Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A letter from a Rabbi

The following is a letter send by a British rabbi to members of his congregation:

Tuesday 13 January, 2009
17 Tevet, 5769

Dear Community

I have never before written to the community twice in one week. But so many people, of many different opinions, all full of anguish over the present and hope for a better future, have spoken to me.

The terrible events unfolding in Israel and Gaza have immense significance for the hope of peace in the Middle East and also affect the future of Jewish Muslim relations, and relationships within wider society, in Europe and the world. I have a heavy and torn heart.

First of all, my prayers for safety and protection are with all our loved ones who may be in danger wherever they are, and with all those who are suffering.

My conscience tells me that I have a religious duty to assert and strive adequately for the value of life, all life, every life. I understand Jewish ethics to teach the inestimable value of every single life and that human rights know no boundaries of race or nation. I therefore beg everyone to pray, act and toil for peace and understanding, however absurd such a plea may at times seem.

I realise as I write that, unlike many members of the community and their children, I do not know what it is like to fight, or see my children fight, for my country. I do not at all know what it has been like to live in Sderot for years with constant danger, or indeed now Ashkelon and Beer Sheva. I do not know and cannot imagine what it must be like to be an ordinary person in Gaza for all these hopeless years, with children, in utter fear now, caught between Hamas and Israel, with the ceaseless sounds of gunfire and rockets.

I do not need to repeat in these circles our abhorrence for Hamas and their culture of terror and murder. I have seen the tears and heard the cry of many whose beloved children and relatives have been killed. There is an utter cynicism and culture of death within Hamas which is terrifying. They have killed huge numbers of their own population. That Israel could not tolerate thousands of rockets being fired with the deliberate intention of killing anyone and everyone, that is to my mind unarguable. If you have any doubt, look on Hamas’ website. Listen to Colin Shindler’s well informed lecture. The rockets must stop.

But I am also saddened and anguished, I know everyone is, at the awful suffering and loss of life in Gaza. This was said many times at the rally. We should have paid more attention to that suffering long ago. That Hamas criminally and cynically uses innocent people as a human shield does not, as we know, clear us of all moral responsibility for whatever happens. All innocent blood cries out to God and to the human conscience. We too have our responsibilities and cannot hide from them. That is why we must call out for the sake of life and peace. Rabbis for Human Rights, to which I belong, are striving courageously as an expression of the love of Israel to ensure that the wounded of all sides are evacuated and cared for and that we do not do more wrongs.

I attended the rally in Trafalgar Square, believing it essential to stand up as a Jew, to support the right of Israel to exist and its right to respond to Hamas, but horrified, pained and fearful about the terrible loss of life in this war. How much blood has been shed? How many people are wounded and terrified? How many people are dazed and grief stricken? What suffering on both sides, about which we have thought too little, lies behind all this? How much new hatred is now being born? How is good to come of this? How is this to be turned into peace? Every speaker stressed our pain for what is happening to the people both of southern Israel and also of Gaza. But we have to mean it, not just say it. That is why we must act, pray and plead that this violence must truly end for good.

Other issues emerge out of this war. We must not be intimated by such slogans as ‘We are all Hamas now’. Terrible things have been said to, and about, Jews and awful threats have been made. We must challenge them.

At the same time we have a responsibility to reach out across the widening gulf of fear, anger and pain, to friends and colleagues in the Muslim community. Where we can, we should talk together, mourn together, hope together. Otherwise we too will find ourselves unable to look each other in the face, without anything we can say or anyone we can say it to. This is urgent and it’s for us to do here, in London, in Britain now.

People have asked me where to go to read different analyses of what is happening in Israel and Gaza, other than the British media or official views for and against. The obvious answer is the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post online. Here, there are a huge range of trenchant and important views from the left to the right of the spectrum.

People have also asked me what we can do.

We should keep closely in touch with friends and relatives in Israel. Contact from us is really, really important. Where we have friends and colleagues in the Muslim community we should keep communication alive. We can share our pain over the loss of all life and our hopes for a better future for all.

We can give money to hospitals caring for the wounded, in Israel, Gaza and elsewhere and to organisations (I only know of them in Israel at this point and they include the Masorti Movement) which help take ordinary people, especially children, out of the range of the conflict.

We should pray, for our loved ones, for Israel, and Gaza, for the wounded and the grief stricken, and for a swift, enduring end to this fighting.

May peace come quickly.

Jonathan Wittenberg

I attach this plea by Daniel Barenboim:

"For the last forty years, history has proven that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be settled by force. Every effort, every possible means and resource of imagination and reflection, should now be brought into play to find a new way forward. A new initiative which allays fear, acknowledges injustice, and leads to the security of Israelis and Palestinians alike. An initiative which demands of all sides a common responsibility : to insure equal rights and dignity to both peoples, and ensures the right of each person to transcend the past and aspire to a future." Daniel Barenboim

No comments: