ELKAN’S VIEW 6th April 2015
One of the classic definitions of the Jewish people is that we are “Rachmanim bnai Rachmanim – Merciful human beings, the children of merciful human beings”. Given the fact that during our history as a nation we have been treated with more cruelty and less mercy than anyone else, this itself is remarkable. We have no record in our long history of persecuting anyone else.
Natural disasters however are something totally different. Israel is a country liable to earthquakes – there was a mild one last week stretching from Ashkelon to Eilat. The prophet Zechariah describes the Mount of Olives as splitting “half to the north and half to the south”. In the Musaph service on Yom Kippur there is a prayer for the inhabitants of the Sharon plain, roughly from south of Tel Aviv up to Haifa, that “their houses should not become their graves”. Current building regulations in Israel require houses to be earthquake proofed.
Modern disasters tend to be on a large scale, although this may be simply because we now know more about what is going on in the global village. The recent horrendous earthquake in Nepal has brought out the best in Israeli society. There are more medics on the ground from Israel – some 250 of them – than from anywhere in the world, with its large and now famous field hospital, previously deployed in Haiti, Japan and the Phillipines.
Some of the key personnel have come from the Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem with which I am well acquainted, including the medical director and his deputy. Others have come from all the major hospitals in Israel and form one of the most significant and proud statements of Jewish ethics that can be seen in the world. If there are human beings that are suffering, Israel will try to assist as far as it can. Judaism regards all human beings as having been created in the image of God, and today it is the proud achievement of the State of Israel to extend their care to all suffering humanity regardless of colour or creed.