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Statement on Recent Events in Israel and Gaza

A message from Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association:

The events of the past two days in Israel and Gaza have been intense and overwhelming. First and foremost, we feel shock and sorrow over the killing of approximately 60 Palestinians and the wounding of over 2000 during demonstrations near the border fence between Israel and Gaza. Rabbi Benjamin Weiner of the Jewish Community of Amherst writes, “As I sift through the various media reports, it has repeatedly occurred to me that only a true sage, or a fanatic, would know exactly what to make of them —would be able to boil it all down to an absolute and incontrovertible judgment of right and wrong. Being neither sage nor fanatic I find myself instead stuck in a quagmire of competing perceptions and interpretations, feeling grief and shame at the horrendous loss of Palestinian life, anger and frustration at the failure of many to recognize the explicit threats of violence against Israeli civilians, and, fundamentally, despair that as Jews we are enmeshed in an evolving historical tragedy that lays atrocity so frequently on our doorstep, when all we really want is to thrive.” (For Rabbi Weiner’s full remarks, click here.)

While it can be hard to know which sources of information to rely on, one thing that’s clear is that hopelessness in the lives of Gazans is driving people to desperation. Whatever uses Hamas or other groups have made of the protest marches, they began as a nonviolent demonstration by people living in intolerable conditions, trying to raise awareness about their situation and to exert a new kind of leadership. 

Meanwhile, many of us struggle to reconcile different strands of emotion over the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem. On the one hand, we have long advocated for the day when a negotiated peace agreement ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would lead to the formal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, not only by the US, but by all nations. Many of us have envisioned that day as one in which the international community would even be celebrating the establishment of two capitals in different parts of the Holy City – one of Israel and one of Palestine – ushering in a new era of coexistence and mutual recognition. On the other hand, so much about the inauguration of the new US embassy is painful. For many in our movement, it is painful that the US administration being lionized in Israel is one that has emboldened racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and xenophobic forces in America. It is painful to see pastors who are leaders of the Christian Zionist movement, closely aligned with dangerous, apocalyptic, end-times theologies, offer public prayers at the event. And it is painful to see the US walk away from its role as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians.

And yet, there is still hope. There are still millions of Israelis and Palestinians who want to live side by side in peace, and who believe the conflict is not a zero-sum game. We can still work for a day when we’ll be able to celebrate a two-state peace agreement, in which Israel and Palestine each have their respective capitals in different parts of Jerusalem. And there is always the possibility of diplomatic or political surprise, and good reason to continue to advocate for a diplomatic breakthrough, with every US administration and every leader in the region.

As Rabbi Toba Spitzer of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek puts it, “At moments that feel as demoralizing and hopeless as this, I try to make it my practice to remind myself of those doing the hard work on the ground of building relationships, rather than destroying them; those working to transform hatred and grief.  … There are over one hundred organizations on the ground – in Israel, in the West Bank – working to transform the conflict, empower those most affected by the occupation, and foster the relationships that will be necessary to build any kind of alternative future for both Israelis and Palestinians.” (For Rabbi Spitzer’s full remarks, click here.)

May we be blessed with the courage, the openness, and the faith that our deepest Jewish values and hopes – for peace, for justice, for safety, for dignity – will be borne out, and may our labors help bring us closer to that reality.

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