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From Rabbi Justin David: Letter Regarding Events in the Middle East

05/11/2021 11:10:49 PM


“Sha’alu Shalom Yerushalayim, Seek the Peace of Jerusalem…”

Psalms, 123: 6


Dear Friends,


My most basic, human response to the violence in Jerusalem, in Gaza, and numerous cities within Israel  is heartbreak.  In the face of lives lost, pervasive fear, dreams broken and rage unleashed, a deep sadness precedes everything.  But even while heartbroken and afraid, I believe that it is also essential that we try to understand the unfolding situation so that we may engage in ongoing action.


Numerous journalists, including Thomas Friedman in today’s New York Times, wonder whether calm will be restored in a few days or whether we are witnessing the beginning of another Intifada.  Among the key points Friedman and others make have been the following: 


  • Young people, acting independently of Palestinian leadership, have played a central role in fueling the Palestinian protests over housing evictions in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem, and over the police restrictions barring Palestinian worshippers from the Al Aqsa Mosque over the last days of Ramadan.

  • The protests are inspiring solidarity among Israeli Arabs to an unprecedented degree. 

  • These young people are filling a void created by a combination of incompetent Palestinian political leadership, an entrenched right wing in Israel that caters to settlers intent on displacing and dispossessing Palestinians, and an indifferent US leadership.    


As of now, the most seasoned observers note that no one knows what these events will mean for the long term. 


Amid the fear and confusion, how do we act?  What steps might we take?


Today, I found some unexpected inspiration from the above quotation from the Psalms, quoted more extensively here:


 “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; “May those who love you be at peace./May there be well-being within your ramparts, quiet in your citadels.”/For the sake of my kin and my friends, I pray for your well-being;/for the sake of the house of Adonai, I seek your good.”


On their own, these words are beautiful poetry. But at this time of hatred and bloodshed, I note how the Psalmist’s yearning for Shalom is not for any one person, clan, group, or people, even as the Temple looms large as a focus.  Instead, the Psalm articulates a universal aspiration: not only family but all who are “friends, re’im,” and all who “love” Jerusalem, are included in this prayer for peace.  The expansiveness is fitting.  In the Jewish imagination, Jerusalem is “tabur ha-aretz,” the center of the world, representing all we stand for as a tradition and as a people: spiritual devotion, justice, awe before all human beings as an expression of reverence to God.  At the height of the monarchy during Solomon’s reign, it was an international, vibrant center of the ancient world.  In our day, it is celebrated by all as a place of spiritual yearning for Jews, Christians and Muslims.  By definition, sectarian, politically stoked violence in Jerusalem is an affront to all humanity.


Over the past several years, we at CBI have drawn on this deep spirit of universalism in Jewish tradition to affirm and support peacebuilding in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.  Going forward, whatever the outcome of recent events, I believe we should double down on our efforts to connect and lend our support to groups of Israelis and Palestinians such as Combatants for Peace, Roots/Shadur and Breaking the Silence, who are working tirelessly to create a future of justice and coexistence.


Following the lead of pro-peace, pro-Israel organizations such as JStreet and T’ruah, I would encourage us to join campaigns that urge the Biden administration to assume a more assertive and constructive role in facilitating negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.


And finally, I can’t overstate how important it is for each of us to develop our own relationship to the deeply rich and complex reality of Israel and Palestine.  It is a part of being a contemporary Jew that we learn about and struggle with this reality, especially as we forge a deeper personal connection through reading, conversation, nurturing relationships, visiting, donating to causes.  While I am very much an American rabbi, rooted for the past 20 years in our collective journey here in Northampton, part of my soul has been and will always be in Jerusalem.


May the divine Shalom come into being through the courage placed in fragile human hands. And may we all find the opportunities to participate in this work and have a share of its blessings in time to come.




Rabbi Justin David


Tue, December 5 2023 22 Kislev 5784