You don’t know anything about me, but as a Swiftie for a decade and a half – I feel like I know a bit about you and your heart. I have something difficult to say, but first, I want to begin with how much I appreciate you. As you can see from the picture of my choice outfit for our “Superbowl Shabbat” themed service tonight, I’m a fan of yours. Thank you for the way you use your lyrics and life to teach the world, especially young women, about the importance of owning their feelings, dreams, and potential. As a rabbi, I have utilized your powerful lyrics, notable comments, and quotes to teach many young people the values of self-care, resiliency, forgiveness, and hope.
I’m writing, though, because so many people – seeing my shirt and knowing I’m a fan – have questioned how I can still support an artist who doesn’t support my community. You see, many of my congregants are struggling with the idea that you went to a Gaza fundraiser and that you haven’t yet spoken out about the need to bring the Israelis being held hostage home. Seeing everything you’ve stood for in the past, I know you have a good heart and good intentions. I believe you didn’t intend to fund or support Hamas. That you want to do “what’s right,” and when it comes to Israel, it has somehow become unclear what the right thing to do is or who the “good” guys are.
I’d love to simplify it for you, but it’s not simple. Horrible things have been done by all involved because both terrorism and war are horrific. And yet, there is one side more innocent than the other. Israel sometimes loses its balance on the tightrope it walks. And when its army of young people encounter and sometimes have to do things they can’t speak of – these soldiers – and the nation as a whole – live it all again night after night. They hold each other accountable and try, even when shattered on the floor, to learn from what they’ve seen, wishing they had known more.
Yes, I’m playing with your lyrics to make a point.
Innocence isn’t really about being perfect. It isn’t about never causing harm. It is, however, about never wanting to. It is about being tortured by your mistakes, not proud of your cruelty. So, when trying to figure out who to support and stand with – I’m asking you to examine the hopes and dreams of both Israel and Hamas. Look at the stated reasons for existence. Ask if they regret or celebrate their warpath to determine innocence.
- Hamas, in its charter, clearly states the desire to obliterate Israel and push every Jewish person out of the land.
- Israel, in its Declaration of Independence, makes it clear that the nation strives to ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race, or sex. Israel’s declaration of independence also appeals to both Arab inhabitants of the land and neighboring Arab states, asking for peace, to live together in mutual respect and shared benefits.
- When members of Hamas commit acts of violence against Jews, they and their families are rewarded with large sums of money and new apartments to live in. Hamas celebrates vicious acts of terror.
- When Israelis commit acts of violence against Palestinians, they are brought up on charges, made to stand trial, and held accountable for unlawful actions.
- When Hamas kills Israelis, they do so with horrific acts of violence, sexual assault, and mental and physical acts of torture.
- When the IDF engages in war, it goes out of its way to try and warn innocent civilians and avoid their deaths. I’m not saying they are always successful – they are not. War is hard. Civilians die. But they are not targeted and tortured. The IDF strives for the preservation of innocent lives.
These are just a few reasons why Israel’s string of lights is still bright to me.
Life was beautiful and easy when I believed in the good of everyone, and everyone believed in each other’s potential to make peace and live side by side. But we’re past the lunchbox days. The monsters have caught up with us all. And yet, only one side longs for its innocence. Only Israel is shattered by the loss of all life. Hamas, and its followers, celebrate and glorify it.
There is so much more to say, to try and help you understand my – and my community’s – pain and hopes, but I don’t know that any of it matters in today’s age of hate and lies. I could sit here and run through a bunch of historical facts and realities on the ground – to try and explain Israel’s right to exist and defend herself. I’d love to wax poetic about how portraying the Jewish nation as the big bad aggressor negates both the historical truth and modern reality that Israel is little David, up against the Goliath of the Arab World. While I myself have been known to criticize Israeli politicians and right-wing government actions, I could try to explain the difference between criticizing those in power and negating an entire nation’s right to exist. I could discuss how no other nation in the world is held to the standards Israel is and how that is directly rooted in antisemitism. Yes, there is so much I could say to try and give you a glimpse into my heart- but I’d rather ask that you examine the heart of both groups and be honest about what you see.
Yes, Israel’s current war against Hamas terror is complicated, difficult, and even – at times – disappointing. But Israel is defending her right to exist, and her true character is clear. Look at her essential principles and her heart, her stated intentions and hopes, and her societal debate over how to proceed, and it becomes clear that Israel is, at least by your song’s standards, still an innocent.
Hamas is not. And Hamas alone controls Gaza.
You are smart enough and have the ability to go visit, to learn, to see for yourself. So please don’t close your eyes to the truth.
I hope you have fun rocking out in Tokyo, and I wish Travis good luck this weekend.
Rabbi Samantha Kahn
P.S. Did you know that 13 is a lucky number in Judaism? Just saying…