Here are a collection of resources from within Kehilla and beyond that are connected to our individual and collective responses to the war in Israel/Palestine. If you are a Kehilla member seeking pastoral support from one of our Spiritual Leaders, please email Rabbi SAM (email@example.com). Please check the Kehilla Calendar for coming services and gatherings.
Dear Kehilla Community,
On Sunday, Nov 12, the Kehilla Face-to-Face Committee had a Zoom meeting with Awdah Al Hathaleen, our liaison from Umm AlKhair, our partner community in the Occupied West Bank. We regret to report that life in the village is untenable.
Ever since the horrifying Hamas attack on Oct 7 and Israel’s brutal retaliation in Gaza, Israeli settlers and soldiers have significantly increased their harassment of Palestians in the Occupied West Bank. Some things Awdah shared with us:
- Soldiers and settlers enter the village almost daily, harass residents and conduct destructive searches.
- The village is almost totally cut-off from hospitals, shopping, etc.
- Most sources of income have been eliminated: no guests in the guest house, shepherds forced to sell their sheep and villagers unable to reach their greenhouse to harvest tomatoes.
- International and Israeli activists trying to protect the village have been threatened with arrest if they return.
- Men are beaten, strip searched and humiliated. Children are traumatized from witnessing their parents being treated this way.
You can help.
Immediately, you can call congress (details below). For more information on working with Face to Face to support Umm Al Khair, go to the Face-to-Face page of Kehilla’s website.
Please note the new script in which we do NOT mention Umm Al Khair, for fear of Israeli retribution. Phone numbers are below the script.
My synagogue has a close relationship with Masafer Yatta in the South Hebron Hills. The Israeli Army is threatening at gunpoint to evict our Palestinian friends in the area. Soldiers ransack their homes, and frequently beat and strip search the men. They have lost access to hospitals, stores and even their greenhouse. Please ask Congress person ______ to immediately contact the State Department and the Israeli Embassy and tell them to stop these forcible evictions and the harassment of Palestinian villages in Masafer Yatta and throughout the Occupied West Bank. Of course also ask that they support an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
Senator Laphonza Butler: 202-224-3841
Senator Alex Padilla: 202-224-3553
Representative Barbara Lee: 202-225-2661
Representative Nancy Pelosi: 202-225-4965
Representative Mark DeSaulnier: 202-225-2095
Thank you for your help.
Rabbi Burt Jacobson Rabbi Dev Noily Michael Saxe-Taller
Founding Rabbi Senior Rabbi Executive Director
I want to share some of my thoughts and feelings about the tragedies of Israel/Palestine these last few weeks. I am writing in my own capacity. I do not pretend to be the voice of Kehilla. I am talking from my particular vantage point.
For almost 40 years I have been part of this politically progressive shul where our approach to Israel/Palestine has always been in recognition that Palestinians and Israelis are people who deserve equal rights and equal dignity – as we all do.
Ever since 1967, when as a teenager I spent several weeks in Israel and the territories after the war, I have been a dissenter against the occupation, even as I also love many aspects of Jewish life that thrive in Israel. I deeply believe that the best aspects of this new Jewish culture does not, must not, depend on the subjugation of the Palestinian people.
In these last 56 years, I have never known any reality like this one. The ground has shifted in an unprecedented way. I predicted some of it, but was still surprised. For years I have quoted Langston Hughes’ poem A Dream Deferred that teaches us that such a dream eventually will explode if deferred too long. And still I am shocked. And my hope has been shaken. My visions for the future have become cloudy and full of dread.
One thing that scares me is how callous so many of us have become. What really scares me is how understandable this callousness is. People have been traumatized or re-traumatized by learning of and seeing the massacre of Jews and others on October 7, so it is understandable why many cannot grieve for the subsequent killing of Palestinians by Israeli retaliation. And other people have been outraged by the mass-killing of so many innocent Palestinian people that for them focusing on October 7 is just a distraction from the slaughter in Gaza. This too is understandable.
I believe that the spiritual/ethical mandate at this moment is to go beyond the understandable. (I also believe that it is a strategic mandate for those who support Palestinian freedom but that is a different discussion.).
Yesterday I received yet another piece of email from some Jewish institution that focused entirely on the atrocity of October 7 and the tragedy of the hostages. It referred to the bombing of Gaza as a war on terrorism without any mention of the thousands of civilians killed. I also received a pro-Palestinian email that referred to October 7 only as the day Israel began its war on Gaza.
I have heard someone say that Oct 7 was weeks ago, get over it and see what’s happening in Gaza. There is no “getting over it.” Pictures people have posted of the hostages have been torn down in a misplaced expression of solidarity with the Palestinian people .
And daily I have heard commentators quickly dismiss the thousands of killed Palestinians as necessary and unavoidable collateral damage. I have seen how concern for the suffering of the people of Gaza and calling for a ceasefire is seen as unmindful of the suffering of October 7, and even labeled as antisemitic.
The impersonal launching of a rocket or drone into a crowded neighborhood of Gaza certain to kill civilians and uncertain to kill combatants is no less ethically reprehensible than the face-to-face killing of unarmed civilians at an outdoor concert.
How do we decide how many civilian deaths are acceptable for eliminating a Hamas commander? 10? 50? 100? The formula is not to consider how many Palestinian civilians could be sacrificed, but how many Jewish Israeli deaths would be acceptable to obtain the same purpose. If the “acceptable” number of dead Palestinians exceeds the “acceptable” number of dead Israelis, then it is a war crime. Under international law, civilians are civilians regardless of their ethnicity, regardless of whom they voted for, regardless of whom they hope will win the conflict. As of this writing, more than 10,000 people in Gaza have been killed, over 4000 children. Would this be acceptable collateral damage if they were Jewish?
At this moment, it is Palestinians in Gaza who are suffering the most from relentless bombing. Megadeath will be ineffective at making Israelis any safer, and can only create more fatalities, more permanent injuries, more suffering, more trauma, and more displacement for the people of Gaza.
That is why I must support a ceasefire.
In the West Bank settlers are terrorizing Palestinian villages including the village of Umm al Khair which Kehilla is connected to through personal friendships and our Face-To-Face group. Almost every morning I wake up to a text message from a villager there with whom I am close and who has taught me how Thich Nhat Hahn has influenced his and the village’s form of nonviolence. He texts me how the settlers or the army have entered the village and at gunpoint order the people around or force them to sit in the cold and go through their possessions and phones. Some of the young men were beaten while offering no resistance.
At the same time, I know of the tragedy of a person I was with on a Center for Jewish NonViolence delegation and who has written about the Palestinian struggle for decades. His niece was abducted and is a hostage in Gaza.
But does it have to be personal before we feel the pain on both sides? The time has come to throw out the numbers, the statistics. Each number is a human being. 4000 children dead in Gaza is my granddaughter multiplied by 4000. Each Israeli killed in the early light at a music festival is my daughter multiplied by 1400.
Enough already. My suffering does not negate yours. Your suffering does not negate mine. Yes, the number of the dead in Gaza far exceeds the deaths of the massacre on 10/7, but that does not negate nor diminish the trauma of that day for Israelis and Jews.
But the numbers cannot calculate the value of what has been lost. They cannot enumerate the long grief-filled decades ahead for the sudden loss of a beloved who was supposed to be here with us for many more years.
The one Torah teaching that continues intact in every generation is that every human is in the image of God, B-tzelem Elohim. Not every Israeli, not every Palestinian, every human being.
The Quran and the Talmud draw the same conclusion when interpreting the story of Adam, Cain and Abel
Talmud Sanhedrin 37a
Therefore, Adam was created alone, to teach you that anyone who destroys one soul, the verse ascribes to them as if they destroyed an entire world. And anyone who saves one soul, the verse ascribes them as if they saved an entire world.
Quran 5:32, Sura Al-Maida
Therefore We ordained for the Children of Israel that one who slays a soul … shall be as if they had slain all humankind; and one who saves a life shall be as if they had given life to all humankind.
By what factor can you multiply slain humankind to determine the extent of the damage and pain?
During these weeks we are seeing a surge in antisemitism and its mirror image, anti-Palestinian bias. There are clear incidents where anti-Israel or anti-Zionist action has devolved into outright antisemitism or antisemitic microaggressions. And there are clear incidents where anti-Hamas rhetoric has devolved into words and action of hatred against Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims.
For years Judaism and Zionism have been conflated. This works in two directions. The Israeli establishment has always conflated Judaism with Zionism. To be a good Jew, one is assumed to be a Zionist. This has never been true. And antisemites make the same conflation: to kill a Jew is to kill a Zionist. That some Jews make that conflation does not give anyone a license to engage in antisemitism.
And likewise, Hamas and Palestinians, Hamas and Muslims, Hamas and Arabs, have all been conflated. And yet polls have shown that before October 7, the vast majority of people in the Gaza Strip held Hamas in disfavor.
Conflation under the circumstance is completely understandable. But our mandate is to go beyond the understandable to what is morally, practically and strategically necessary.
Support for Palestinian freedom does not preclude outrage for the massacre of Israelis. Outrage at the massacres does not preclude empathy for the on-going hourly assault upon and suffering of the Palestinian people. Chesed/lovingkindness is not a sum-zero quality, there is more than enough to go around.
We also need to have chesed for each other. We need to remember that all are enveloped in multi-generational trauma. Past pogroms, the holocaust, the nakba are still part of our active consciousness.
Each of us needs to be able to listen and hear others with compassion, even for those who have emphases different from one’s own.
If we cannot do this, then there is little hope.
As the terrible war in Gaza/Israel/Palestine continues, we’re hearing from Kehilla members with so many different experiences and responses to this crisis. Some of us have been in the streets calling for an immediate ceasefire. Some of us have wondered if it’s safe to send our children to Kehilla School. Some of us are desperately seeking news about friends or relatives who were abducted in Hamas’ attack. Some of us have lost contact with treasured friends being bombed in Gaza. We have heard from many of you, and we are grateful to be learning more about you, and about the varied experiences in our community.
There are words that each of us are desperate to hear, to know that we live in a shared reality with others in our community, in this time of crisis.
There are words (and silences) that each of us feel shut down by, even betrayed by, because they seem to minimize the suffering and injustice that our hearts are most deeply attuned to in this crisis.
We know that we don’t have the words that each of us needs right now.
We know that this war is destroying lives and crushing spirits and re-traumatizing millions of people in ways that will take generations to heal and repair. These days are changing the world we live in, and changing each of us, in ways that we won’t understand for a long time to come. We’re humbled by the enormity of what we’re living through, and we are reaching to meet ourselves, and everyone here, with compassion.
It can be difficult to send our children to school when we know Israeli parents are desperately waiting for their abducted children to come home. It can be hard to eat when we know food is running out in Gaza. It can be impossible to sleep when we know that millions have nowhere to lay their heads at night, no peace from air raid sirens and rockets shattering the night. It can be hard to feel anything but numb in the face of such overwhelming devastation.
We feel called as Kehilla’s clergy now to hold the loving container of our community and to draw on the gifts of Torah and ritual to help replenish all of our spirits and soften our hearts. We want Kehilla to be a safe place for our children to experience the joy of Torah and community, a nurturing place for our activists to find strength and centering, an embracing place for our mourners to grieve. We are awed by the ways that we can show up, and that we are showing up for each other.
As a community, we continue to be guided by our 2016 Values Statement on Israel/Palestine, which decries the injustice of the occupation, including the blockade of Gaza.
Kehilla has joined more than 20 other congregations this week in asking the U.S. government to de-escalate the violence and honor the sanctity of all lives in Israel/Palestine and Gaza.
We invite you to engage with the practices that might support you and those you care about in this time, including Shabbat practices, meditation, activism, learning and taking breaks from news and social media.
Please check the Kehilla Calendar for coming services and gatherings.
We and other Kehilla Spiritual Leaders are available for 1:1 conversations and pastoral/spiritual care. Rabbi SAM will coordinate those requests and you can let them know if you have a preference about who to meet with. Hazzan Shulamit will be on sabbatical starting November 1.
Kehilla’s committees working on Israel/Palestine from different perspectives are Face To Face, the Middle East Peace Committee, and the Chavurah for a Free Palestine. You can find updates in the upcoming edition of Committee Connection.
In 1940, in the Warsaw Ghetto, the Piacezner Rebbe taught his congregation that in times like this “we must assign ourselves more fixed times for (Torah) study than we did before.” Torah, in its broadest sense, can be the tree of life that allows us to connect with our own humanity, and with the humanity of others, even in the face of impossible suffering.
May this Shabbat bring a glimmer of peace, and light our path to healing, justice and love.
Hazzan Shulamit and Rabbi Dev
“That which is hateful to you, do not do to another” Hillel, Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 31a
“You shall not oppress the stranger, and you know the heart of a stranger because you were strangers in the land of Mitzrayim” Exodus 23:9
“Zion shall be redeemed by justice…” Isaiah 1:27
From its inception, and in our statements and resolutions over the years, Kehilla Community Synagogue has affirmed the inherent dignity of all people. We affirm that equal respect must be accorded to Jews and to Palestinians—whether they have Israeli citizenship or not—and to all others who currently live in areas controlled by the Israeli government or its military. And we must acknowledge that everyone in Israel/Palestine has deep fears for their security and that they all desire a future for their children in which they live with peace and justice.
In regard to Zionism: In Kehilla, we recognize the historical connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel and we recognize the love for that land as expressed in Jewish biblical, liturgical, legal, and literary texts. We distinguish between this historical attachment and modern political Zionism. Our individual members have a variety of relationships to Zionism, but as a congregation, we do not fuse the practice of our spirituality and morality with any form of political nationalism.
On Oppression & Injustice: We recognize that the establishment of the State of Israel was an outcome of oppression experienced by the Jewish people over many centuries, most notably the Shoah, the Nazi Holocaust. And we must also acknowledge that the creation of a Jewish state in historic Palestine and the occupation or control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip has resulted in tragic injustices experienced by the Palestinian people.
Peace & Justice, the Occupation, Human Rights: We seek a future that includes security and full civil and human rights for all who live in the land—Jews and non-Jews alike. We do not accept the oppression of non-Jews—Palestinians and others—nor the denial of equal treatment in the territories and within Israel. As a congregation, we believe that Israel’s maintaining of the occupation, the extensive blockade of Gaza, and the creation and continued construction of Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank defeat the interests of peace and justice.
Rejecting Exclusivity: We affirm the unique role that the land between the Jordan River and the sea has played in Jewish history and in the aspirations of many Jews for a time or a place of safety, justice and peace. Nevertheless, we do not accept exclusive Jewish entitlement to the land, nor to the city of Jerusalem. We recognize that the land and the city are sacred to many faiths, and are a home to a variety of peoples, ethnicities and cultures.
Religious Freedom: We affirm the human right to freedom of religious conscience, belief and practice where it does not infringe on the human rights of others. We affirm this right in our own country and everywhere. Religious freedom must be available in Israel/Palestine for Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze, atheists and all others with the full separation of religious and state authority.
Open Discussion, Open Ears: We believe that open dialogue is a necessary activity within our synagogue, in the Jewish community, and in society at large. In regard to discussions about Israel/Palestine, we seek to speak compassionately and to listen compassionately to many ideas about resolving the violent and tragic situation that has emerged and persists in Israel/Palestine. The cohesiveness of our community is not dependent upon unanimity on these issues, but rather it depends upon a willingness to listen and to speak with compassion and with respect for the dignity of the other.
Kehilla Community Synagogue is part of a national network called Synagogues Rising, which put out a Gaza Response to Congress and President Biden statement on Oct. 13th.
Synagogues Rising: WE ARE A NATIONAL NETWORK of multiracial synagogues grounded in Jewish spiritual practice, ancestral wisdom, community care, and movements for justice. We practice Judaism as a liberatory tradition and seek to cultivate more humanity, interdependence, solidarity, and healing in our world. The inherent kedusha / sacredness of all life is the foundation of our commitments to antiracism, disability justice, trans and gender justice, Indigenous solidarity, Palestinian liberation, and combatting antisemitism. Our synagogues strive to support one another and leverage our collective voice for justice.
Synagogues Rising: Gaza Response to Congress and President Biden 10/13/23
We are grieving the horrific, violent and terrifying attacks by Hamas on Israeli civilians. A grief of this magnitude can unleash a powerful drive for revenge. Our Jewish values ask us to open our hearts and reach for our shared humanity. Jewish tradition insists that every single human being is sacred, with inherent dignity and worth. We ask that you not weaponize our grief to support the killing of Palestinian civilians. More than 2 million people in Gaza have been cut off from food, water, gas, and electricity. Israel has told 1.1 million Gaza civilians they have 24 hours to leave, but they have nowhere to go and no way to get there. Further harm to Palestinian civilians will not bring back the dead nor will it make Israelis safer. We urge our government to use its influence to de-escalate and interrupt this cycle of violence, negotiate the safe return of hostages, and protect the lives of all Israeli and Palestinian civilians.
As individuals, Rabbi Dev Noily, Rabbi David Cooper and Rabbi SAM Luckey are signers of this statement, as well as Kehilla Spiritual Leader Emerita Rabbi Chaya Gusfield and former Kehilla Rabbi Educator Rabbi Gray Myrseth.
Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8mAAZ9iSZM
We are Rabbis and Rabbinical students and at this moment of great moral reckoning, we are speaking out with one voice.
Those of us grieving both Israeli and Palestinian loved ones this week know there is no military solution to our horror.
We know that many Jews in our communities are feeling confused, afraid, and despairing over the events that began on October 7th.
Together with Jews in Israel, we are in deep grief over the 1400 Israelis who were brutally killed by Hamas.
We are terrified for the over 230 Israeli hostages – adults, children and infants – who remain in captivity.
However, the U.S. and Israeli governments are using our grief to justify genocidal violence directed against the people of Gaza.
As we speak, over 10,000 Palestinians have been killed, including 4200 children
According to Defense for Children International, the Israeli military is killing one child in Gaza every 15 minutes.
Scores of people are still buried in the rubble with no one able to rescue them.
Israel has cut off all access to electricity, water and medicine – and now Gaza is on the verge of running out of fuel. Threatening the lives of 2.2 million people.
In the face of this terrifying, violence, we say no!
We uplift the Torah value of v’chai bahem– live by Torah. Torah should be a source of life, not death.
As Jews, as Rabbis, as human beings we are pleading with our communities to rise through our despair and our grief to save lives.
As Americans, we call upon our leaders to stop supporting and enabling this nightmare
We call upon all Americans to call their representatives and demand that they act immediately
Our tradition is an Eytz Hayim – a tree of life. Life, not death, are its fruits.
We ask you to join our calls for a complete ceasefire now.
Ceasefire means no more bombing
Ceasefire means no ground war
Ceasefire means all Israeli hostages must be released now.
Ceasefire means immediate engagement by the international community toward a just and lasting peace in Israel-Palestine.
Ceasefire is the only way to prevent more death and destruction.
All human beings are made b’tzelem Elohim – in the image of the Divine. All human life is sacred and precious.
Too many precious lives are being killed.
The voice of the Jewish people, now more than ever, must be clear and united:
Never Again is Now.
Never again for anyone.
Not in our names.
CJNV brings Jewish activists from around the world to Israel/Palestine to join in Palestinian-led nonviolent civil resistance to occupation, apartheid, and displacement.
They are collecting funds for “urgent relief for Palestinians in the West Bank.”
Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) is an Israeli organization, active in three main areas – work within and about the Occupied Territories; work to promote social and economic justice within Israel; and activities in the fields of education and interreligious dialogue.
The Abrahamic Reunion is hosting a daily prayer circle at 8 am Pacific Time.
The Abrahamic Reunion, founded in 2004, is a bottom-up grassroots organization designed to overcome the problem of segregation and separation in Israel and Palestine by bringing together small to large groups of people from the four major religions to spend time together, work together, study together, and create an atmosphere of trust and understanding.