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Israel at War

Dear Friends, 

We are beyond heart broken for our brothers and sisters in Israel. Below are some links and writings on the situation, and how we can help. 

Names of people kidnapped by Hamas (click here)

Give: 
The Baltimore Associated's Emergency Fund for Israel (click here)
The Reform Movement in Israel's Direct Aid Fund (click here)
Magen David Adom [Israel's Red Cross] (click here)
Brothers and Sisters for Israel (click here)

Educate:
For staying informed on the war we suggest The Times of Israel (click here) (listen to their daily podcast here)
Building a Spirit of Jewish Resolve in Our Children: 5 Ideas for Parents- Jewish Parents Forum (click here)
Video Series: Guidance & Support For Processing Our Emotions About The Israeli Conflict- JCS (click here)
Resources For Teaching About Israel In Crisis- Jewish Education Project (click here)
Here's How to Talk to Your Kids About the Violence in Israel and Gaza- Kveller (click here)
Responding to Crisis- JECC (click here)
Resilience and Ingenuity in Crisis- Identity/Crisis podcast (click here)

Pray:
A Prayer for the Redemption of Captive Israelis and A Prayer for the State of Israel- Rabbi Ofer Sabath Beit-Halachmi (click here)
Jewish Resources for Coping with Acts of Terror and Violence- Union for Reform Judaism (click here)

Rabbi Sabath on the War:
Click here to view Rabbi Sabath's speech at the Community Israel Solidarity Gathering at Beth Tfiloh on Tuesday, October 10. (Speech starts at 23:05 and goes to 42:30).
Click here to view Rabbi Sabath's interview on WJZ.
Click here to view Rabbi Sabath's interview on WMAR.
Click here to view Rabbi Sabath on Square Off.


For the Love of Israel and All Humanity: 
An American-Israeli Rabbi Reflects on Terrorism and War in Israel

(The following remarks were made at a community Israel solidarity gathering at Beth Tfiloh on October 10)

Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, Ph.D. 

On Saturday, October 7, on the holiday of Simchat Torah when we are meant to experience climactic joy, a horrific massacre was perpetrated against our people in Israel. Over nearly 1,300 innocent people — young and old, women and children, the differently abled, people who were blind or in wheelchairs — were raped and tortured and murdered by the Hamas militant terrorists who infiltrated Israel’s borders from the Gaza Strip. 

We are shocked, we are horrified, we are enraged, we are mourning. 

The Jewish People and so many others in our inspiring start-up nation, our beloved State of Israel, are experiencing unfathomable suffering and are now engaged in an unprecedented war of defense. In our anguish and our deepening sorrow, we can also find comfort and strength in gathering together. Let’s not forget: We are experts not only in suffering, but also in spiritual, communal and, if need be, military resilience as well. Our determination – the determination of the Jewish People and the State of Israel – is unbreakable.

Even as we mourn the more than 1,250 innocent people who have been murdered, and even as we pray for healing for the wounded, and for — God-willing — the safe return of all those held captive by inhuman and evil terrorists, we also have a message for the world: We call upon all nations and all decent people to ensure the immediate release and safe return of those so brutally taken hostage by Hamas. We call upon the nations of the world to stand with Israel in this unprecedented crisis and to affirm its right to exist in peace. 

We are so blessed that we can come together as one Jewish Community of Baltimore. On behalf of everyone here, I want to express gratitude to the Board of Rabbis, to our synagogues, to The Associated, and to Beth Tfiloh for creating and holding this sacred space for us to gather as one community in these excruciating times. In such moments, we must put our differences aside. We need to cling to one another. 

We are grateful for the presence of our elected officials, clergy of other faiths, and so many neighbors and friends. And, in particular, we are grateful to the many security personnel with us here and throughout the community protecting us. We need you now. 

Although we are gathered here together tonight in the west, our hearts are in the east. לבינו בסוף המזרח Our hearts are in Eretz Yisrael, the Jewish Homeland.

Tonight, I stand with you as Senior Rabbi of Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation, but I am also speaking to you this evening as an Israeli. As I share some more personal reflections, I hope, as we say in Hebrew, that “these words that come from my heart, find their way into yours.” 

On my husband’s side, five generations of our family helped to create the State of Israel and ensure that it became a thriving democratic Jewish State. They gave up everything in order to help create a national homeland – a place where Judaism and the Jewish people could live and grow; a place from which we could fully contribute to the broader human community. For five generations, they and we have given everything to create a thriving civil society and a sovereign and secure Jewish Democratic State. Not just for the citizens of Israel, but for all of us, for the Jewish people everywhere; to be a light unto the nations, a shining beacon of humanism, justice, and hope. 

For the better part of my adult life I lived in Israel. It was at the height of the second intifada that I decided that one of the most meaningful things I could do was to officially become an Israeli citizen. But from a young age I knew I wanted to make Aliyah – to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael, out of a love of Israel, Ahavat Yisrael, and of Am Yisrael, the Jewish people. I couldn’t imagine not being part of the miraculous rebirth of our nation in our historic homeland. I continue to be inspired by the privilege and historically unique opportunity we have to be a free people, in our ancient homeland. As we sing in Israel’s national anthem, HaTikvah, The Hope: l’hiot Am Chofshi b’artzeinu. All we’ve ever wanted is to live as a free people in our homeland. 

Over a period of ten years, I gave birth to three Israeli children at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem. My husband, Rabbi Ofer Sabath Beit-Halachmi, served as an officer in the medical Corps of the IDF for many years. While living in Israel and serving as a rabbi and scholar, I experienced — as a citizen, as a wife, and a mother — two intifadas, two Gulf wars, the second Lebanon war, and the Gaza War, and ran to bomb shelters all over the State of Israel, with three little kids, just hoping for a bit of protection from the terrorist armies seeking to kill us all. I learned to be able to hear the difference between the sound of a missile hitting nearby and the sound of the Iron Dome intercepting missiles aimed at us, aimed to murder us simply for being Jews in the Land of Israel. The horrific scenes of buses carrying school children — school children – or our favorite coffee places – blown to bits by Palestinian terrorists will never leave my mind. 

Over the last few days, like so many of you, we’ve been on the phone with our loved ones — from the littlest kids to older people in their nineties — when, at some moment or another, we could hear the missile alert sirens go off in the background, and we knew that if they could, they had to run to bomb shelters. But at every other moment in between, the people of Israel are mobilized and working to get supplies and other aid to the front lines and to take care of thousands of wounded on the Homefront. Many of our dearest ones, like many of yours, are on active duty or have been called up to serve in the IDF, and to defend the only Jewish homeland we have, the State of Israel. 

I’d like to tell a story about just one of these brave souls, about just one of the thousands of families just like ours or yours. Early on Shabbat, we learned that a dear one, Yanai, just twenty years old, was murdered by Hamas terrorists. We’ve known Yanai since he was a sweet little kid playing alongside our daughter in nursery school, on field trips, and during services at synagogue. Yanai was always deeply thoughtful and a shining light of life and leadership. But in the early hours of last Shabbat, Yanai was massacred, along with so many of his fellow soldiers and friends throughout the southern region. Entire families, women and children, the elderly and the differently abled, were captured, raped and tortured, and murdered. The barbaric terrorists even filmed to parade their evil for the world to see; and to continue to terrorize us all with these images. What happened to these innocent people, and to nearly 1,300 other Israelis, is unspeakable and beyond any human imagination. These heinous crimes are even beyond any possible logic of the rules of war. What they have done is unleash unspeakable evil and violence that will reverberate throughout the world. 

Later, as our friends stood to bury their precious son, Yanai, in a hilltop cemetery outside Jerusalem, sirens went off to alert all people in the area — Jews and Muslims and Christians alike– that there were incoming missiles. More than a hundred people at the funeral had to drop to the ground and cover their heads and just hope the missiles didn’t land on them. Our friends, Eyal and Elana, trying to do the unspeakably difficult act of burying their child, were forced to lie on the ground with their remaining children and loved ones, hoping not to be killed by the same terrorist group that had just murdered their eldest son. 

When they could stand up again and continue the funeral, Eyal, Yanai’s father, who was about to eulogize his son, said that they couldn’t proceed until each person had a chance to let their loved ones know that they were ok. And then our friend proceeded to eulogize his son. Yani ben Eyal v’Elana sh’halach l’olamo. May the soul of Yanai, the son of Eyal and Elana, be bound up in the bonds of everlasting life. And then his body was placed in the grave and covered with earth. 

When any Jew is suffering, we feel their pain acutely. We share one body. We are one family. We are responsible, Arevin zeh b’zeh, one for the other. We are one people: we share one fate and we share the same destiny. 

Our friends and colleagues – like many of yours – are caring for the wounded and for the traumatized children; they are helping to bury the dead, comfort the mourners, and they are joining the massive efforts to help those most in need, all while facing an ongoing war on multiple fronts. As you know, Israelis have shown unbelievable courage, strength, determination, and unity. 

Even from afar, in our very different context, we must do the same. Yes, we are crying out with pain, with rage and sorrow, but we are also crying out with unbreakable determination and we are crying out together in unity. 

While we continue to be horrified as we learn more about the fate of hundreds of Jews, we will continue to find ways to stand in solidarity with the people of Israel and with the Jewish people worldwide. 

So what do we do now? What can we do here and now?

First of all, we have enormous collective strength and influence. Immediately, we must bring to bear any and all pressure on the nations of the world to speak out against Hamas and insist on the safe return of the hostages. We must speak out in support of Israel and never let the world forget each of the names of the hostages. We must post on social media and write op-eds in our local and national news outlets, speak out at schools and other institutions so that the world cannot but hear our call. 

Secondly, we must remember that together, we can give enormous support for the huge needs of Israelis on the ground — on all the front lines both north and south, east and west. And of course, we can offer enormous support to all the citizens of Israel on the home front. Support the amazing mobilization of Israelis as they seek to defend and protect every citizen.

In the short term, once the hostages are returned and the bodies are buried, we will need to help Israel rebuild so that all its citizens can live in safety and peace. We will also need to support Israel as it strengthens its civil society and becomes a more stable and strong community of mutually committed citizens. This is what will ensure that Israel prevails. 

In the long term, we also need to ensure that the United States not only continues to stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel but that it also does everything in its power to create a more sustainable Middle East. 

We — the Jewish people in Israel, in Baltimore, and throughout the world — cannot and will not allow the forces of evil to overcome us. We must refuse to give in to despair. We are strong, we are resilient, we are determined to continue to thrive as Jews and as Israelis. One of the most important things we can all do is to wear our Jewish identity proudly. Let’s wear our Stars of David. Fly our Israeli flags. Celebrate everything we love about being Jewish. Let’s recommit to living full and joyful Jewish lives. Let this be part of how we protest against the darkness of this time. 

This coming Shabbat, when we will gather for Solidarity Shabbat, we will read from the Torah portion Beresheet, about the creation of the world out of a chaotic void. We will read about the creation of light and darkness, and about the distinction between the two. 

God said, Vayehi Or: ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” Even in a time of such chaos, we must continue to distinguish between darkness and light. We must help the world continue to distinguish. L’havdil ben yom v’lilah….

Against evil, we must be even greater forces for good by being even more committed to our basic human values. We must each be sources of light, just as Israel is a light unto the nations. 

Last Shabbat, on Simchat Torah, when we concluded our yearly cycle of reading the entire Torah and just before we immediately began anew, we called out: 
Chazak. Chazak. V’Nitchazek. Let us be courageous, Let us be strong, and let us strengthen one another.

Tonight, let us say it together again, but even louder, so that it rings over and over again in our ears in the difficult days and months ahead: 

Chazak Chazak V’Nitchazek!

Sat, December 9 2023 26 Kislev 5784