Danny Burkeman
Danny Burkeman

A Letter to my Graduating Seniors

Dear Seniors,

As you prepare for graduation, I am reflecting on the fact that we’re about to send you out into the big wide world, and in light of what is happening in the Middle East, I am concerned.

I hope that in the time you’ve been at the Temple, we have helped you to develop into young adults who understand the difference between right and wrong, who have a strong moral compass, and who will be good citizens of the world. Alongside this, I really hope that we have given you a Jewish identity that you can be proud of and one that will serve as a guide throughout your life. And in all honesty, I am worried that these two parts of you are going to be challenged by the situation in Israel-Palestine and the way that it will be presented in the media and especially on college campuses across the country.

Over the last week, with the increasing violence and mounting number of deaths in Israel-Palestine, I have watched in horror both at the events taking place and the way that it is being responded to on social media and beyond. I fear for the way in which this conflict is characterized. Many are willing to assert with complete and utter certainty who is right and wrong, who is victim and perpetrator, who is sinner and saint, who is to be condemned and who is to be celebrated. And today, it feels like the world no longer permits us to agree to disagree, to unite on some issues while dividing on others, to look at the world with nuance and an understanding that not everything is black and white.

I especially worry for you. I recognize the liberal causes that you embrace, and I fear that with a ‘them or us’ approach you will be faced with friends and allies attacking you or your support of Israel – some will attack Jews and Israel as though they are interchangeable. I fear that your partnership on a whole variety of issues will be challenged because of your connection to Israel and that people will try to force you to choose one part of your identity over the other.

Recognizing that the world is complicated is a Jewish response. We are, and have always been, a people of nuance, a people who are challenged to exist in a world where we recognize competing and opposing truths, holding that both opinions, while contradictory, can also be valid. In the pages of the Talmud we read about the myriad ways in which the Rabbis disagreed– sometimes violently, and yet the diversity of opinions were accepted and the multiple truths preserved. Judaism holds tight to an idea that we are “both-and,” even when those ideas may appear to contradict one another.

When thinking about the situation in Israel-Palestine, I as your Rabbi hold seemingly contradictory truths and values that appear to be at odds with one another. I believe in the preservation of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State and I am also completely committed to the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside it as a peaceful neighbor. I mourn both the innocent Jewish victims and the innocent Palestinian and Arab victims as the terrible price that is once again being paid for this conflict. And I am willing to condemn the Israeli extremists and Hamas terrorists who, in different ways, are both fanning the flames of hate and encouraging the violence to further their own despicable agendas.

When I started my college career it was easy to be a Jew on campus; it was the 1990s and there was optimism that there could be peace between Israel and Palestine. I know that you are facing a very different situation and one that may challenge you to your very core. I worry that we have let you down, by not giving you the necessary space and tools to hold and grapple with the messy nuance of this situation, and that we have not prepared you adequately for the challenges that you will face. Despite this, I know you, and I have seen the way in which you have overcome the challenges placed before you with grace and dignity, and I am certain you will succeed again.

I hope that you will have the compassion, patience, and courage to engage in civil dialogue with those with whom you disagree, seeking to understand as much as you seek to be understood. I hope that you will have the confidence to assert that you can be an ally, committed to the liberal causes in which you believe, and at the same time a Jew who is committed to the State of Israel. I hope that you will be able to add nuance to conversations around Israel-Palestine, explaining why it is not as simple as good and evil, but it is complicated by the interplay of military might against terrorist intent. I hope that you will have the confidence to call out extremist and hateful voices on all sides of the issue, recognizing that they will never lead us to peace. I hope that you will know that whatever position you take on this issue, you will always have a home in our synagogue and our Jewish community. And I hope that you will be able to call on me as your Rabbi and our synagogue to offer you support and strength whenever you need it, because education is a lifelong pursuit and is never complete.

We are living through difficult times as Jews. While it may be true that in many ways we have never had it so good, we also are facing new and different challenges to our identity and our place in American society, many of them revolving around Israel and her place as part of our Jewish identity. In many ways you will be on the frontlines of this new reality. And knowing you, I cannot think of anyone I would rather have representing Judaism, our synagogue, and the best of our community.

Your Rabbi,

Danny

About the Author
Rabbi Danny is the Senior Rabbi at Temple Shir Tikva in Wayland, MA. He has a weekly Podcast “2 Minutes of Torah”, which was included in the Top 7 Jewish Podcasts and is available on iTunes. He was a member of the inaugural cohort of the UJA Federation of New York’s Rabbinic Fellowship for Visionary Leaders and he is a Rabbis Without Borders Fellow. Alongside this he is Gabby and Benny’s daddy and Micol’s husband.
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