Daniel M. Cohen

An Op Ed We Did Not Want to Write

When we first got word of the Hamas Simchat Torah massacre we were sad and brokenhearted. But we know the constant threat of terrorists with which Israelis live each day. We’ve seen our bus stops blown up, restaurants we frequented shuttered after an attack, and spent time in bomb shelters due to missiles from Gaza. More than that, we carry in our bones the intergenerational trauma of the Holocaust, of pogroms, of a thousand years of anti-semitism turned violent.

When the horrific details and extent of the atrocities Hamas had committed began to emerge, we were shocked. But we know what Hamas is and what they are capable of. As their charter explicitly states, they exist to kill Jews.

When anti-Israel protests began across university campuses and in many countries, we were disgusted and a bit stunned. We know that anti-Israel sentiment runs high on some college campuses but, since the Israeli response had not yet begun, those “protests” were little more than celebrations of the murder, mutilation and brutalizing of Jewish people. Seeing people on American campuses and streets celebrating the death of Jewish children and Holocaust survivors- literally dancing in joy at the murder of Jews, even as the lives of almost two hundred hostages remain in the balance- was something we never imagined could happen in America.
What has truly surprised us, however, what has gutted us, has been the silence. In the days that have followed the largest terrorist attack in the world since 9/11, one that happened to be targeted at a particular religious group, few fellow members of the clergy have reached out to us. Clergy we have stood side-by-side with at rallies in support of LGBTQ+ rights and protections or raising our voices together to speak against racial injustice have simply disappeared.

In some ways, this has been one of the most painful parts of this week. To feel, for the first time perhaps, that despite our activism and warm reception during times of peace, that perhaps Jewish lives don’t matter. We understand that many of our fellow clergy do not share the same commitment to Israel as we do. We understand that many have issues with Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza. So do many within our congregations, many of whom are activists for human rights across the Middle East, including Israel. But, at the very least, we thought our fellow clergy colleagues would reach out to check-in. Instead, we have heard almost nothing.
Sadly, in conversation after conversation with rabbis and cantors across the country, we hear the same thing- few, if any, calls or emails of support from the very people we have proudly worked with and lovingly considered allies in faith and community.

Over the years, we have gathered for numerous vigils at times of crisis to lift up impacted members of our community. In the absence of private expressions of support or the call from our fellow clergy to gather in public solidarity with us, however, we chose to hold joint Shabbat services last Friday night. More than 900 people in attendance, including our town mayors and other elected officials, and over 400 households participated remotely.

The national anthem of Israel is called The Hope. In that vein, we share our disappointment publicly, with tremendous hope that perhaps seeing the hurt and isolation the silence is causing will lead to repair. Which is our way of saying it is not too late. It is not too late to reach out in friendship and support to your Jewish neighbors to understand that they — that we — are grieving, mourning, and scared.

We hope you will stand by our side when we are hurting. We hope to build a better world together, and to see peace in Israel, in Gaza, and here in our own communities, too.

In the meantime, we urge you to pick up the phone and check in on a Jewish friend today. Odds are, when you ask “How are you?” they will reply “Not okay.” They aren’t okay. We aren’t okay. But the simple act of showing you care has immense power and is one of the things the Jewish community needs now more than ever.

Rabbi Daniel M Cohen, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, South Orange, NJ
Rabbi Abigail Treu, Oheb Shalom Congregation, South Orange, NJ
Rabbi Jesse Oliztky, Congregation Beth El, South Orange, NJ

About the Author
Rabbi Daniel Cohen was ordained in 1993 by the HUC-JIR and has served Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel since 1993. An avid technology geek, for fun he writes for the tech blog Gear Diary.
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