Dear Rodeph Sholom Family,
I’m shattered most by the children. Israeli children slaughtered. Palestinian children used as human shields. The children of this congregation who feel abandoned in halls of learning and by friends, and afraid to show their Jewishness beyond their homes. For it is with the moral clarity of innocence embodied by children that we are forced to reckon with the inhumanity of this time.
As Israel is left ever-more alone on the world stage, and as the most vile vitriol against Jews echoes again around the globe and in our neighborhoods, the feelings are many. Horror. Anger. Betrayal. Bewilderment. Fear. Perverse calls for liberation attempt to justify the massacre of Jewish bodies and we witness the grotesque position Hamas creates for Israel. When Jewish children are harmed, kidnapped, or destroyed, Hamas wins. When Palestinian children are harmed and destroyed, Hamas wins. Which raises the question: what is our path forward?
Judaism is not pacifistic. From the Torah forward, there are times when war is obligatory. That time is now. However, the ethics of war remain definitional to the Jewish psyche. How we engage an enemy, how we protect the innocence of children, how we reach for justice while holding compassion, all define Jewish responsibility even in necessary conflict. In such times of war, our moral code becomes ever more necessary to steer action away from vengeance and towards the vision of a world redeemed.
This Shabbat, we will read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities deemed by God to be irredeemable. As Abraham learned of this divinely ordained fate, he challenged God that the presence of even 10 innocent people should complicate divine judgement. As this war progresses, as more and more children and innocent lives are lost, we mourn the destruction of entire worlds of being. We understand with increasing pain the repugnancy of Hamas’s strategies, and we respond by standing together with resolve and ethical vision.
The children are the clarion call of complexity. I believe the State of Israel is obligated to pursue an enemy seeking out the destruction of the most innocent, and I also believe the death of every innocent warrants grief. As hundreds of thousands of Israelis of every faith and background are now deployed in military service, as thousands of lives are mourned, we feel the heartbreak and the weight of this obligation. This is what defines the humanity of Judaism. Even in war, especially in war, the sanctity of life abides. Hamas has ensured there are only awful paths ahead. But our task is to lift our eyes, to see the vision of the world as it ought to be and hold the preciousness of life as best we can.
As our president, Stacy Kanter, communicated on Sunday, we are responding to this time of horror, anger, and fear by raising responsibility and stepping forward to be lights of education, generosity, and care. We are reimagining so much of what we do as a congregation to ensure we are prioritizing community and support. To that end, in the coming days we will inform you of new experiences we hope will help hold us in this time of complexity and raise our resolve with strength and morality. Together, may we see that we are not alone. Together, may we channel strength. Together, may we center humanity in the face of inhumanity. Together, may we hold grief alongside vision.