By Rabbi Rachel Esserman
When choosing subjects for this column, I try to write only when I have something new or relevant to add to the discussion. That’s particularly true when it comes to political issues: my column may put a Jewish spin on the subject or focus on the issue from a different angle. I don’t pretend to be a historian or political analyst. I am not an expert on world affairs. There are times, though, when it’s difficult to ignore world events, in this case what’s been happening in Israel. However, I also know I have nothing special to add to the hundreds of viewpoints currently being sent in e-mails or published in newspapers and on websites. (See the end of this article for suggestions on websites to visit for that information.)
What the attack did bring to mind was something my father used to say when I was upset, something that came from his experiences as a Marine during World War II. As far as I know, he never faced combat, or, at least, he never talked about it. But that experience was a major influence on his life and would become part of mine. His standard line was that “no one is shooting at you.” That phrase was not comforting when I was a child, but I not only find it so now, but meaningful in a direct way when looking at the Middle East.
No one is shooting at me. No one is dropping bombs on my city. No one is invading my house. No one is taking my friends/family hostage. But I would go even further than that: no one is oppressing me, no one is taking away my human rights. Before you complain I’m getting political, I’m not. I feel for all innocents who are being hurt. My heart bleeds for the Israelis who are dying or wounded. My heart bleeds for who on the other side of the border who just want to live their lives in peace. When I was young, I was also influenced by Mark Twain’s “War Prayer”: we need to recognize that innocent people are injured or die in any war, even just wars. That doesn’t mean we don’t fight necessary battles. It just means that someday when the fighting is over, these people should also be mourned.
Everyone – even those with whom we disagree – are created in the image of God. That’s something I cling to in difficult times. We are all human: we may have different beliefs and I may abhor someone’s actions, but they are still human. If only everyone saw this, if only everyone truly felt this, if only everyone could see the spark of the Divine in each of us, there would be no more war. Not in Israel, not in Ukraine, not in Sudan, not in.... the list is far too long. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will ever happen.
Although as a Reconstructionist I don’t believe in a God who acts in this world, I still utter this version of a Jewish prayer because I pray that our own hands will act godly: “May the One who makes peace on high make peace on us, all Israel and on all the world.” That last phrase – on all the world – is important because unless there is peace everywhere, there will never be peace on us.
For Jewish news about Israel, visit the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Jewish News Syndicate or the Forward. There is no charge to read stories on the first two websites. The Forward has taken down its paywall for its coverage of Israel’s war with Gaza.