I gave this speech at the Interfaith Vigil on Monday, October 16.
Like many of you, I woke up on Saturday, October 7 to the devastating news. Like you, I felt the urgent need to absorb the overwhelming amount of information on the state of events. I combed through dozens of news sources and made numerous frantic calls to family and friends in Israel. The news was undeniably grim, and with firsthand accounts from those who had witnessed the events, it became unmistakably clear to me that what had occurred was beyond comprehension.
In my Kol Nidrei sermon I stressed the connection we all share with Israel. I never imagined that it would require THIS ATTACK to illustrate the truth of my words.
In these recent days, a profound realization has dawned upon most Jews — that we are indeed ‘am echad,’ one nation. The pain we feel is universal due to the events that transpired. Each one of us has at least one family member or friend in Israel, but it’s not just our personal connections with people; it’s our broader link to Israel that we might not have fully appreciated until now.
The events of October 7 serve as a stark reminder of a past we hoped would never resurface. Despite the escalating anti-Semitism, American Jews found solace in the belief that it wasn’t widespread, and they clung to the hope that it would dissipate. In many respects, are we not reminiscent of the German Jews, who, too, held on to the hope that circumstances would improve and the situation was only temporary?
However, things did not improve; they deteriorated significantly. And if you believe that the events of this week are confined to Israel, you are mistaken.
Recent pro- Palestinian rallies across major cities bear witness that anti semitism is present and continues to grow unabated. What could have been a Palestinian rally was redirected by unnamed individuals against Jews. Some protestors have gone to great lengths to rationalize the murder of innocent Israelis by Hamas. Signs bearing slogans like “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free” were also observed. Let me clarify to you what this sign means – it means “No Jews in all of Israel”.
In less than a week since the tragic sequence of events unfolded, some news media outlets have started intensifying their rhetoric and raising questions about Israel’s response to their security situation. This comes only days after they condemned the actions of Hamas. The term “disproportionate” is frequently used by news media when characterizing Israel’s response. But what, then, defines proportionate? Hamas committed horrific acts, including the murder of women and children. Is Israel expected to respond in kind? Should Israel be required to retaliate proportionately by inflicting such acts on the Palestinian people? In a recent interview, Douglas Murray offered a strong counterpoint to this question, suggesting, “Israel should attempt to locate a music festival in Gaza – good luck with that – commit the precise amount of rape, kill exactly the number of people that Hamas did on Saturday, find a town of identical size to Sderot, and ensure they go from door to door, killing the exact number of babies that Hamas did, and shooting the precise number of elders in the head.”
I am sure by now you have seen many graphic pictures but to me it became personal when I learned of the death of my friend’s daughter, who was killed at the festival. For a few days she was considered missing, because her body was not identified. Do you know why it was difficult to identify hundreds of bodies. It was difficult because they were stripped and many burnt.
The sages have taught us: “He Who is Compassionate to Cruelty Will Ultimately Become Cruel to the Compassionate.” In other words, if we do not confront these evil forces now, even if it means casualties in war, we will have to deal with many more innocent lives lost on both sides in the future.
As American Jews, we once again find ourselves in the position of having to explain why Israel takes actions to protect its citizens, much like any other nation would. Some congregants shared with me that they are now more mindful of disclosing their Jewish identity. Many have expressed feelings of fear, even before the threats to synagogues became a regular occurrence.
This past Shabbat we began reading the book of Genesis. We read that God created a person in His image. That implies that we want to see the goodness in people and it is the biggest disappointment in humanity when people do evil.
Those terrorists who carried out unspeakable attacks are often called animals. But animals, even when killing their prey, do it in order to feed themselves. That is how they were programmed when created. The deaths of innocents is not part of nature. It is an act of human brutality.
Unfortunately, there will always be people who are cruel and evil but let us focus on those who are kind and compassionate and courageous.
And let us remember that defending ourselves and Israel does not mean being aggressors, it means being brave in the time when our brothers and sisters need us and our support. While Israelis fight the terrorism on the ground with weapons, we need to fight terrorism here with our words. Let us m make them heard!