The awful, horrific attacks in Israel have been on my mind every hour of every day of these last few difficult weeks. My heart is broken again and again by the suffering of the victims and their families, and I am astonished and horrified at the savagery of the attackers. I feel anger, fear, disbelief, and despair, and from the conversations I have had with many of you in these weeks, I know that I am not alone. So what is there for us to do? How do we channel our emotion into action and find some way to help? Here are some suggestions:
Reach out to those you know in Israel
Many in Israel are feeling alone, both because fear can keep them isolated in their homes and because they can sometimes feel that the world is blind to their suffering. Making sure that we contact those we know, by email or Facebook or phone, can help them to know that they are in our hearts, that we who live a world away care about them and their situation. I have received touching replies to my expressions of concern. These points of connection really matter.
Keep our moral vision clear
In this eruption of violence in particular, we have seen how quickly inappropriate moral equivalencies can be drawn and ethical decision-making discarded in the heat of the moment. Now more than ever, we have to hold on to the moral teachings of Jewish tradition. Political frustration is never an excuse for acts of violence. There is no moral equivalence between the aggressive actions of an attacker and the defensive responses of a victim or of the police. The Torah teaches us that not all violence is morally equal, and attempts to erase the distinctions between attacker and victim, to erode the legitimacy of self-defense, and to condemn all police or state action are as unacceptable in the Israeli context as they are anywhere else in the world. At the same time, the Torah requires careful ethical decision-making to ensure that only necessary force is used in self-defense or to ensure public safety. Revenge attacks on innocents or the use of force when the threat posed by an attacker has already been defused are repugnant to Jewish tradition and must be condemned. The chaos of these days does not relieve anyone of the obligation to live and act morally; instead, it sharpens that obligation for all of us.
Pray for peace
It is no coincidence that each and every Jewish prayer service ends with a prayer for peace. Traditionally, we pray for peace three times a day. Do we expect that our prayers will suddenly turn enemies into friends? Will our prayers magically transform rocks into flowers and guns into olive branches? No. But praying for peace, praying with all our hearts, aligns our souls with that ultimate objective of human life. It reminds us again and again that peace is the goal, that despite everything, it is possible for human beings to live without violence and bloodshed. Our prayers matter to us and push us in the right direction. But I believe that they do more. In a world in which so many espouse violence and call for destruction, I believe that expressing the yearning for peace – even privately, but all the more so publicly – has a power beyond what we can see or measure. Praying for peace matters to the world.
May the One who makes peace in the heavens above
make peace among us, among all who dwell in Israel,
and among all who dwell on earth.
Please God, may it come quickly.