This special message, responding to fast-breaking world events, is my first as rabbi of Congregation Shir Ami. I wish it were on most any subject other than the one we and our world face today and in the days ahead.
On Kol Nidre night, our Shir Ami community gathered on our spiritual calendar's 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. In our core commitment to community as a core Jewish value, we discussed the cellular importance of strengthening and fulfilling our mutual connections as people, seekers, Jews, and citizens of a shrinking world.
Now on the Yom Kippur War's 50th anniversary on the secular calendar – and, yet again, on a Shabbat and Jewish holiday – global news reports confirm that Israel came under a coordinated surprise attack from land, sea and air. During celebrations of Shemini Atzeret and Simhat Torah, Hamas authorities in Gaza launched thousands of missiles into Israel, breached the border, took positions inside Israel, killed noncombatants, and took dozens of hostages.
The region is again at war, and parallels to the 1973 Yom Kippur War are striking. Some news reports have compared the public mood in Israel to our September 11, or Pearl Harbor.
For ethics reasons, my judicial role strictly restricts what I may say publicly about matters of substantial public controversy – specifically including the overall Mideast political conflict, long one of the world's most complex geopolitical challenges. In Mideast matters, most everything seems to have a backstory, and narratives and identities tend to be far more layered than most Americans can easily intuit from personal experience. Especially during times of "hot war," it can be particularly difficult to sift fact from fiction, proof from propaganda, news from narratives.
About most of them, there's little that ethically I am allowed to say publicly. As I must, I commend everyone to their own sources of news and commentary, and to their own ways to support worthy causes of the heart.
Some things, however, I can and must say.
Now is exactly the time for community.
In the attack's first hours, Israel's pro-democracy movement, which steadily has brought hundreds of thousands into Israel's streets to stand up for Israel's constitutional separation of powers, called off protests and urged everyone receiving military orders to immediately report for duty. Israel's opposition proposed a unity government, in keeping with Israeli tradition during times of war. Israeli civilians have been racing to give blood. Neighbors have been helping each other. In moment of crisis, Israel intuits cellularly the core existential and spiritual truth to which we recommitted ourselves on Kol Nidre night: כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה / ”All Israel are mixed together, responsible for each other” (B.T. Shevuot 39a) – a maxim we aspire to apply to all humanity. And nowadays especially, so very much about our world demands that we all do exactly that.
I believe that most Israelis do not want war, and I believe the same of most Palestinians whether governed by Hamas in Gaza or the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. I believe that innocents far outnumber warmongers and provocateurs. So it is especially tragic that the coming days are likely to bring so much more suffering, anxiety, grief and fear.
While there is much I cannot say publicly, please know that I am fully present for each of you and for our whole community together. I invite anyone wishing to connect to please be in touch.
I also invite the Shir Ami community to join an online gathering at 6:00pm Sunday, October 8, in my zoom room, so that we can be together in care, solidarity, grief and hope. Please join for whatever time you can in solidarity and support of each other, especially for those of us having family or friends affected by the fast-changing situation.
Someday, the words of the Prophet Isaiah will be fulfilled: "Nation will not lift sword against nation, and will never again learn war" (Isaiah 2:4). For now, may these days of violence quickly end and lead, at long last, to a durable peace worthy of the highest values of our cousin battle weary peoples – all of us children of God.
Shalom / שלום, Salaam / سلام –