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Opinion: Scott Morris on Memphis connections to the attacks in Israel

By: Anna Bearman | October 11, 2023

Opinion: Scott Morris on Memphis connections to the attacks in Israel

By G. Scott Morris, Special to The Daily Memphian

Noa Lavyud lived in Memphis for most of the last two years until she recently returned home to Ashkelon in Israel. This past Saturday was a normal day for her.

Until it wasn’t.

Noa had decided not to go to the outdoor music concert happening just a few miles away. All of a sudden, the world exploded. She and her family rushed into their miklat, or bomb shelter, where she has remained off and on for the last four days. She heard voices outside the door, and she knew that if she was found she could be killed.

Many friends were murdered at the music festival, and it could have been her. She has had conversations with mothers whose children were kidnapped and taken into Gaza, and with daughters whose elderly mothers are also now hostages.

This would all have been compelling to know, as we are all following the news, but it would not have been something personal to me. That changed Monday night when I went to a prayer vigil at Temple Israel. In the midst of prayers and songs, Noa spoke to the congregation via video from her home in Israel. Most of the people gathered at Temple Israel knew her. She was stoic in the telling of her story, except for when she said, “I didn’t know what to think when I didn’t know what my future would be.”

I first went to Israel 15 years ago, when Rabbi Micah Greenstein and I organized a group of Memphis clergy, Black and white, to tour the Holy Land as a way to better get to know each other and to forge relationships that would help us work together in Memphis. It has been successful. I went again a few years later.

I was planning to return for a third visit next week when instead I found myself at a prayer vigil at Temple Israel listening to Noa.

I have always been a strong supporter of Israel, while hoping that a two-state option could be fair to the Palestinians. Surely, I thought, a political solution could be worked out where everyone could live together in peace and understanding.

Of course it hasn’t been that simple. Many world leaders have tried, yet here we are.

Since the 1980s, what persistently stands in the way is the desire of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran to annihilate Israel as a nation, including every Jewish person.

I don’t believe that all Palestinians believe this. Far from it. But it is what Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran have clearly stated as their objectives. Why should we not believe them when they say this and launch a brutal military attack against civilians?

My first visit to Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum, made it clear that the desire to kill Jews is real. On the upcoming trip we’d been planning, my wife Mary and I were seriously considering not going to Yad Vashem. It is just too depressing. It has now been 78 years since the end of the Holocaust. Six million Jews were murdered. Today, six million Jews live in Israel. It seems that some would willfully bring about another Holocaust within the borders of that small country.

Monday night while sitting inside the sanctuary at Temple Israel, I looked around at my Jewish friends. It touched me deeply that, had they been in Ashkelon last Saturday, they could have been killed just because they are Jews.

Israel’s retaliation for the murders on Saturday will be forceful, intense and deadly. It already has been, but we can expect more. People will question if it this is necessary. They will ask, “Why can’t they just live in peace?” A good question, but how do you live in peace when groups like Hamas and Hezbollah believe that all Jews should die and the state of Israel should never exist?

My politically savvy Jewish friends struggle with essential values in their thinking. They believe in the concept of Shalom. Not just peace in some superficial way, but peace — shalom — that brings about inner completeness and tranquility and an encompassing well-being and good health. But how do you hold to that when Hamas is actively killing your children and taking your Holocaust-surviving grandmother hostage?

I am not Jewish, although the Jesus of my Christian faith was. For now I am left to stand with my Jewish friends in Memphis in any form of prayer there may be. I will listen to Rabbi Micah and other Jewish leaders as God touches their hearts in the days to come.

This isn’t over and may never be in my lifetime. But how I show compassion for the Jews of the world and of Memphis will reveal who I am to myself and to God. Of this I am certain.

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