Soldier rests his head on the muzzle of a tank

The Israel - Gaza War

The murderous terror attacks on Israel took place on October 7 when we, as a community, were celebrating Simchat Torah. As the news came pouring in we were stunned, horrified and made heartsick.

In anticipation of our tenth-of-the-month-prior-to-publication-deadline, I wrote a draft of a Newsletter column on October 8th reflecting on my experience in Israel as a college junior during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and trying to comprehend the scale of the shock and pain inflicted on Israelis. I was seeking ways to compare what I had experienced tangentially with the magnitude of the terror unleashed on Israeli civilians at the hands of Hamas.

I write these words on October 15, having set aside that earlier draft given all that we have learned, seen and heard in the ensuing days...horror beyond comprehension, unimaginable brutality, an escalation in violence that portends yet more death and destruction. I have not spoken with a single Jew who does not know of someone in Israel who has not been impacted by this cataclysm....someone murdered, injured, taken hostage or just shaken to their very core by these events.

Like many of you I have been reading and absorbing on a daily basis as much news and opinion as I can handle, hoping to contextualize this event within the history of the multi-generational struggle between Israelis and Palestinians. Too many elements compete to explain this new war: Is it a proxy event for Iran’s implacable hatred for Saudi Arabia, intended to derail that nation’s fledgling rapprochement with Israel? Is it another example of lethal Islamic antisemitism? Is it a manifestation of two peoples held in thrall to their respective religious extremists? Is it all of the aforementioned?

We have reason to fear both the possibility of a wider, regional conflict as well as more cycles of retaliatory violence once the current conflagration subsides. Israeli society faces a painful reckoning into how its government and military were taken by surprise and how the societal schism brought on by the proposed judicial reforms sought by Prime Minster’s Netanyahu’s government exacerbated the situation.

We who sit on the sidelines may well feel powerless in the face of this unfolding tragedy. But like generations of Jews who came before us we will find ways to give voice to our longing for peace with justice; we will donate generously to organizations addressing the immediate and long-term needs of our Israeli brothers and sisters; we will turn to one another for consolation, support and encouragement as we do what Jews have always done...commit ourselves to creating a better future even if we, ourselves, do not live to see that Promised Land of Jews and Palestinians living side-by-side in peace.

In an e-mail message to the congregation that I sent when this crisis first erupted, I ended with words I feel are worth repeating:

Judaism tells us that we are forbidden to despair, that hope is an obligation. At times like this I find that a very tall order. At this tremendously painful moment, here is the best I can summon up: Psalm 122:6 reads: “Pray for the welfare of Jerusalem; may those who love [her] enjoy tranquility.” I would humbly amend that psalm verse as follows: “Pray for the welfare of Israel and Gaza; may those who desperately need it know tranquility and enduring peace.”

Reb Elias