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Dear Rabbi, I hear your silence

Israel needs the vocal support of Jewish religious leaders, even if their congregations don't want to hear it

As Israel fights to protect her citizens from rockets, kidnappings, and acts of terror, the silence by Jewish religious leaders in America on the need for unequivocal support of Israel is deafening.

Rabbis are trapped by the politics of their communities. Rabbis are trapped by the governance structures of their synagogues that sideline their views on many topics other than Jewish traditions and law.rabbis are trapped by the dichotomy that exists in supporting an Israel at war when their training points to the need to promote peace. In short, rabbis have every excuse for not being heard at this critical time in Israel’s history.

Except that silence is no longer an option for Israel and for Jews around the world and it is our Jewish leaders, our Rabbis, who must stand up and be heard.

By remaining silent, rabbis are making a loud statement to their communities and to the world.The message is that supporting Israel during her time of need is not important. By remaining silent, rabbis are giving terrorists and anti-Semites the upper hand. By remaining silent, rabbis are choosing not to lead their communities in support of the Jewish homeland.

What rabbis must teach their communities is that supporting Israel is not a debate during a time of war. There is no ‘left versus right’ when a four year old boy is killed by a mortar shell as he runs to join his family in a bomb shelter in his home. There is no time to deliberate over Middle East politics when over 100 rockets are launched during a 24-hour period on the most densely populated cities in Israel in the 39th day of fighting.

I believe that ‘in private,’ most rabbis in America support Israel’s right to defend herself. I believe that ‘in private,’ most rabbis applaud the extraordinary efforts by the IDF to minimize loss of life. I believe that ‘in private,’ most rabbis are deeply concerned about the new wave of anti-Semitism and the need to speak out against the hatred of Jews in communities around the world. I believe that ‘in private,’ most rabbis are tracking the war through live Israeli television and radio feeds, constant communication with friends and family, and are tethered to Red Alert updates through their digital devices. I believe that ‘in private,’ most rabbis across America do believe in providing Israel with the unwavering support she needs throughout this war.

So what happens to rabbis ‘in public’ when they do voice their views in support of Israel?These days, many are told to shut up.

Many of us have heard the harsh criticism from members of our own communities or read the negative comments on national social media outlets:

  • “Who gave you the right to represent my views on Israel?”
  • “You are a rabbi not an elected official – lead the service and teach Torah. Nothing more.”
  • “How dare you use the bimah as your own personal soap-box to support Israel. Do that on your own time, not mine.”

Depending on the politics of your own Jewish community, these reactions can be common and they are certainly hurtful and unfair.

To the rabbis of America, I offer the following advice:

Get over it. Israel needs you.

I would also argue that some rabbis in Jewish communities across America are held hostage by those members that have prioritized the loss of innocent lives in Gaza over Israel’s fight against a Hamas terrorist group which is committed to the destruction of the Jewish State and killing of Jews everywhere. These communities are confused and misguided and are likely experiencing rifts and contention when they should be experiencing unity and solidarity. These communities need to hear from their rabbis more than ever.

To be clear, the loss of life in Gaza is horrible and deeply disturbing. But it is naïve and destructive to put this loss of life ahead of the security of all Israeli citizens, especially when the IDF goes to such lengths to save lives while Hamas uses these same innocent people as human shields. For while all of us feel terrible about the loss of life during this war, we must find a way to stand firm in support of our brothers and sisters in Israel.

Yet to those members of Jewish communities across America who still insist on prioritizing the loss of life in Gaza over the unequivocal support of Israel and spout loud and harsh criticism of the Jewish State during her greatest time of need, I offer the following advice:

This is no time to debate Professor Brian Orend’s The Morality of War from the comforts of a summer home fire-pit over a full-bodied bottle of Beaujolais with the silky smooth voice of James Taylor crooning in the background. The world is watching. Your neighbors are listening.Your children are learning from you.

Get over it. Israel needs you.

Though it is difficult, we must all recognize that a world where Israel stands alone is a very bad world for Jews, everywhere. Rabbis can help us with these difficult decisions. Rabbis are teachers and sources of inspiration. Rabbis share stories and Jewish folklore that provide context during challenging times. This is when we need our rabbis most. This is when the rabbi’s voice truly matters.

So as rabbis prepare for Shabbat services across the country and fine tune their sermons for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they must do so with an unprecedented sense of responsibility and courage.

Israel needs our rabbis to provide leadership in not only demonstrating clear and undeniable support of Israel but in also teaching us how to support Israel in the face of human loss.

Rabbi, this is your time. We need to hear your voice.

About the Author
Barak Bar-Cohen is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel who grew up in Southern Israel and served in the IDF as a returning citizen. Mr. Bar-Cohen has over 17 years experience as an investor and senior executive in the telecommunications, digital media, and beverage industries working with both American and Israeli companies. Mr. Bar-Cohen graduated from Brandeis University with Honors in Economics and received his MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. Mr. Bar-Cohen is involved with several Jewish and Israeli organizations and currently resides in Princeton, New Jersey with his family who are all dual citizens as well.
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