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Responding To Silence and Rebuilding Relationships

רַבִּי מַתְיָא בֶן חָרָשׁ אוֹמֵר, הֱוֵי מַקְדִּים בִּשְׁלוֹם כָּל אָדָם.

Be the first to greet (wish Shalom to) another. 
Pirkei Avot 4

November 10, 2023, from Rabbi Elliott

Among the many heartbreaking stories since October 7th, one of the most dispiriting for many of us is isolation. After one of the most horrific massacres in Jewish history, many of our friends and allies went silent. Many of us have read into this silence antisemitism, callousness, failed solidarity and fear. It is time for us to break and respond to that silence.

First, I must note that this phenomenon was not true for Bnai Keshet as an institution. Most notably, the entire staff for Essex Together, our primary partner in interfaith community organizing, reached out to us and all the Jewish leaders in this coalition immediately. I was moved but not surprised by this because at its core, community organizing is about building powerful reciprocal relationships across differences. Similarly, on the Shabbat after 10/7, we were greeted at 9:00AM by a dozen interfaith clergy and their parishioners from the Montclair Interfaith Clergy Association (MICA). They stood in front of our building, handing out notes of support and offering hugs. These clergy then visited Shomrei Emunah and Temple Ner Tamid. It was a dee p gesture of support and a recognition of Jewish proximity to this painful moment. We received an extremely thoughtful letter of support and concern from MESH, Montclair Emergency Services for Hope. While I can’t be certain why our experience was different, I believe the energy we have put into collaborating publicly, and building partnerships rooted in accountability and self-interest, is part of why these allies were present for us in a moment of need. 

I took it upon myself to start calling our Muslim faith partners after the story broke of the 6-year-old boy killed in Illinois by his neighbor for being Palestinian and as the strikes in Gaza began. I left simple, non-political messages like, “Even in this terribly hard time for our community, I want to reach out to you in what I expect is also a frightening and challenging time for your community.” Every call I made was returned and everyone of our Muslim faith partners shared words of support, connection, sympathy and condemnation of violence.

The most challenging call I made was to Imam Qatanani at the Islamic Center of Passaic County (ICPC). We have been working with ICPC for about 18 years. We served food with them at the Paterson Men’s Shelter, we broke fast with them during Ramadan.  Imam Qatanani has brought his family to pray and eat with us on Shabbat. Their members showed up to be with us after the attack at the Tree of Life synagogue.

Imam Qatanani is Palestinian and was born in the West Bank. Before I had been able to speak with him, I received a notice from his mosque that he had lost 15 family members in one missile strike which hit their home where they were sheltering in Gaza. I wrote a condolence letter immediately. I called and I waited.

Imam Qatanani returned my condolence call. It was awkward. We did not talk politics but we affirmed our relationship and shared our sorrow. At the end of that call, he asked me to share his condolences with any members of my community who had lost loved ones on October 7th or who had loved ones held hostages. He asked me to please tell them he understood their pain.

I am sharing these stories not only as a counter-narrative but as a blueprint for the work we have ahead of us. We have seen both latent and blatant antisemitism, and we need our interfaith partners more than ever. The path to fighting antisemitism is still bound up in the work of building relationships with other communities who value humanity,  who respond to injustice and who prioritize building a more compassionate world. The simple truth is we need partners, because no matter how well we defend ourselves, no matter how strong our army, we Jews are a tiny percentage of the population in the US and smaller still in the world. Our long-term safety requires the kind of power that can only be built with others.

While we continue the urgent work to bring the hostages to safety and respond to the crisis in Israel, we must also rebuild our personal relationships here. Part of the healing work we all need to do right now, communally and individually, is to reach out to our most trusted partners and begin the work of repair. I want to invite you to reach out to the people you trust most, but who you feel have been absent or maybe even hurtful. Before you call, remember a moment when you failed to reach out to a friend whose community was under attack or who was simply going through a challenging moment. As best you can, begin without blame (if there is a lot of blame, start with someone easier) and simply check in on how they are doing at this moment. Let them know how you are in this moment and that you value and need their friendship. If that is as far as it can go, count that as a win, a step in the right direction. If you can give them an opportunity to share how they are feeling, even if you disagree, that is the beginning of repair. And if they can hear you and acknowledge your experience, then the healing has already begun.

Love and Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Elliott

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Sat, June 15 2024 9 Sivan 5784