November 22, 2023
Over the past six weeks, the Jewish community has been reeling from the atrocities committed by Hamas, dealing with the trauma from ongoing missile attacks on Israel and pain from the death and destruction in Gaza. We are also concerned about the upsurge of antisemitism in the United States. When people ask, “How are you doing?,” it can be difficult to answer the question. I’ve had conversations with many members of the Beth Emet community who have shared with me the range of emotions they are experiencing—pain, bewilderment, rage, sadness, and disillusionment, among others. Those who have had simchas have said they felt relieved to experience a moment of joy and a respite from the news cycle.
We’ve shared a lot of hugs and tears together, and even moments of gratitude and joy. People have also expressed confusion about how to think about the conflict between Israel and Hamas (and the Palestinians, more broadly) and what can be done to improve the situation. Meanwhile, we are facing a rise in antisemitism, and the Muslim community is facing an increase in Islamophobia.
I would like to share with you a few of my observations and thoughts on how we can confront these challenges while we continue to be a loving, supportive, and diverse community.
Many people think of Beth Emet as a place where congregants share a single political and social outlook, but we are not monolithic. In particular, we have many and varied relationships with Israel and wide-ranging perspectives and opinions about the conflict. Some of us have close Jewish family ties and friends in Israel; others have Palestinian family and friends in the region. I have heard from some of you who feel strongly that Israel should be a Jewish state living side by side with a Palestinian state, and from others who believe there should be one democratic state for the roughly 7 million Jews and 7 million Palestinians who live in the region. Others are unsure what’s the right political arrangement. Some are eager to learn more. Others don’t want to engage so deeply on this subject. Some have expressed fear that if they were to share their views openly they would be ridiculed or shunned.
But here is a crucial point on which I think we can all agree: on October 7 and the days that followed, the Jewish people experienced the greatest trauma in our people’s history since the Holocaust. Irrespective of our political views, we are justified in feeling a mix of painful emotions, and our responses to the traumatic events of the past weeks are as varied and unique as our personalities, our past experiences, our relationships, and what we and our families are experiencing closer to home in our schools, workplaces, social media and public forums.
I mention the variety of responses we’ve had to the events since October 7 so that we might better understand what is going on with us as individuals and as a community, seek the help we need, and be sensitive to others in our community who are struggling, perhaps in different ways than we are. This can be hard when we are in pain, but the first step to healing ourselves and our community is being emotionally and spiritually aware with respect to ourselves and others.
My vision continues to be for Beth Emet to be a place of healing and repair—repair of the soul, tikkun hanefesh, and repair of the world, tikkun olam. We strive to reflect these values in all of our activities and programs. Our response to the current crisis is no different. As you have seen in EmetMail and on our website, the lay leadership and Klei Kodesh are creating ways to support our community , ranging from personal healing, to education about the situation in the Middle East and antisemitism at home, and helping those in need. I know that many of you have donated generously to support those who are suffering in Israel and Gaza, and, as a community, we have adopted Kibbutz Kissufim, a kibbutz near the Gaza border that suffered many losses and that was forced to evacuate after the October 7 attack.
Cantor Young and I are also available to offer counseling and support. Please be in touch with us if we can support you (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org). To make an appointment with Rabbi London, go to calendly.com/alondonbethemet.
If you have thoughts and ideas on what would be helpful to you at this time, please let us know. We can only build a safe and loving community together.
As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, in addition to looking forward to spending time with family and friends, some may feel some trepidation at the thought of dinner table conversations about Israel. Here are some strategies when having difficult conversations you might employ to reduce the tension at your holiday table.
In Pirkei Avot, we learn that it is not up to us to complete the task, but neither are we free to desist from it. In her powerful rendition of this teaching, our cantor, Natalie Young, teaches in her composition, Lo Alecha/Too Heavy:
“When the world feels too heavy on your shoulders
And your heart aches with all there is to do
Just remember it’s not yours alone to carry
Just look up I am standing here with you
Hand in hand we’ll walk this road together
Step by step is how we all must start
Build the world through acts of love and kindness
Fix the world by mending every heart”
As we await news of the release of hostages, I pray they will soon return safely to their loved ones. I pray that during these difficult days, we can find ways to work to build peace instead of hatred and that together we can make sure that Beth Emet continues to be a safe place for learning and growth, tending to our feelings, and deeply caring for each other. And on this holiday of giving thanks, I pray that our gratitude will uplift us, bring greater ease to our lives, and propel us to bring justice and love to our hurting world.
With gratitude for the Beth Emet community,