Being part of a faith community often means providing comfort to those in pain. Being Jewish means being part of not only a faith community, but also being a part of a family and a global people.
I am connected throughout time, over the generations and throughout space to Jewish communities all over the globe. Therefore, in thinking through about what it means to be Jewish, during these trying times, I am reminded of the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who said: “Judaism is not only the adherence to particular doctrines and observances, but primarily living in the spiritual order of the Jewish people, the living in the Jews of the past and with the Jews of the present… Our share in holiness we acquire by living in the Jewish community.”
Nothing has felt more on target than these words, these past several days. Sitting in the United States, getting alerts about Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel on Saturday, during one of our Holy Days, was shocking, dizzying and momentarily paralyzing.
Was this really happening? Were we really witnessing the worst day of death for Jews since the Holocaust? Yes, we were, and it isn’t over yet.
The interconnectedness of the Jewish people was immediately felt as I learned of many friends in Israel whose children and husbands were being called up to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and learned about families whose family members were missing, being held hostage or presumed murdered. The horror was painful, but the community was of great comfort.
The feeling of embrace and comfort began to expand beyond my Jewish circles as I very much appreciated the definitive comments from local, state, federal leaders and world leaders, who each, unequivocally, called out the atrocities by Hamas and affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself against this evil. I am grateful to have received emails from former students, families in our community, and local community board members.
However, the deafening silence of leaders of other faith communities has felt quite painful. Where are the voices of conscience?
Of course, there have been wonderful people who have reached out, but the messages that many of my rabbinic colleagues and I around the country have been getting are, “Violence in the region is bad. We are praying for peace.”
The silence of many clergy of other faiths and the inability to name and affirm the horror of these atrocities against Israel by Hamas have pierced a sense of camaraderie and partnership that many of us have been working on cultivating together. This muted reaction was loudly painful. As friends have said, “The Middle East is complicated, but there was nothing complicated about condemning the terror enacted by Hamas against Israel last weekend.”
Providing comfort is a core expression of Judaism, and at the end of a Jewish funeral, after paying our respects to the deceased with a proper burial, all who are present turn our attention to the mourners by forming two lines through which they can walk, as the words, “May You Be Comforted Amongst the Mourners of Zion and Jerusalem” are recited.
The Jewish people are united right now, in our grief, fear and resolve—that just as we have been brutally attacked throughout history and have survived, we will survive this.
Last weekend, as the attacks began, the Jewish community in Israel was celebrating Simchat Torah, where we concluded the reading of The Five Books of Moses. We end each book by saying, “Chazak, Chazak, V’Nitchazek—we are strong, stronger, and may we find strength.”
Let’s hope that, as we move forward in these days of grief, that the first “Chazak” will continue to represent a unified voice within the Jewish community. The second “Chazak” will represent world leaders offering their support, and finally, the third word, “V’Nitchazek,” “we are strengthened,” will soon come to represent all people of goodwill to find their voices and the words necessary so that we can all be comforted, together.