Ora Horn Prouser

What have we learned – from Ezekiel and from our experiences

We are all still reeling from the events of October 7. The prophet Ezekiel anticipated our emotional turmoil. In Ezekiel 24:16 the prophet is told by God that “the delight of his eyes”, his wife, is going to die as a symbolic act, and Ezekiel is forbidden from engaging in mourning customs. This is meant to symbolize what is going to happen when the Temple is destroyed, that no one will engage in any mourning customs. Rashi asks why they wouldn’t be able to engage in mourning customs after the destruction of the Temple. (Ezekiel 24:22) His answer is that it’s because at that point, everyone will be mourners, and mourning customs only work when there are non-mourners who are consolers. When there are no non-mourners, mourning customs just don’t work.

While I have studied this section of Ezekiel many times, this verse and this comment by Rashi took on new meaning given the current situation. How do we function when we are all mourners? We must recognize, of course, that people are mourning on different levels, and those who had deaths in their families, those whose families are hostages, and those who personally experienced attacks and loss of their homes and villages are suffering on a totally different level. But, it’s ok to admit that we are all mourners. How many of the customs and societal norms that we take for granted get lost when we are all mourners? And while we celebrate the return of the first groups of hostages, our hearts are with all of those who are still in captivity.

Since October 7, the world around us has changed. Alliances have shifted, viewpoints have moved. We find ourselves in uncharted territory. Some whom we thought we could count on as allies have not come through. Some people around us have stepped up in ways we never would have expected. We spend every day praying for the release of the hostages, passing heartbreaking hours making sure to read, watch videos, listen to the news and bear witness to all that is happening. We do all of this against the backdrop of a war in Israel where we have not yet seen a clear picture of what things will look like after the war. And we do all of this against the backdrop of a terrifying rise in antisemitism in the United States, a level of hatred and violent rhetoric that we never thought we would see in our own schools, communities, and backyards.

So how do we move forward? How do we make our way in this uncharted territory? As the CEO and Academic Dean of the Academy for Jewish Religion (AJR), I, together with colleagues and students, have of course been thinking about this nonstop, just like the rest of you. Here are a few things we have learned.

  • Sometimes you just have to unapologetically state where you stand, without fear. When I met with our students right after the horrific pogrom, I told them that I am an ardent Zionist. Full stop. AJR is an institution that believes in Zionism and defends Israel’s right to exist.
  • Developing a culture of dialogue and openness in good times, prepares communities for difficult times. As a pluralistic institution, we were prepared for times like these. AJR is a safe place to talk about Israel. When we engage with each other we are able to learn and grow. We are able to receive honest feedback and engage in frank conversation. We listen as much as we talk. It is a safe place to say “I don’t know.”  It is a safe place to share viewpoints without being judged.  These are tools that we use in our everyday experiences as a pluralistic community, so we had honed our skills before facing this communal trauma.
  • We are living through such a complex situation, we don’t yet see a solution ahead. We don’t see the path to the way out. The only way to find that path will be through dialogue, conversation, learning from each other, and engaging with the different parts of our diverse Jewish community. And yet, just as there are always borders to any community’s pluralism, set by that individual community, there may be important borders that we set for ourselves to these conversations about Israel. This is not easy, but it is something to address honestly with ourselves and with each other.
  • Let’s remember that our responsibility is not only to support those in the Jewish community, but also to speak out to our colleagues and connections in the non-Jewish world. As the only Jewish school accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, we have a large group of colleagues at Christian seminaries and divinity schools. Sharing our thoughts, experiences, and fears with our Christian colleagues, honestly and openly, has been very important and continues to be an area where we want to use our connections to make a difference.
  • Now is the time that the Jewish community is thirsty for leadership. Rabbis and cantors are struggling to serve communities, provide pastoral guidance, and deal with antisemitism. And yet, most of us do not have the ability to influence the outcome of the war in Israel. Most of us do not have the ability to make a global difference in fighting antisemitism. However, we should never forget the power of the individual, the power of the small community, the power of making an impact on one person at a time. Each one of us has the ability to impact on a small group. None of us should allow ourselves to squander that opportunity and responsibility. Rather, we need to grab those opportunities with two hands, and do all we can to make a difference.

As we find our way in this new world, let us continue to find our way together. Let us continue to lead, and to follow others’ lead. Let us continue to reach out to others, and to engage in the necessary dialogue. And let us all continue to work toward a safe, bright future for the Jewish People and for Israel.

About the Author
Dr. Ora Horn Prouser is the CEO and Academic Dean at The Academy for Jewish Religion. She has worked with educational institutions to develop Bible curricula and pedagogy. Her book, Esau’s Blessing: How the Bible Embraces Those with Special Needs was recognized as a National Jewish Book Council finalist. Her more recent book, Under One Tent: Circus, Judaism, and Bible breaks new ground in the use of movement and circus arts in studying biblical text.
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