Dear TEE Community,

On May 14, 1948, Iyar 5 in the Jewish calendar, David Ben Gurion declared “the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel [“the Land of Israel”], to be known as the State of Israel.” Many of us are familiar with the images of exuberant dancing in the streets and the sense of rejoicing accompanying that declaration. Since that time, Jewish communities throughout the world have observed the fifth of Iyar as Yom Ha-Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, in observance of what many see as the miraculous fulfillment of two thousand years of longing to once again be a free people in our own land.

For Palestinians, that same event is seen as fundamental to the Nakba, the “catastrophe” of defeat and displacement they experienced with the establishment of the State of Israel. Thus, May 15th, the day the British Mandate officially ended in 1948, has become Nakba Day, a mournful counterpart to the festivities of Yom Ha-Atzma’ut.

The fact that liberation for one group of people can involve harm for another is something that our tradition has wrestled with since the beginning. Any thoughtful reader of the Exodus story struggles with the injury and death meted out to innocent Egyptians. The talmudic rabbis told a story which reflected their own ambivalence about the destruction of the Egyptians and which is included in many contemporary haggadahs:

The ministering angels wanted to sing their song [as the Israelites escaped…but the Holy Blessed One said: “The work of My hands, the Egyptians, are drowning at sea, and you wish to sing songs?”  – Babylonian Talmud Megillah

American Jews are increasingly struggling with these issues in regard to the State of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians. In this context, like the human Israelites at the shore of the Red Sea, we celebrate our freedom, but our tradition also asks us to consider a higher, “angelic” perspective which acknowledges the sufferings of others.

This week as we observe Yom HaAtzma’ut during our Shabbat services, we will have an opportunity to consider these questions in a structured, non-judgmental, and respectful framework. Our larger Rochester Jewish community has been damaged by accusations of antisemitism and personal attacks based on political disagreements related to Israel and Palestine.  It is essential to our Jewish values of inclusivity and diversity of thought, as well as our American ideals of democracy and free speech, that we model constructive forms of expression and disagreement on these topics. I sincerely hope you will join us in this endeavor. We will all benefit from hearing as many voices as possible.

with all good wishes,

Rabbi Drorah Setel