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  Holding Each Other as a Community - a message from Rabbi Elliott and Rabbi Ariann     October 20, 2023 - from Rabbi Elliott and Rabbi Ariann

As your rabbis, we have been talking with many of you this week. Our community is holding so much grief, despair, anger and worry. October 7th was one of the darkest days in the history of Israel and one of the darkest days in the history of the Jewish people, and we have known some very dark days. As the violence in Israel and Gaza continues, this is a time when we need each other's support and kindness.  Remember that there are others around you who may also be in urgent need of support. We urge you to keep reaching out to each other and to people you know who are hurting and people living in Israel.

When more than one hundred of us gathered together last Thursday night to express our grief, we told you that we don’t yet have to know how to act. That we are allowed to simply stay with our sorrow. Many of us may still be in that place.

But many others are already looking for ways to take action. Now is an important time for us to remember some of the core values that tie us together as a community. Bnai Keshet’s mission and values statement includes this principle:

We view Israel as central to Judaism, promote the connection between our community and Israel, and encourage respectful and open discussion of all aspects of our relationship to Israel as American Jews.

We want to remind you that our community prides itself on our ability to have challenging conversations. Before the attacks of October 7th, we had congregants actively working to promote action and dialogue about Israel, we had folks demanding support for the movement to protect Israel’s democracy, we had members urging more supportive and engaging connection with all parts of Israeli society, members working to support Jewish students on college campuses around Israel, and we had members seeking ways to support the peace process and educate others about the experience of Palestinians. 

We know from talking to our colleagues across denominations that this diversity of opinions is typical, but what is atypical is our broad commitment to having these discussions and facing that diversity. We also know that we often find ourselves holding down very different ends of the discussion when we leave synagogue: at work, with our families, among old friends. Often, we hold conflicting opinions within our own internal dialogue. As the war continues, as more Israeli and Palestinian lives are lost, as our members work to take modest actions to help, our community’s strength at holding diversity with be stretched.

It is likely that in the coming weeks, our members will organize vigils to bring home the hostages, fundraise to meet the needs of the displaced in Israel and Gaza, invite speakers with lived experiences or expertise to speak, and work to demand adherence to international law and human rights. And it is likely that those of us who care most will sometimes feel that people we otherwise love and respect are doing exactly the wrong thing!

With this in mind, we are asking you to remember that we are all in pain. When we are suffering and angry we are both more easily hurt and more likely, despite our best efforts, to hurt each other. We should assume that even when disagreements arise, that our fellow congregants are kind, intelligent people. We should remember that very well-informed people with similar direct experiences often reach radically different conclusions. This is a time for us to be especially kind with one another. We should remember that those we most disagree with are often the ones we have the most to learn from. 

We have been inspired this week to see posts and hear reports from co-existence groups who have visited Bnai Keshet: Standing Together, The Parents Circle, Roots/Shorashim and Breaking the Silence. The Israelis and Palestinians in those groups are finding ways to hold each others’ sorrow and even to act in solidarity. Jews and Palestinians from Standing Together have joined the mutual aid work that is happening all over Israel. They have stood side by side cleaning out bomb shelters and patrolling to prevent street fighting between Jews and Palestinians. If those who are in the most direct danger and have, in many cases, lost family and friends, can do this work, we can be courageous enough to stand together despite our disagreements.

Many, between the democracy demonstrations of the last year and the horrifying attacks of Hamas, have had our foundational beliefs about Israel and the conflict shaken. As your rabbis, we feel a responsibility, despite the potential for discomfort, to make more room for a diversity of views. This kind of openness is part of the culture of Bnai Keshet and Reconstructionism, but even if this were not the case, we would feel this responsibility because the stakes for Israel and the Jewish people are too high to have some opinions left out of the conversation. With this in mind, you should expect that not every program, statement or discussion at Bnai Keshet will be balanced or make an effort to present all possible opinions. We do hope that, in total and over time, our community will be exposed to a wide range of opinions.

Staying open-hearted to humanity in the face of such great suffering requires that we start by staying open-hearted to each other. 

In Love, Solidarity, and Prayer,

Rabbi Elliott and Rabbi Ariann

More Diverse Perspectives

Yossi Klein Halevy is a writer and journalist. He represents the thoughtful center in Israeli politics. His recent piece, What This War Is About, is a good place to start for understanding a more centrist position.

The Promised Podcast is a great resource for understanding the experiences and perspectives on events in Israel. it includes the perspectives of Miriam Herschlag, the Opinion Editor for the Times of Israel and past Bnai Keshet member. The recent interview with Sally Abed  from Standing Together is a very different understanding of this moment through the eyes of an Israeli-Palestinian. 

Israel Story is the Israeli “This American Life”. This year, they have been doing an exceptional series on the signers of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Since October 7th, they have been broadcasting mini-episodes, each with a different experience from those living through this time in Israel.

Mon, April 22 2024 14 Nisan 5784