'Tense' and 'calm' are usually considered opposites, but in a way you need both of them together to describe the mood in Jerusalem at the moment. Calm – because life in this city is being lived at its usual pace, without any interference or missile anxiety. Tense – because there is a conflict raging just a couple of hours away from here, and because many of us have loved ones who are directly involved in the hostilities, either as soldiers or as residents of towns within range of Hamas rockets.
At HUC-Jerusalem both the calm and the tension are palpable. Some of our College community have seen loved ones called up since the land offensive was launched. Those of us who have lived here for some time know that it is always easier to know how military incursions begin than to predict how they may develop. There is no room either for panic, or for self-delusion.
This morning I and members of the wonderful HUC-Jerusalem team held a briefing for those of our Year in Israel students and their family members who wanted to spend some of their Reading Day at the start of Exam Week thinking and talking about the current situation. I suggested that at times like these five questions are particularly appropriate:
How might the situation play out in the future?
How do I weigh up the moral dimensions of the situation?
How might it affect me?
What can I do to help?
We discussed each of these questions. Dr. David Mendelsson offered a masterful summary, and extra input was offered by Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Cantor Tamar Havilio, Head of Student Life Nancy Lewitt, and the program's Executive Assistant Helen Linden. As usual, our students displayed great sensitivity and concern. It was particularly impressive and moving to hear one of the students suggest that they reach out to a number of IDF officers with whom they have been engaged this year in a project called 'Parallel Lives'.
Students in the Year in Israel program are like the rest of us: tense and calm. We continue to follow events with concern and attentiveness, and we hope that by the time the students return for our second semester, the current situation will have given way to something better. I told our students that our institution believes that its students are implicated in what happens to the State of Israel, and that this year in Israel offers powerful testimony to this fact. Naamah suggested that to continue with their quotidian tasks would be the best response to all that is happening. We continue to do all we can to provide information, support and security information. From my perspective, the students continue to be an inspiration: self-aware yet community-conscious, alert but not alarmed, tense and calm.