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Letter to the CBI Community Regarding Israel and Palestine

03/01/2024 08:22:30 AM


CBI Leadership

Dear Beloved CBI Community Members, 

Last night in our weekly “Living a Meaningful Jewish Life” course, Rabbi Ariella and the group studied the moment in the Torah when the patriarch Jacob receives the name Israel and is told, “for you have struggled with being both human and divine and prevailed.” (Genesis 32:29) Jacob struggled, and emerged on the other side changed, but intact. To be B’nai Israel (children of Israel) is to know that if we struggle, if we face hard things, we still have the capacity to be okay.  

This can be hard to remember, these days. It’s been nearly five months since October 7, and we’ve been feeling, acutely, the local tension, fear, confusion, trauma, anger, grief, and the desire for action to prevent any further loss of life of Israelis or Palestinians. 

This week has felt particularly intense. A few days ago, graffiti of Israeli flags with swastikas replacing the stars was found in a couple of places downtown near Smith campus. We are grateful to the students and to the City of Northampton for quickly covering them up. The thought of this image on city sidewalks is deeply disturbing and hurtful. Three nights ago, Northampton City Council passed a ceasefire resolution (more on this below). We know that some in our community worked towards this resolution and feel grateful for it, while others in our community feel betrayed, unseen, and hurt by it. Through all of this, we as leaders so deeply want to hold all of you.  

The phrase we have been repeating over and over these past several months is “we are a Big Tent.” What we mean by this is that our sacred community contains a broad spectrum of political views and identities related to Israel and Palestine. At other moments, other expressions of our community’s diversity and difference might rise to the top but, right now, it seems our perspectives, experiences, and hopes for the region are the most significant differences we face. All of us want peace, justice, and security. We wrestle with how to move toward this reality. 

We know that for some of you, our sincere attempt to make space for everyone across this spectrum has been welcome and affirming of the type of community you want CBI to be. For others, we know that the consequence of this approach is that you aren’t feeling fully seen or supported. The balance feels precarious, and it doesn’t always feel like it’s working.  What we are trying to do is rare in the Jewish world, and particularly for a synagogue community. We are finding that certain decisions that affirm and support some members of our community will serve to alienate others. We feel regular heartache over this reality and are committed to doing our best to see that CBI remains a spiritual home for all who are choosing to be here.   

With this in mind, we want to share a few updates on upcoming programs at CBI related to Israel and Palestine as well as more information about the City Council resolutions that were passed on Tuesday. 

Resetting the Table  On Tuesday evening, the CBI staff participated in the first of a two-part training with Resetting the Table, a national organization which works to support “collaborative deliberation in the face of strong difference.” This training grew out of a recognition that our staff contains much of the same political diversity as the broader CBI community, and out of our commitment to using compassionate, direct dialogue across difference to strengthen our broader community. With the urgency of getting the hostages home safely, stopping rocket fire, and preventing more unnecessary deaths in Gaza, it can feel hard to focus on the more localized work of learning how to productively and compassionately talk to each other. But this work is urgent and essential too and can coexist with other forms of action.  

We want to offer some reasons for why we believe this focus on dialogue is important:  

  • We are here together, and not going anywhere. We want CBI to be a community that can be our collective shared home for many years to come.  
  • We can become a more resilient, trusting, and caring community if we don’t avoid the hard things. In short, we can become an even better version of ourselves.  
  • We can find (perhaps unexpected) sources of alignment, and respect and understanding where differences lie.  
  • Through that alignment, we can build power together and move toward more forms of collective action.  

Conversation across difference is not just an end, it is also a means to functioning better on a collective level and becoming better change-makers both locally and globally. 

Northampton City Council Resolutions  As many of you know, this past Tuesday night, the City of Northampton passed two resolutions of interest to our community. The first resolution condemns all forms of antisemitic, anti-Israeli, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian hate, and calls for the City of Northampton to combat this hate through new educational efforts. The second resolution calls for a ceasefire. This resolution condemns the attacks by Hamas, and also condemns “the ongoing bombardment and blockade of Gaza.” It calls for “an immediate, enduring and permanent ceasefire by both sides, suspension of unrestricted military aid from the United States, the provision of unrestricted, life-saving humanitarian aid in Gaza, and the release of all hostages taken by Hamas and Palestinian political detainees, and urges the Biden administration, U.S. Senate and House to work toward those goals.”   

We know that many members of our community are in full support of these resolutions, and we also know that many members of our community are feeling deeply hurt and angry about the ceasefire resolution, as it was passed.   

We have been hearing some confusion about CBI leadership’s involvement in the development and construction of these resolutions which we would like to clarify. CBI’s Antisemitism and Antiracism Taskforce did contribute to the anti-hate resolution that was passed and we did support this resolution. CBI leadership chose to not take a stand on the ceasefire resolution due to our respect for members of our community who have very diverse opinions on this issue, as noted above. Many CBI members shared their own perspectives with city councilors as individuals, but not on behalf of CBI. We regret that the ceasefire resolution was only shared with us two days prior to the vote as providing more time would have enabled more members of our community to weigh in. Several members of our community have also noted that during the Council debate it was implied that the sponsors of the ceasefire resolution conferred with CBI leadership. To be clear, the resolution was shared with members of CBI to invite individual responses. We regret any confusion on this point. 

Future Programs to Get Involved In:

Resetting the Table Town Square We are pleased to announce that we will be bringing Resetting the Table to lead our first CBI Community Town Square program on Wednesday, March 27 from 5:00-7:00 pm.  A Town Square offers a customized forum for our community to engage in courageous conversation across divides in facilitated, small group discussions. Highly trained facilitators support participants to surface what matters most and remain receptive and connected even while directly addressing charged differences related to the war in Israel and Palestine. More details forthcoming.  Standing Together  We had a large turnout for our event with Sally Abed and Nadav Shofet from Standing Together, “a grassroots movement mobilizing Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel in pursuit of peace, equality, and social and climate justice.” A local Standing Together chapter is being organized through CBI’s Taskforce for Israel Democracy. We are grateful to Tamar Fields and Rabbi Nancy Flam for their efforts in making this happen. Contact Tamar to learn more and get involved. Additionally, there will be an in-person a presentation and open discussion with Standing Together leaders at UMass next week on Wednesday, March 6 from 12:00-1:00 pm. Learn more about the event and register here.

Grief Space for Palestinian Lives Lost  Jewish tradition makes it abundantly clear that we are meant to view all life as precious. From the Torah teaching that the first human was created betzelem Elohim, in the Divine image, to the Talmudic teaching that each of us descended from that first human has the right to claim “the world was created for me,” to be a Jew is to know that any life lost is a tragedy for our world.  

In this spirit, and in acknowledgement of the grief rituals that we have held for Israeli victims of Hamas’ October 7 attacks, a few community members came forward with a request to create a space where Jews could grieve the thousands of innocent Palestinian lives lost during this war. This group of CBI lay leaders has been working together with the rabbis to create a space where all will be welcomed regardless of political stance, and the sadness of these many lives cut short can be held through poetry, song, prayer, and reflection. All are welcome to this gathering on Thursday, March 21 at 7:00 pm in the CBI Sanctuary.  

As B’nai Israel, as a Jewish community, we have inherited not just the legacy of facing challenge and struggle, but also the knowledge that we have deep capacity within us to navigate difficulty as well as the resilience to continue. As Congregation B’nai Israel, we are finding our unique way through this moment, encountering one another as fully human, divinely imprinted. 


Rabbi Jacob Fine, Co-Interim Rabbi Rabbi Ariella Rosen, Co-Interim Rabbi Stan Schapiro, Co-President Barbara Black, Co-President Emily Kieval, Executive Director

Mon, July 22 2024 16 Tammuz 5784