Entering Shabbat with Israel on Our Minds

Whenever a major crisis occurs in our country or in the state of Israel, I feel a pressure as a rabbi to react swiftly. The task can be daunting: to sift through the various news sources to reach conclusions about what is happening, and then to process that information into a coherent message to share with a community of people with diverse needs and orientations. The issue of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in particular, is supercharged, and must be handled with care. 

Meanwhile, I’m a person too, trying to make sense of all of this for myself. And right now, I feel disconnected from the discussion I see playing out. When I scroll through social media or my newsfeed and see a post with updates about what is happening in Israel, I feel a pit in my stomach. Because I know that most of the statements I see reflect only a piece of the story. 

Each statement makes a demand: Show us you’re on our side. You’re either with us, or you’re against us. Demonstrate your loyalty by saying the right words. 

I’m not going to do that this time. I’m breaking the fourth wall, so to speak. I’m going to write what is in my heart and mind right now, with the acknowledgement that whatever I say is by necessity incomplete and in formation. 

My heart breaks for the citizens and residents of Israel who have to take refuge from rockets, whose loved ones who have been killed or injured in the attacks.

My heart also breaks for those who have been killed by Israeli military strikes in Gaza. 

For those who have been violently attacked because they are Jewish, and for those who have been violently attacked because they are Palestinian. 

For the painful daily experiences of those Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusualem whose movements are controlled and freedoms limited, and for those who live under blockade in Gaza under the leadership of Hamas. 

For the fact that we can’t even talk about what is happening on the human level, because of how quickly it gets politicized. How the conversation about a resolution to this conflict – this particular episode, and the one that has lasted for years – can so easily turn into an evaluation of whose lives matter more. 

How what should be a season of joy for the Muslim and Jewish communities in Israel and Palestine – the conclusion of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr this Wednesday, and the Jewish celebration of receiving the Torah on Shavuot next week – has instead become a time of fear, violence, and grieving.

I know that the words I offer can never be enough for those who are suffering. 

We pray for the safety of all our family and friends in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, and for a swift end to the current violence. We wish comfort to all of those who are mourning the death of loved ones, and a speedy and complete healing for those who have been injured. And we pray for peace and justice for Israelis, Palestinians, and their neighbors. 

Shabbat Shalom.

(Originally posted to the KH listserv, Friday, May 14, 2021)