Karolyn Benger

A Cry For Moral Clarity

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 18: Protesters hold a demonstration in support of a cease fire in Gaza in the Cannon House Office Building on October 18, 2023 in Washington, DC. Members of the Jewish Voice for Peace and the IfNotNow movement staged a rally to call for a cease fire in the Israel–Hamas war. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Jewish Voices for Peace and If Not Now stage a rally in DC Alex Wong | Credit: Getty Images
I am deeply despondant and don’t understand the world today. I don’t understand my people.
I am hearing about Jews protesting against Israel. Demanding a cease fire for the sake of peace without any acknowledgement of the hostages or condition of their return.
But it’s really much worse than that. I have not shared this previously but, this summer I took part in an interfaith intensive with future Imams, Rabbis, and Christian leaders. It was deeply impactful for all the wrong reasons.
Having much experience with interfaith work, I found commonality and forged bonds with my Muslim and Christian counterparts. Sadly, it was with my fellow Jews where I felt adrift and separate.
Every single rabbincal student at this program — who admittedly were all from the same school — was either opposed to the state of Israel outright, opposed to the “occupation”, and deeply critical of the state to the point of justifying the acts of terrorists.
I’m seeing Jewish youth stage sit ins and protest against their own people without any regard for their brothers and sisters held in captivity. This is unconscionable.
We have failed our youth. In teaching tikkun olam (repairing the world) we forgot to teach “if I am not for myself, who is for me”? In praising tolerance we neglected the nuance that we cannot be tolerant with the intolerant. In upholding peace we ignored the basic reality that you cannot be peaceful to those who would destroy you.
We have succumbed to the Western myth that everyone ultimately wants to be like us, that everyone truly thinks like us. In doing so we misunderstood our enemy.
We have allowed the safety and security of the West to lull us into complacency. We did not teach our children history and they are ignorant and unarmed in the face of current events. They don’t know the basic history of our people — thousands of years of persecution and pogroms — and they certainly don’t know the simplest of facts about the Arab Israeli conflict. As a result, they side against us for the sake of a peace that will never come.
Worse, I am shocked and appaulled at the Jewish institutions that allow this thinking to perpetuate. More, they are accepting of it, to create an “open community” that “holds space for different ideas.” Jewish spaces do not need to harbor the ideologies of those who hate us — we have enough of that in our daily lives.
Jewish institutions should not condone or maintain ideologies that actively work against the Jewish people. There is nothing halachic about that. And, for the life of me, I cannot comprehend a Rabbinical school allowing its students to be against the state of Israel and, ultimately, the health and safety of the Jewish people.
Since this summer I have truly struggled. I always accept anyone who calls themselves a Jew as a Jew. Yet, now I am questioning myself. I cannot accept someone who seeks my death as one of my own. I will not be tolerate of different views when those views are inherently evil and seek the destruction of an entire people. And I will not be silent as Jewish institutions demean themselves by cow-towing to an ignorant, ill-informed, and morally questionable trend among our younger generation.
We, Jewish leaders, are called upon to lead. To set a moral example and be a light onto our own people for proper behavior. Now is the time to draw a firm line and say clearly “you are with us or you are against us.” Such stark moment are rare but here we are.
I call on Jewish leaders and Jewish institutions to be a moral compass in this time of moral ambiguity. Just as our Torah brought morality to humanity we, Jews following Torah, need to return morality to humanity.
Our very existence is at stake.
About the Author
Karolyn Benger is a Rabbinical student at Yeshivat Maharat (2026). She was the Executive Director of the Phoenix Jewish Community Relations Council and Executive Director of the Atlanta Jewish Interest Free Loan. She graduated from Emory University with a degree in Political Science, specializing in the Middle East, and studying Arab and Islamist opposition groups in Egypt. Karolyn has taught at Emory University, Georgia Tech, and Emerson College. She is a board member of the Arizona Interfaith Movement, was a member of the Valley Interfaith Project’s 3rd Monseigneur Ryle Public Policy Faith Leader Institute, and was a mentor in the Women’s Leadership Institute. Karolyn speaks regularly about Women in Judaism, Dynamic Changes in Jewish Law, Modern Day Challenges to Halacha, and much more. Her writing has been published in the Arizona Republic, eJewish Philanthropy, Ritualwell, The Times of Israel, and Bina.
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