A Message from Clergy About Israel

Dear Temple Beth El Community and Friends,

We write to you with sadness and grave concern as we read and watch the news reports of what is happening in Israel and the Palestinian territories. We grieve the loss of life. We also write with the full recognition that facts on the ground are changing quickly. We cannot understate the complexity of this situation.

Background: What’s happening?

Over the last few weeks, tensions have been rising around Sheikh Jarrah, a long-disputed area in East Jerusalem.  Additionally, Jerusalemite Arabs were recently forbidden to vote in Palestinian elections, the Damascus/Shechem Gate was closed, and Muslim demonstrators have clashed with Israeli police at the Al Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan. All these factors have contributed to the recent violence erupting across Israel.

In the last 48 hours, Hamas and Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip have used the unrest in Israel as an opportunity to further their terrorist mission by launching over 700 rockets at civilians. Israel has appropriately defended itself and her citizens with targeted airstrikes in Gaza. Unfortunately, many people have died.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism captures the complexity of this moment:

We are deeply concerned and pained by the spiraling violence happening over the last several days in Jerusalem and beyond. At this challenging moment we want to emphasize that attacks perpetuating the cycle of violence delay peace and increase bloodshed. We particularly condemn Hamas’s indiscriminate rocket attacks that once again are sowing fear and destruction, even as we condemn the Palestinian Authority’s incitement. At this moment, as Israel defends herself from assault, we also urge Israel to protect the freedom of worship of Muslims in the holy month of Ramadan and to use all possible restraint as the Israeli security forces work to address the unrest and violence by Palestinian protestors. We deplore extremists who march with Israeli flags through Jerusalem chanting “Death to Arabs.” Theirs is not an expression of restoration and national pride; it is an arrogant expression of extremism and hostility toward others.  Evicting Palestinian families from homes that they have resided in for 70 years is unjust at any time and strategically dangerous at this moment. The voices and actions of extremists who seek to polarize – Jewish and Palestinian alike – must not prevail.  

In moments of war, violence, extremism, and complexity, it is easy to center those voices which are clear, concise, and certain. But, if we pause and allow the weight of this moment to settle on our shoulders, we know that innocent lives lost and mourned amid extremist violence cannot be answered in soundbites and 280 characters. In response to the rising violence in Israel, we offer the voices of colleagues and friends – living throughout our homeland – in hopes that our Diaspora community can connect with the pain, not the platitudes.

Rabbi Hadas Ron Zariz, founding member of Hamidrasha in the North of Israel

(Today) I have been on the phone with my son in the army, terrified from war. My family is in shelters in Tel Aviv. The roads near my kibbutz are closed because of the demonstrations. It feels like everything we worked for – to live together – (I have Arabic friends, students…) everything is falling apart.

And I’m also thinking about the suffering in Gaza. And, tomorrow, I’m going to stand with other friends to protest against the violence and pray for peace. The signs for the demonstrations tomorrow will say – יהודים וערבים מסרבים להיות אויבים – Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies. (You know, it sounds better in Hebrew.)

Rabbi Joe Schwartz, living in Tel Aviv

Rockets from an enemy in Gaza, even a barrage of this magnitude, we can handle. Mass Arab riots against Jewish neighbors, even setting synagogues on fire, on the other hand, shake the very idea and promise of Israel as a liberal state. I fear that some observers from abroad will cheer these riots as the uprising of the oppressed, as a kind of long-deferred Israeli BLM movement. But I have a sinking feeling it spells just the opposite: tonight will mark the beginning of the end of Israeli Jews ever seeing Arab citizens as anything but a fifth column — not an oppressed minority but a dangerous and unassimilable arm of the enemy. To be clear, I don’t think these rioters are representative of the larger population, any more than the ultranationalist Jewish thugs are representative of the Jewish population. But when social trust is already so fragile, I don’t know whether that will be kept in mind. The left and the peace camp have increasingly placed its hopes for the future on an alliance between Arab parties and left-wing parties. Some dreamed that that alliance would be a step toward a binational state. Tonight, I fear that hope died.

Rabbi Michael Marmur, Professor of Jewish Theology at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem

I don’t pretend that it is easy to navigate the various interests and sensitivities. Threats of violent acts and escalation of unrest are palpable. Somehow all Jerusalemites must be protected, and their right to safety and self-expression be upheld. It’s immensely hard to get this right. But I want to suggest that the call of the Psalmist שאלו שלום ירושלים  should not only be translated as ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem.’ It must also mean in these dark moments, ‘ask what needs to happen for Jerusalem to have a chance of a sustainable and equitable peace’.

It was 40 years ago that I first knew I wanted Jerusalem to be my home, and for 30 of those it has been. The city is beguiling and beautiful and bursting with remarkable people. If you do what I do, help make rabbis and think Jewish thoughts, it is an epicenter, umbilicus mundi, the navel of the world. Tonight, as the sirens wail, the navel is bleeding. In the coming hours, let’s ask searching questions about the peace of Jerusalem, even as we pray for it.

A Prayer for Israel

Oh you children of Abraham,
You sons and daughters of Sarah and Hagar,
What will you become?
How long before shalom and salaam
Echo in these hills,
In these valleys and on these shores,
As shouts of awe and amazement?
How long before we remember
To hold each other dear? 

One God,
Maker of All,
Banish war from our midst.
Speedily bring forth justice, understanding and love.
Bind these wounds and heal our hearts.
On that day, the children of Ishmael
And the children of Isaac
Will dance as one.
Joy will rise to heaven
And gladness will fill the earth. 

– Alden Solovy, Jerusalem 

עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם בִּמְרוֹמָיו, הוּא יַעֲשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם עָלֵֽינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְעַל כָּל יוֹשְׁבֵי תֵבֵל, וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן.

May the One Who causes peace on high, cause peace to descend upon all of Israel and upon all the inhabitants of the earth.

L’shalom (in peace),

Rabbi Asher Knight
Cantor Mary Rebecca Thomas
Rabbi Dusty Klass
Rabbi Beth Nichols
Rabbi Judy Schindler, Emerita