We stand before Shavuot, the festival of the giving of the Torah. This Torah is always understood as Torat chaim, the teaching of life. In these terrible times across Israel and Gaza, we pray for the teaching of life.
We pray for the safety of everyone, an end to the violence, a restoration of calm and coexistence across shared cities and neighbourhoods, and leadership which can bring hope for the future to both Israelis and Palestinians. Our hearts go out to everyone bereaved, wounded, and living in anxiety and fear. Our thoughts are for our family and friends, – and everyone.
The first of the Ten Commandments spoken at Sinai is ‘I am the Lord your God.’ Since the human being is created in God’s image, the echo of that commandment can be heard in every person. God calls out in the unique sanctity of each life. There is therefore no place in true faith for race hate, vigilante groups, be they Jewish, Muslim or any other, or for cruelty, injustice and humiliation.
I will never forget my short visit to Israel towards the end of the fighting in Gaza in 2014. I visited Tel Hashomer hospital and listened to wounded soldiers. A family whose son was killed showed me his Siddur, his prayer book. Handwritten on the opening pages were his hopes for a life of goodness and generosity. He’d been due to get married in just a few weeks. Terrible!
I was taken to a hospital in East Jerusalem which was receiving wounded children from Gaza. I’ll never forget this searing experience. I asked an older man sitting by the bed of a child whether this was his son. ‘No,’ he said; the parents were dead, killed together with eighteen members of the family.
There is only more hurt in all this violence, another ring of pain and anger which will someday have to be overcome. Only respect for all human life, fairness and something to hope for can bring a truly safe future.
So I turn with respect and deep admiration to some of the messages sent in these last days. Here is a letter from The Abraham Initiatives:
We are planning a national campaign entitled: “Only Together.” The campaign, in Hebrew and Arabic, will feature images of Jews and Arabs in everyday life: shopping together; studying together at university; working together in hospitals fighting Covid-19. Our campaign will feature on the main TV channels…
Here is a joint statement sent by Rabbi Ofek Meir from headteachers of Jewish and Arab schools in Haifa:
Our role as educators is to raise the younger generation to be independent, critical thinkers, with values; and to be a generation who will create knowledge, opinions, narratives and culture; and who respect the other’s opinion, and who believe in the values of equality and human rights. This is true anytime, anywhere, but especially now and in Haifa in particular.
This is from Rabbi Arik Ascherman, so often attacked for his defence of basic human justice:
One of the few positive developments has been the religious and other civil leaders who have begun to stand together and call for an end to the hate and violence that has led to Israeli Jews and Arabs lynching each other. Tonight around the country average Jewish and Arab citizens stood together to say no to the violence.
Here is from Rabbi Yoav Ende of the Masorti community of Hannaton:
Tonight, activists from Hannaton will join together with others from nearby communities and Arab villages for a joint demonstration of peace and hope; spreading a message of change, a message of a better Israel that can and must be here – showing that living together without conflict, without violence, is not only imperative, it is immediately achievable.
I see in my garden Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish, three of whose daughters were killed in Gaza, standing by the apple tree I planted in their memory, taking a photograph of it to send to his other children. I often reread sections of his book I Shall Not Hate.
Dr Abuelaish, Rabbi Yoav Ende, may our prayers ascend together.