Crisis in Israel
10.10.23 | Stories, Articles, Israel
Our hearts are heavy with the news of the horrific Simchat Torah attack on Israel. As we learn more, the weight becomes almost too much to bear. Israel is a tiny country; everyone is connected by one or two degrees of separation. There will not be a single citizen of Israel that will not feel the pain of loss or the pain of not knowing the fate of loved ones. In the Diaspora, too, there will not be a Jew separated by more than a few degrees from tragedy.
At this moment, words feel inadequate to soothe the wounds of our soul that are raw and exposed. On Sunday night, the Jewish community of Los Angeles came together and many more watched online; being together was meaningful and comforting. Of course, the crisis prompts extensive discussion. In thinking about this, we must bear in mind that seemingly irreconcilable ideas can exist at the same time. This is a complex situation replete with history, nuance and subtlety. In that spirit, I thought I would like to offer some initial thoughts.
1. Israel is not to blame for this vicious assault on civilians. Just as the Jewish people are not the cause of antisemitism, neither is Israel the cause of this attack.
2. Israel has the absolute right, indeed the obligation, to keep its citizens safe. Israel will attempt to locate and rescue every one of the over 150 hostages being held in Gaza. Sadly, when Israel responds, there will be civilian casualties in Gaza. However – and this is crucial – there is a fundamental, moral difference between that and what happened on Saturday. There is an essential difference between a military operation designed to rescue captives (or to eliminate the military leadership of Hamas) during which civilians are inadvertently killed, and an elaborate, months-in-planning terrorist operation specifically designed to kidnap Israeli citizens, take them back to Gaza, and insert them among civilians so that when Israel attempts a rescue, civilians are killed. There is a fundamental, moral difference between the Israeli Defense Forces capturing Hamas terrorists in accordance with the Geneva Convention, and Hamas forces brutally killing citizens and desecrating their bodies, or kidnapping civilians, including children, and taking them to Gaza. These are considered war crimes. As the narrative begins to change – and it already has - we should keep in mind that Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense, as imperfect as it will be, is not the moral equivalent of this horrific attack.
3. Hamas does not represent the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. Hamas is a terrorist group with a goal of annihilating Israel. They have a history of corruption and oppressing their own people. Their goal remains the complete destruction of Israel. They have no interest in governing their own people or working toward a better future for them.
4. In our community, there are people who have opposed various Israeli policies vis á vis the Palestinians and yet, are outraged at these attacks. There is no contradiction here precisely because Hamas has nothing whatsoever to do with the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.
This moment is the most difficult in the entire history of Israel, and this is the moment when we need each other most. This is the moment when finding solace in coming together at Shabbat services can soothe our aching hearts - so we invite you to join your clergy team and your community this Friday for a special Erev Shabbat. This is not a moment for recriminations or finger-pointing. At this moment, our people must be focused on these goals: to bring home as many of the captives as possible; to provide comfort to the bereaved; and to assure the safety of the citizens of Israel.
Israel will survive. Although the journey will be painful, I believe with perfect faith that Israel will ultimately find redemption from its enemies. I hope you will join us Friday evening, October 13 at 6:15 in the Goor Sanctuary for a service in honor of the fallen and in support of the State of Israel. Am Yisrael Chai!