A letter to my interfaith colleagues and friends:
I want to start by thanking those of you who have reached out in the last month, who have expressed concern for my community and for the Jewish people and for the victims of Hamas terrorists, and especially to those who have said to me, “my congregation is asking me questions about the situation; what would you like me to say to them?”
That outreach, that concern, that vulnerability, means more to me than I can possibly express in words; I hope rather to show you, now and in the future, how much your allyship means to the Jewish people at such a painful time.
For those of you who have not yet reached out, I wanted to reach out to you and say: I need you. I am in pain. My people are in pain. And while I have never, and still do not believe, that our relationship was ever built on a quid pro quo, I am so proud of the times when we have stood together to fight for justice for all of our communities. I am saying to you now, vulnerably baring my soul to you now, to say, I hope you’ll stand with me, with my people, now.
I am scared; the Jewish people are scared. My grandparents fled the Nazis 65 years ago in 1938– exactly 85 years ago this week. In my entire lifetime up until now, I have never been so afraid to wonder: are the Jewish people alone in this moment, as my grandparents and their generation were?
After centuries of antisemitism, many Jews feel like our very existence is threatened once again; we are afraid that the world is turning against us before our very eyes. We are afraid to wear our Stars of David; we are afraid to be seen in public wearing a kippah; we are asking each other, “are you taking down the mezuzah from the doorpost of your house?”
You may have questions, too. You may be afraid to ask me because you think your questions are hard ones.
You may ask: what of the plight of innocent Palestinians? Do Jews care about them?
You may ask: aren’t Jews interlopers? Aren’t they colonizers in the land of Israel?
You may ask: what is Israel’s endgame, and do the Hamas brutal murder and kidnapping of Israelis on October 7 justify Israel’s response now?
You may advocate a cease fire; you may advocate for a “Free Palestine.” (Do you wonder how that feels to your Jewish friends, or what it might sound like to us that people all over the world are now chanting and advocating for an Israel that is free of Jewish people “From the river to the sea?” You can ask that, too.)
You may just not know what to say.
If you have any questions, please ask me. If you don’t know what to say, you can just say that to me; it would mean so much. I promise you: nothing you can ask me, nothing you can challenge me with when it comes to the complexities of the Israel-Palestine conflict, can be more painful to me than what was done to my family on October 7. But what can hurt me nearly as much would be for you to say nothing.
I have been a fierce advocate for a two-state solution since before I watched Yassir Arafat and Yitzchak Rabin shake hands on the White House lawn thirty years ago.
Even as I have proudly led numerous congregational trips to Israel, I have also been lovingly critical of every Israeli government for my whole adult life for their failures to live up to the aspirations contained in Israel’s own Declaration of Independence.
Even as I have fundraised to send many kids on Israel trips and have written countless letters to support Jews in making aliyah to Israel, I have taken criticism from my congregants- I have even had congregants quit the congregations I have served- because I wasn’t in the “Israel-right-or-wrong” camp.
Even as I have supported Israel’s right to exist as the only Jewish homeland we have, I have also protested in the streets with Israelis in recent months to advocate for it to be the democracy for all of its citizens that it so proudly claims to be.
And even in these unimaginably painful times, I have stood on my pulpit and insisted to my members that the human heart is big: that we can hold tremendous pain for the brutal murders of Israelis, and also hold pain for the innocent people of Gaza– that we can do both things; we must do both. I am asking people who put Israel first in their concerns to make room in their big hearts for innocent Gazans; I am asking anyone who prioritizes the life of Palestinians to make room in their big hearts for innocent Israelis. We can all do both; if what we all want is peace for all, self-determination for all, that is the only way we will get there.
So I want you to ask me questions, to bring your challenges to me. When it comes to Israel, and, I hope, to my life in general, I have a strong back and an open heart. I want to know how you feel in this moment, just as I hope you want to know how I do. We may not agree about every aspect of this crisis– don’t worry— the Jewish people don’t all agree, either.
But mostly, in a way that I rarely do, I am asking you to show up for me. I don’t know what the future holds– not for Israelis, not for Palestinians, not for the Jewish people everywhere, and not knowing is almost as painful as all of the rest.
But I do know one thing for sure: I can’t bear this pain alone. The Jewish people cannot. Please don’t abandon us in our moment of greatest pain in most of our lifetimes. I need you. We need you.