‘Exceptionally scary’: Lakewood Rabbi Weisberg, visiting Israel, reports on the violence – Asbury Park Press

Posted By on May 23, 2021

Here are some major events leading to the current violence we see happening with what some are calling an all-out war between Hamas and Israel. USA TODAY

JERUSALEM -Rabbi Moshe Weisberg and his wife, Tehila, had been waiting for more than a year to visit her mother-in-law when they arrived in Israel two weeks ago.

The COVID pandemic had canceled an April 2020 trip for Passover. When Weisbergarrived May 5, with plans to celebrate the high holy days of Shavuot, the outlook seemed positive.

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Then the missile barragebegan.

The militant groupHamas launcheda deadly rocket attackonIsrael May 10. It escalated hostilities that began days earlier when Israeli policefired rubber bullets and stun grenades at protestersat Al-Aqsa Mosque, ahilltop compound revered by both Muslims and Jews.

Chaos has reigned since. The violence has claimed at least 12lives in Israel and 217 lives in Gaza, including dozens of children, according to reports.

It was frightening to finally come to Israel and then have to listen to this indiscriminate terror on children and elderly, Weisberg said during a phone interview Tuesday from his mother-in-laws apartment in Western Jerusalem. It is not targeted on anyone but the general population and unfortunately there have been casualties here. People sort of lose perspective.

Rabbi Moshe Weisberg of the Lakewood area VAAD is in Israel as the Hamas conflict rages.(Photo: Moshe Weisberg)

The White House said Wednesday President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu"had a detailed discussion on the state of events in Gaza, Israels progress in degrading the capabilitiesofHamas and other terrorist elements, and ongoing diplomatic efforts by regional governments and the United States."

Biden told Netanyahu he expects "asignificant de-escalation today (Wednesday) on thepathto a ceasefire,"the White House said.

Amid mounting international alarm over the rising death toll and growing demands from Democrats in Congress for a cease-fire, Bidenhas been quietly ramping up pressure on Netanyahuto end Israel's bombardment of Hamas targets in Gaza.

The latest outburst of violence started in Jerusalem and spread across the region, with Jewish-Arab clashes and rioting in mixed cities of Israel. There was also widespread Palestinian protests Friday in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces shot and killed 11 people.

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Weisberg said he and his wife were visiting in part to help care for her mother, who is 98 and lives alone. She is quite elderly, but she lives in her apartment with a maid. We usually come three or four times a year to help out and have been trying very hard for a year and a half to come here. We finally got permission to come and we are greeted by this.

An early COVID survivor, Weisberg said he and his wife had gotten vaccinated, but had to take several tests upon arrival before being given the green light to walk around the city.

Israel had been extremely restrictive about who they let in, he said. Because we are (related to a close relative in Israel) and willing to go through a bureaucratic hurdle, we were allowed in, he explained. Once we got the approvals to walk around, this whole thing started.

Once the attacks began, the city closed down in many areas and mobility was difficult, he said.

It has been exceptionally scary; we really couldnt leave her. All of the buildings have shelters and fortified rooms and we could not move her quickly, he said of his mother-in-law. There was only one missile in the general area where we are in, when we heard it, it was scary, it is like a loud blast of thunder, a boom and you hear the sirens.

Weisberg, who last visited in January 2020, said the local reaction has been concern and anger that what they consider an unjustified attack is being waged.

This is a terrorist organization that have started a war and shot 3,500 missiles indiscriminately, he said of Hamas. Basically, it is unjustified, they are just looking for reasons to make themselves relevant in a very cowardly way.

He added that the attacks coming after more than a year of COVID limitations is adding to the stress for local residents, as well as the ability of his family to spend each day in the holy city.

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They are trying to dig out of the whole COVIDcrises here and now they are facing this, he said. People are on their toes listening for any more attacks, but life goes on, people are doing their everyday work except in the south.

Weisberg, who is the spokesman for the Lakewood Vaad, a local council of rabbis,said his family was able to celebrate Shavuot close to normal by going to synagogue on Monday and having a family meal with two other visitors.


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It was a holiday as usual, he said. Ive been coming here for a long time, you dont get used to it, but it is a feeling like here we go again.

The recent attacks and counterstrikes have created new restrictions, such as a closure of visitors to the historic Western Wall, which Weisberg had hoped to visit again.

It is very distressing to me personally because we take a trip to the Western Wall and that has basically been restricted, he said. That is a traditional time to visit the Western Wall.

The father of three, and grandfather and great-grandfather of 29, said he has been in touch with his family.I have been speaking to them every day; they are quite concerned. It is not what we bargained for, but we are happy to be here and helping with her care, it is a blessing for us.

Weisberg also noted that the warfare is coming just weeks after the tragic April 29 stampede at Mount Meron in Northern Israel that killed 45.

It feels like tragedy keeps raining down on us in every direction, he said. It is really incredible; the Israelis are able to bounce a couple of balls in the air. They learn to live with it, but it is a little bit of a shock.

As for his family, the rabbi said he and his wife plan to stay a while longerand described the city as conducting most business as usual, although with heightened awareness.

We are going to stay a few weeks and see how it develops, we feel very close to the local residents here and we are not trying toget on the next plane, he said. It is not panic, but it is a heightenedsense of alert. You just need tokeep your antenna up.

Joe Strupp is an award-winning journalist with 30 years experiencewho covers education and Monmouth County for APP.com and the Asbury Park Press. He is also the author of two books, including Killing Journalism on the state of the news media, and an adjunct media professor at Rutgers University and Fairleigh Dickinson University. Reachhim at jstrupp@gannettnj.com and at 732-413-3840. Follow him on Twitter at @joestrupp

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'Exceptionally scary': Lakewood Rabbi Weisberg, visiting Israel, reports on the violence - Asbury Park Press

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