For the past few weeks we’ve listened to the news and read articles about the escalating violence occurring in Israel. As of yesterday, the knife attacks against innocent Israelis has resulted in the deaths of 20 Israelis. Incited by those who do not truly seek peace, by videos on social media, or by their own sense of frustration and hopelessness, thirty-five Palestinians are also dead. There does not seem to be an end in sight.
Yesterday, I participated in a conference call organized by T’ruah: the rabbinic call for human rights (formerly Rabbis for Human Rights). Rabbis from around the world came together to share our own anguish, our own uncertainty about what to do, how to best respond. Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman said that he had just buried one of the long-time members of his congregation, Richard Lakin, that morning. Rabbi Weiman-Kelman’s congregation is Kol Haneshama in Jerusalem. It was one of the first Reform congregations in Israel; sharing our name, it is, in a sense, our “sister” congregation. Several of us who traveled to Israel went there on Shabbat morning during our trip this past summer.
With great sadness and fatigue in his voice, Rabbi Weiman-Kelman spoke about Richard Lakin. Rabbi Weiman-Kelman was also quoted in yesterday’s New York Times: Richard Lakin, he said, “was just a deeply optimistic and hopeful person, and refused to be deterred by the grim political reality here. He wasn’t oblivious to the reality, but it didn’t affect his basic existential nature. He could not imagine a solution wasn’t possible and that people couldn’t learn to live together.”
When I heard that Lakin had been a long-time member of Kol HaNeshama, the conflict suddenly became much more real. It was as if we had lost one of our own. We had.
But the truth is, every one whose life is cut short through this terrible conflict is one of our own. Even those who are “the enemy.” They too are part of this confused mass of humanity that is caught in a conflict that is not necessarily of their own making. Every death is a tragedy.
Rabbi Weiman-Kelman and other Israeli rabbis spoke of the mood of many in Israel. He said that people are depressed, and they are hysterical. It’s not a good combination, he acknowledged.
And yet . . . like Richard Lakin, Rabbi Weiman-Kelman said that he is an eternal optimist. There are, despite the headlines in the news, many good things happening, that bring Israelis and Palestinians a small step closer to peace. He cited a few examples. He seemed to be saying: Despite what is happening, supporting efforts toward peace is where I still choose to put my time and energy.
Several rabbis on the call raised the question: Here in the United States, many of us feel so impotent; what can we do? It is a question being asked by Jews around the country, around the world.
Friends, in our own congregation, we have a variety of differing ideas and beliefs about the best ways to respond to this on-going conflict. We are far from united in our own sense of what is the best way to respond. That is true in most other congregations as well. Rabbi Weiman-Kelman and the others living in the midst of the conflict recommended this: give your support-financial and otherwise–to the organizations and the efforts that you believe are doing good work in addressing the on-going problems and tensions.
The reality is, there are many people and organizations doing good work. We don’t read about these; their good work gets eclipsed by the bad news that makes it into the headlines. Last week I met with one of the leaders of the New Israel Fund; he told me about a number of things that are happening of which I was unaware, such as Shaharit, an organization which is working toward building a new civic consciousness across sectors of Israeli society. I was struck by how this organization is, like us here at KHN, trying to create opportunities for respectful dialogue and greater understanding between those who are at different places along the political spectrum. You can see the fruits of their labor in this video of their conference late last year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sn43q0Bxj0. This is only one of many new efforts that are springing up in Israel as well as abroad to find new and creative ways to address the on-going conflict. I was buoyed up by these efforts, and made a commitment to learn more, and to give my support to those that I believe are helping to bring greater peace and justice to the region. I hope that you will do the same. I also hope that we can come together to share what we’ve learned, each helping to do what we can to find our way out of this conflict.
With prayers for peace.