Israel’s Fight

Rabbi's Message - May 22, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Today we descend from our high point, still full with delicious rugelach and filled with pride for our newest confirmation class.  Yet, even in our celebration, our spirits are heavy.  Over the past week our hearts have ached over the escalation of violence in Israel.  We mourn the loss of life and are particularly saddened by the recent breakdown of previously amicable Arab/Israeli relations within the country.  While we process our sadness and fear, we find ourselves in the spotlight of a highly complicated and widely misunderstood conflict.  It seems the world around us would rather point fingers and assign blame to Israelis and Jews than learn that none of us bears the full weight of this escalation. 

As one who loves Israel, I struggle with the news reports that portray Israel as the Goliath against the Palestinian’s David.  Though Israel is hardly perfect, it is not the monster it is being made out to be.  I would argue that at times Israel cares more about the welfare of Palestinians than Hamas does.  But so much of what is being shared by the news or online influencers is incomplete or short-sighted.  Too often they fail to recognize that Hamas is a terrorist organization choosing to fire rockets indiscriminately on innocent civilians, including Palestinians. Or are deaf to understanding that when protesters call out “Free Palestine from the River to the Sea” they are calling to eliminate 6.5 million Jews who currently live in their ancestral homeland.  Or it downplays Israel’s moral right as a sovereign nation to protect innocent civilians, such as the elderly woman and caregiver who died last week in Ashkelon trying to get to a bomb shelter. 

By and large, Israel has had little opportunity to provide an even-handed narrative.  While Israel allows for freedom of the press, all pictures and stories that come from Gaza must be approved by Hamas.  Their intent is to paint Israel as the aggressor, and they are winning the optics war.  It is painful to see images of people suffering.  But what we see is not always reality.  Nobody understands that the three Gazan children killed by a rocket last week were murdered by errant Hamas rockets, not Israeli.  Nobody sees how much Israel values life, strategically firing at stockpiles of missiles and rockets, not civilians, and giving advance warning to inhabitants before destroying military strongholds embedded in civilian areas.  Nobody knows the extent to which Hamas has misused valuable community resources in Gaza to invest in building tunnels and accumulating weapons.   

This being said, I understand that none are without blame.  We all have blood on our hands.  Yet, despite her imperfections, at the end of the day Israel still has the absolute right to defend herself and to halt the violence.  I am grateful to those who are willing to recognize this need, especially the United States, who supported the creation of Israel’s Iron Dome, air defense system.  This has played the biggest role in protecting civilian lives, both Israelis (of all faiths) and Gazans.  Without the Iron Dome, Israel likely would have had to enter the Gaza strip to forcibly stop the rocket fire upon Israelis.    

There are other ways that we, overseas, can show support for Israel.  One of the most powerful ways at this time is to stay educated and to help others recognize the complexity of the conflict and that not everything they see is as it appears.    

One great example of this was a powerful written response to Trevor Noah’s monologue composed by David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).  I urge you to take a few minutes to read his open letter, not only for a clearer picture of the conflict, but to help educate those who are also seeking more clarity.  

As always, prayers are appropriate at this time.  Perhaps you will find comfort in the poetic words of Alden Solovy 

~For the Return of Peace~ 

O Peace, you fleeting dream, 

O Justice, you fickle hope, 

Today we do not pray in your name. 

Today we pray in the name of the children 

Who have never met you, 

Who have not been blessed 

With your love or your truth. 

Surely, their cries must someday 

Drive you out of hiding, 

Summoning you to cast your healing 

Upon all the earth. 

One G-d, 

Ancient and merciful, 

Justice and Peace are Yours. 

Halt their retreat from the world 

And send them to us for good. 

Do it for the sake of Your name, 

Do it for the sake of Your right hand, 

Do it for the sake of holiness, 

Do it for the sake of Your children, 

So that all may live in the fullness of Your gifts, 

As one family on earth, 

Under Your canopy of love. 

© 2021 Alden Solovy 

However long this violence continues, take comfort in knowing that we are a strong people.  Jews have overcome oppressive forces time and again throughout history, and it has not diminished our faith, but made it stronger.  May peace descend upon all Israel and all inhabitants of the Earth. 

Seeking Peace Amidst the Disagreements

Learning from the Past & Hopeful for Our Future

Rabbi’s Message – November 3, 2020

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Twenty-five years ago I was living in Jerusalem when a hate-fueled political atmosphere became deadly.  On November 4, 1995 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated not by one of Israel’s enemies, but by another Israeli.  Though I was young, I realized that hate from within the country would be as devastating to the Jewish people as hate from others. 

I wish I could say there has been great healing in the years that have passed, but the level of animosity between factions still runs high.  Most recently, concerns over the Coronavirus pandemic have led to especially inflammatory arguments. 

I caught a glimpse of hope a few weeks ago, however, when Israeli MKs agreed that the atmosphere was not in keeping with the Jewish value of respectful dialogue.  They brought forward a “Mutual Respect Charter” and signed this pact hoping that Israeli elected officials could begin to disagree from a position of mutual respect.  The Charter will encourage them to find ways to work together despite significant differences of opinion.  

I am cautiously optimistic that peaceful discourse may be possible.  Not just in Israel, but here at home where we see unbelievable levels of political aggression.  Normally the end of a challenging election brings relief and hope for our country to reunite. But we are so  fractured that it feels “agreeing to disagree” is a thing of the past.    There is real fear that election day will divide us even more.  In the days to come, I hope that our elected officials recognize, as they did in Israel, that it will be most important to find mutual respect.   We will be looking to them to ensure a peaceful transition of power.  And when political rivals lead the way, it inspires us to show respect for everyone, even those with whom we disagree.

On this election night and eve of the 25th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, I pray that we will renew our commitment to seek peace in our communities, our country, and our world.