surgeon also was Palestinian. Does that sound like apartheid to you? Many Palestinian doctors, the most prestigious of professions in Israel, are trained in Israel, at practice in the country’s most prominent hospitals.

In those same hospitals, private patient rooms are rare indeed. I remember my mother’s hospitalization in a ward of six patients, half of whom were Palestinians. Did you think that Jews and Arabs were separated in a hospital?

Now travel with me to the ubiquitous shopping malls. It’s often impossible to tell who’s who, but clearly, if a person is wearing a habib or keffiyeh, or a kippah, you know immediately who they are. The shopping malls throughout Israel serve and sell to a lively mixture of citizens, and their salespeople represent that same mix. Israel is not a country where you have to show a passport to enter a store or mall.

At the end of the day, it is true that Jews predominantly live amongst each other, and the same is true of Arabs. This is generally a preference, a choice, rather than a mandate. But did you know that Arab citizens — Druze and Bedouin in particular — attend Israeli universities and serve in the government and vote and even serve in the military? Israel is a democracy, and citizens willing to live in peace can do just that.

I am not going to review all of Jewish history with you. There are thousands of books available, including the Bible, that can comprehensively teach the Jewish habitation of the Land of Israel. Suffice it to say that the Jews and Israel go back thousands of years, not, as represented, to be an aggressive expansionist occupation. Israel is in our prayers and has been throughout our long history.

And did you know that Israel had authority over Gaza in this very century? Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 following an agreement with the Palestinian Authority and Egypt. Israelis left established communities such as Yamit, all to further steps toward peace.

The following year Hamas came to power. Their corrupt government is what led to the war Israel faces today.

I recently attended a profoundly disturbing meeting of the town council of West Orange, my hometown. The vicious attack on Israel by Hamas terrorists was never mentioned. Not once! The hundreds of miles of sophisticated tunnels built in Gaza by Hamas and used as hiding places, fronted by schools, homes, and hospitals, was not acknowledged. The hostages held by Hamas, captured on that October 7, also were ignored.

Dear friends and neighbors, I understand why you neglected to bring these topics to the forefront in a heated discussion. You were unaware of the true nightmare to which Israel has been subjected. You were taught that Israel was the aggressor, not the victim. Unlike me, you did not see the oceans of tears flowing from Israel’s mothers as they buried their sons and daughters. You did not witness the fear of the families of those serving in the IDF, including my own grandson.

You did not know the suffering of the peaceful residents of kibbutzim who had shared their lives and livelihoods with their neighbors, residents of Gaza, until their homes and citizens were destroyed without warning. These same kibbutzim had provided jobs for thousands of Palestinians, paying them fair wages and providing them with security. Hamas, the marauding invaders, are responsible for destruction, murder, and betrayal of their fellow Arabs.

If you feel hatred, I beg you to aim it to the direction of the perpetrators, not to Israel, not to Jews, but to Hamas, which has victimized all of us, and will continue to do so unless they are stopped.

Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of five. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was! She welcomes email at rosanne.skopp@gmail.com

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