In video: Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D., President, HUC-JIR, center; with Richard M. Joel, President, Yeshiva University, left; and Arnold M. Eisen, Ph.D., Chancellor, The Jewish Theological Seminary, right
We gather today as one community, at a moment of profound challenge for our people, Am Yisrael, a people that has known endless struggle, a people that has wandered the earth for centuries at risk and in flight, a people finally, once again, back at home in the now blooming land of our forbears.
And all we want is peace.
A peace that is lasting and strong, a peace that is just and balanced, a peace that allows those of every race and religion, every belief and creed, to live a life without sirens wailing and missiles flying, without baseless hatred and senseless brutality, without the enduring pain of injury and grief and death. We want a peace in which parents no longer worry about their children going off to school or off to war, a peace in which no human being callously uses another as a human shield for rocket launchers, a peace in which no one hates another simply because of who their parents are, how their accent sounds, what their skin color is or where they live. We want a peace in which each individual can live his or her life to the fullest, unperturbed by violence and safe to grow.
Sadly, we are not yet close to this peace.
I returned from Israel two weeks ago, I sat in security briefings and bomb shelters with my students at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion studying in Jerusalem, I watched hundreds of our Reform movement high school and college kids on their summer travels throughout our holy land, and I can tell you that these past few weeks have deeply affected us all. Our people has been tested by a vicious enemy, Hamas, a foe that pitilessly sacrifices thousands of their own men, women and children, on the altar of a warped strategy bent on the destruction of the State of Israel.
Sadly, Hamas has been able to inflict significant pain upon us. We mourn for each and every Israeli soldier and civilian who has perished, been injured or is otherwise suffering from this tragic and misguided war, and we pray for solace and comfort for their families and friends. We yearn for a time when the years of this hateful barrage will come to an end, and we are angry, for their pain is the direct result of Hamas’ cold and calculated agenda.
I must add that I also feel a deep sense, a human sense, a Jewish sense, of grief for the innocent children and human beings, who have died and been injured in Gaza. The truth is many of them are as trapped in the middle of this awful conflict as we are. The leaders of Hamas, sick cowards ensconced comfortably far from the reach of this battle, appallingly exploit their deaths and their anguish to inflict harm, to manipulate ignorant world opinion and to provoke further hatred.
Let us respond together, by protecting our people and our land as, indeed, we should and we must and we will, but let us never forget the human beings involved on both sides of this conflict. Let us never stop working toward a just and balanced peace, so that Israel will continue to be that light to the nations, an Or La-goyim, about which we dream.//
The author of Psalm 29 had it right, in words that could have been written for this very instant in time: “Adonai oz l’amo yiten, Adonai yevarech at amo va-shalom.” May God bless our people with strength – strength to sustain ourselves through this difficult time, strength to weather the battle and defeat the antagonists, and strength to prevail when again and again we are attacked.
But the verse continues by saying: may God bless our people with peace. May God give us the necessary and constant ability to see beyond the immediate crisis, to perceive that greater possibility looming just over the horizon, of a secure and peaceful Israel, living in a peaceful world.
Ken yehi ratson, May this be God’s will.
And may we work, every day, to make it a reality.