I don’t know about you, but I have been absolutely disheartened by the events of October 7, and the “war” that has followed in the Holy Land. My sensitivities have been numbed and I am finding it difficult to lift my head above the milieu.

I have to admit that I am not well versed on the history of this calamity other than to say it has been going on for hundreds, if not thousands, of years – especially since 1948 when Israel was given the territory it now inhabits and has occupation over Gaza and the West Bank. I understand that Hamas are the bad guys and want to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu offers that same sentiment to Hamas at the expense of the Palestinians.

How do we make sense of this travesty of inhumanity and injustice?

I reached out to my dear friend, Rabbi Yisraela Tubman, for her wise perspective on this tragic event. She also shared that she was numb from the inhumanity on both sides. She referred me to an article she received from Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO of the organization T’ruah the rabbinical call for human rights. I share it with you as a hopeful message of truth and hope.

Dear Yisraela,

These last few weeks have been some of the most painful of our lives. We are still mourning those brutally murdered on October 7, including babies, children, Holocaust survivors, and entire families. And we are praying fervently for the close to 230 people — including Israelis and foreign nationals — taken hostage. We are also watching with horror as Israel carries out a massive bombing and ground offensive in Gaza that has already killed thousands of Palestinians, including a reported 3,000 children. And we fear for Israelis still running to bomb shelters as Hamas missiles continue to fall.

Over the past few weeks, some have demanded that we choose sides — that we either dismiss or “contextualize” the Hamas attacks as justified resistance, or give Israel carte blanche to destroy Hamas, regardless of how many civilians are killed in the process.

We choose the side of humanity.
We choose the side of Abraham, the very first Jew, who in our parasha this week models hospitality and care for strangers, pleads on behalf of the innocents in a city slated for destruction, and also attempts to protect his own family from external danger. We learn from him that making a peace agreement with a foe may carry risk, but can also bring long term security.
And in a moment when too many offer easy answers, we strive to hold complexity. We seek answers that do not diminish the humanity of anyone in Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza.

Last week, we released an open letter signed by nearly 700 American and Canadian rabbis, cantors, and rabbinical and cantorial students. The letter shares our grief, and calls for “the immediate, safe release of the hostages, and for all parties to follow the laws of armed conflict in order to ensure the safety of Israeli and Palestinian civilians.”
Right now, we are calling for a humanitarian pause in order to secure the release of the hostages and the establishment of a humanitarian corridor through which necessary supplies can enter Gaza. This means that Israel must stop its aerial bombardment as well as ground incursions, and Hamas must stop its missile attacks.

We are calling on the Israeli government to prioritize securing the release of the 230 hostages who remain in Gaza. In doing so, we echo the calls of the hostages’ families, many of whom feel abandoned by their government. The U.S., Egypt, Qatar, and other international actors must exert their influence to ensure the hostages are released.
At this time, Israelis have a deep and well-founded distrust of their government. Remember: This is the same extremist, anti-democratic government Israelis have been protesting for nearly a year. The Israeli government must be extremely clear about its strategy and objectives in Gaza if it hopes to regain a shred of public confidence.

In addition, Prime Minister Netanyahu must step down. He is guilty of strengthening Hamas, weakening the Palestinian Authority, and privileging the settler agenda over protections for Israelis in the South, which made these attacks possible. His government makes Israelis less safe. He has not apologized for the abandonment of communities in the Gaza envelope or for the major intelligence lapses leading up to the attacks, and has barely addressed the Israeli public.
As the world’s eyes are on Gaza, we are also paying close attention to the West Bank, where settlers are taking advantage of this moment to push Palestinians out of their homes, often with backing from the IDF, and in some cases have even murdered Palestinians. The situation is rapidly becoming a massive crisis. The Israeli government must stop privileging the settler agenda, and bring perpetrators of these attacks to justice.

Closer to home, this war has unleashed a wave of antisemitism, not only in Israel but in the U.S. and around the world. We are alarmed by the threats against Jewish communities, and physical assaults of Jews. Many of us are scared to be in Jewish spaces or to identify publicly as Jews.

We have also seen a rise in Islamophobia, including the horrifying murder of a 6-year-old boy in Illinois. We condemn those — including some in the Israeli government — who have continually used language dehumanizing Palestinians. We are proud to see rabbis and cantors connecting with colleagues of different faiths in their communities; these relationships are the key to ending all forms of bigotry.

For many years, T’ruah has worked to protect free speech in the U.S. in the face of policies and legislation that have made it harder to criticize Israel. We have offered guidance for disambiguating legitimate criticism of Israel from antisemitic rhetoric. And we have never held back from calling out real antisemitism when it occurs, including right now, when we are seeing calls for Israeli Jews to leave Israel, justifications of Hamas’s actions, and violent threats against Jewish college students. In this moment, our role is more necessary — and more difficult — than ever before.

Unfortunately, we are anticipating that this will be a long road. And we have also learned from our tradition to take the long view. Abraham and Sarah do not live to see the blessings that God has promised to them and their offspring. It takes many generations, hundreds of years of slavery, and a long trek through the wilderness to realize this blessing. Even so, Abraham believes in the possibility of the future, and is understood as a paragon of faith.

We will continue to live by our values, including standing up for the human rights of both Israelis and Palestinians, caring for Jews and non-Jews, and working ultimately toward a long-term political resolution, which will be the only way to provide safety for everyone in the region. Thank you for working alongside us.

In solidarity,
Rabbi Jill Jacobs (she/her)
CEO, T’ruah

I so resonate with Rabbi Jill Jacobs’ message on this issue. It is not about being pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian, but about being pro-humanity against the inhumanity of war and the inhuman atrocities.

So, what can we do? Unless we are willing to go to the Holy Land and pick up a rifle for either side and/or volunteer to help with medical teams, we are left with the guilt of non-action. However, I believe that we are called to a greater task and that is to honor Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of us but to serve justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.” What that means is that we go about our daily business/routine, but do so with a conscious effort to offer a smile, a hello, a gentle touch if needed, and social justice to all whomever we meet on the street, shopping or wherever.

Bishop John Shelby Spong says, “Love Recklessly.” Or as I say, “Love with reckless abandon.” As the song says, “Let there be Peace on Earth and let it begin…” You fill in the rest.

Blessings, Curt