Israel: On Our Minds and In Our Hearts

16 October 2015
3 Cheshvan 5776
Shalom Chaverim,

This morning during Hakhel (community meeting) we paused as a community to reflect on the situation in Israel and to pray for peace and a return to normalcy. It has been a long, hard several weeks, with a wave of random, violent terrorist attacks on Israel civilians of all ages. The nature of these attacks creates fear and uncertainty, and we pray for the safety and well-being of all our Jewish brothers and sisters and all the innocent inhabitants of Israel who long to live in peace. We also reaffirm our core value of human life, as Barry Shrage and Jeremy Burton wrote in their CJP-JCRC letter to the community this week: “We abhor violence against all people and we demand an end to incitement that is providing fuel for terror.”

In spite of this challenging situation, it brings me joy to share that Gann’s 45 juniors who are now in Israel are safe, happy, and having a transformative experience. They continue to send updates that their peers here are reading aloud each week. Our teachers and administrators are in regular contact with our partners at Muss and taking every precaution necessary to ensure their safety and well-being as they continue to have an adventure of a lifetime. Our juniors are experiencing what we sometimes call “real Israel” and are living out our Jewish value of areivut, of being connected to and bound up with the lives and fate of the Jewish People and Israel.

One of the ways that many Americans can support Israel is to stay in contact with family and friends who are there and to continue to visit and spend time there. In addition to our students, in the coming weeks we are also sending faculty members to visit our students, to continue with their important work on reimagining the Israel program, and to experience Israel themselves. I also continue to receive positive notes and updates from parents who are in Israel visiting their children.

Earlier this week we said farewell to the 23 Israel teenagers and teachers from Haifa who spent one week living and learning with our Gann students and families. Thanks to the support and partnership of CJP, the leadership of the Gann and Ironi Hey faculty, and the engagement and participation of all of the students, it was our most successful mifgash (exchange). Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their community as they return to Israel, particularly during this challenging time.

Many have been writing recently— from the CJP-JCRC letter I previously referred to above to Erica Brown’s Weekly to Ari Shavit’s recent editorial (in Hebrew), “Not Shame, But Love”—about the ideas of unity, loyalty, and love of Israel. The leaders of every Jewish movement have joined together to declare tomorrow a Shabbat of Solidarity with Israel.

At the heart of these ideas is a message I shared with our students this morning. We are a community and a people with diverse viewpoints and political positions. We need to continue to create time and space for honest, hard, respectful, inclusive conversations about politics and many other issues facing Israeli society and to engage with those who do not share our points of view. Gann has been a model of how to build this kind of community, and, with our students helping to lead the way, we will continue to work on how we can do this better.

At the same time, our love of and connection to Israel, to our brothers and sisters in Israel, and to the Jewish People transcend politics and the issues that divide us. We love, we care, and we stand together with family because, while we might fight, argue, and disagree, we are in this together. That is what it means to be bound up with and collectively responsible for our people and our home. There are moments when we need to get out of our heads and into our hearts—when we just need to be together, to cry together, to pray together for healing and for peace. Right now certainly feels like one of these moments.

May God bless and protect Israel and all her inhabitants. May the One who makes peace in the heavens bring peace upon us, upon all of Israel, and upon the whole world, and let us say “Amen.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Marc Baker

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