Dear TEE community,

This past week marked six months since the horrific Hamas attack on Israel. Since that time the war in Gaza has had a profound impact on American Jews, both emotionally and politically. The escalating violence and loss of life in the region have stirred deep feelings of sorrow, concern, and solidarity among Jewish communities across the United States.

On an emotional level, many American Jews feel a strong connection to Israel. The sight of violence and suffering endured by both Israelis and Palestinians has been deeply distressing, evoking a sense of shared pain and vulnerability. The fear for the safety of loved ones living in Israel has also been a constant source of anxiety for many families.

Politically, the Gaza war has exacerbated existing divisions within the American Jewish community. While some staunchly support Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas and other militant groups, others have voiced criticism over the disproportionate use of force and the civilian casualties resulting from the conflict. This divergence of views has led to heated debates and, in some cases, strained relationships within Jewish communities, organizations, and even families.

I am proud and relieved that this has not been the case in our Emanu-El community. While our members hold a variety of opinions and have expressed a range of feelings about the conflict, we have been speaking with one another with mutual respect. For me, this is the definition of Jewish unity – a sense of connection that does not demand uniformity.

Additionally, it reflects the necessity and the difficulty of honoring our core Jewish teachings to both love the members of our community as ourselves and to love the stranger/other as ourselves. Caring for one does not necessitate an absence of compassion for the other. Hillel’s words are an important reminder: “If I am not for myself, who am I? [Yet] if I am only for myself what am I?”

Since the war began, we have held both Israelis and Palestinians in our hearts when we offer the Mi Shebeirach prayer for healing. This week’s service will also include a beautiful traditional Jewish prayer for the release of hostages, as we mark six months of captivity for those still being held in Gaza, including citizens of Thailand, Nepal, France, and Mexico, as well as the majority who are Israeli. Whether or not you are able to join us, I hope you take a moment to hold them in your heart as well.

Rabbi Drorah Setel