By Rabbi Margie Klein, Founder of Moishe Kavod House and rabbi of Sha’arei Shalom in Ashland, MA
This is a letter I felt inspired to write to my congregation after attending our Israel/Gaza Conversation [at Moishe Kavod House on July 23rd, 2014]. I so appreciated the opportunity for members of our community to explore our complicated emotions during this painful time.
In Jewish ritual time, we find ourselves in the Three Weeks, the period of mourning leading up to Tisha B’av, a fast day when we mourn the destruction of the Temple and other Jewish tragedies.
In Jewish real-world time, we find our people embroiled in a deadly conflict between Israel and Gaza. Missiles are flying into Israel. While our kids go to camp, Israeli children are huddled in bomb shelters. Israeli soldiers – some of them our relatives – are putting their lives at risk every day.
Watching the news and reading my Facebook post, one instinct is to attribute blame. If the Palestinians would just stop the terror attacks…. If Israel would just stop building settlements…. If the leaders would have more courage in the peace process…. This all would be easier to witness if there were clear good guys and bad guys.
Now, like Rabbi Kippley-Ogman, instead of seeing justifications for war, what I keep seeing are mothers. In the images on the news and on Facebook, I see Israeli mothers holding their terrified children, Israeli mothers of soldiers waiting by the telephone for news. I see Palestinian mothers carrying wounded children in Gaza. I see the limp body of a child on the Gaza beach, killed in an Israeli airstrike with three of his young cousins. And I imagine the horrified and devastated faces of their mothers, who will never see their children grow up. I imagine that their children are our children.
The Rabbis attributed the destruction of the Second Temple to baseless hatred. Of course, there are many reasons each side could find to hate in the current conflict. And yet, we are called to remain loving. As Rabbi Kippley-Ogman teaches, though we are tempted toward triumphalism or cynicism, we must “allow ourselves to be shocked, to grieve for the grave losses we inflict as much as the grave losses inflicted on us, for that is what allows us to be human.”
To grieve for both sides requires imagination and empathy. It demands that we imagine ourselves as Israeli families in bomb shelters and as Palestinian families with nowhere to hide. We who are thousands of miles away and care deeply about Israel have a critical role to play. We are not soldiers on the front lines, nor IDF generals, nor politicians. We are witnesses to the terrifying consequences of war.
There is a time for political calculation and strategy. But right now, in the Three Weeks, our national time of mourning, I ask us all to be shocked by — not numb to — the deaths of our fellow human beings. We must resist the slippery slope of shrugging our shoulders at the intolerable until it becomes acceptable or even inevitable. Rather, we need now our human capacities for sorrow, responsibility and repentance.
As we move toward Tisha B’av, let this be a time of self-reflection, mourning, and increasing our capacity for empathy. May we be kinder to one another, to help ourselves and our people through this painful time. And may the One who brings peace on high bring peace upon us, on Israel, and on all creation.
Oseh shalom bimromav, Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu v’al kol Yisrael v’al kol yoshvei tevel.