Guest post: A plea for unity in the Seattle Jewish community
Why, when I look at the list of sponsors of Seattle’s rally for Israel, are there five Orthodox synagogues, five Orthodox schools and student groups, StandWithUs and Hadassah, but no one else?
We all know that most 21st century Jews in the United States tend to self-identify as Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform, while others consider themselves humanistic, unaffiliated, Reconstructionist, secular, or just Jewish. I grew up in a warm Conservative community, and I now attend a similarly warm Orthodox synagogue, but I love and respect my many Jewish friends who affiliate Reform, or who are not observant.
It pains me to think that an important part of the Jewish people has simply gone missing.
While those labels are a fact of life, I believe that they tend to focus us on our differences rather than highlight the common history, culture, and belief system which unites us. Our shared tradition emphasizes unity – we are one people with one God, and we lay claim to one land, Israel, as our spiritual homeland. Our history is replete with lessons that when we are united, we are strong, and when we are divided, tragedy befalls us. Today, I must use these labels, because it pains me to think that an important part of the Jewish people has simply gone missing.
We are now into the 14th day of Operation Protective Edge, in which the Israel Defense Forces have undertaken a major offensive in an effort to stop Hamas from raining thousands of rockets onto Israeli cities, towns & villages. The IDF has painstakingly documented its efforts to minimize harm to civilians, and Hamas has been exposed as intentionally placing their civilians in harm’s way, while rejecting two ceasefires so far. So while we all are saddened by the violence; support for Israel across the spectrum should be a no-brainer, right?
While we all are saddened by the violence; support for Israel across the spectrum should be a no-brainer, right?
Sadly, the answer appears to be no. At Sunday’s community rally in solidarity with Israel, I saw a lot of observant Jews, and a group of friends from Conservative synagogues Beth Shalom and Herzl Ner-Tamid. I saw a fair number of secular Israelis, and I saw a number of pro-Israel Christians. But I saw very few of our Reform Jewish brothers and sisters.
The event was organized by a non-partisan organization that provides local Israel advocacy and education, StandWithUs. The message of the event was simply to stand in solidarity with Israel, and the event itself emphasized Israel’s and the Jewish people’s desire for peace with the Palestinians, and the pain it causes us when innocent human life is lost. It’s a message that you would think everyone could get behind.
So why, when I look at the list of sponsors, are there five Orthodox synagogues, five Orthodox schools and student groups, StandWithUs and Hadassah, but no one else? (Herzl Ner-Tamid and the American Jewish Committee were listed as sponsors in Friday’s initial announcement, but were absent by the time Sunday’s reminders rolled around).
And where were the Reform? According to last year’s Pew study, Reform is the largest of American denominations, with 35%. So you would naturally think that we would see sponsorship from Temple De Hirsch Sinai, Temple B’nai Torah, and Temple Beth Am, which are the largest Reform congregations in the area. While I suspect there were individuals from those congregations who attended today’s rally, the clergy and organizational sponsorship were absent.
My point in saying this is not to insult those congregations or God forbid, to speak badly about my fellow Jews. I understand that organizational politics sometimes gets in the way of a quick sponsorship decision, there have been leadership transitions at Beth Am and B’nai Torah, and this community rally was organized very quickly.
We love you and we miss you. We want to hold hands with you as one people, one community, singing Am Yisrael Chai.
My point is that you, my dear Reform friends, are desperately needed. We love you, but we miss you. We want to hold hands with you as one people, one community, singing “Am Yisrael Chai” in support of our brothers and sisters who are facing daily rocket attacks in our shared Jewish homeland.
Clearly, we have differences of opinion, practice and theology. But if there has ever been a time to focus on what unites us, and not on what divides us, it is now. Because as any parent knows, one of the greatest joys is when their children get along. We are one people with one God, and we are all God’s children in the family called the Jewish people. We need divine protection and connection now more than ever as the heroes of the IDF put their lives on the line to defeat Hamas.
If there has ever been a time to focus on what unites us, and not on what divides us, it is now.
Hineh mah tov u’mah naim, shevet achim gam yachad. How good, how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together. Let us hear your voices, feel your support, and let us stand together as one.
Guest writer Randy Kessler describes himself as a Radically Moderate Left-Wing Conservative. He lives in the Puget Sound region and is a graduate of the University of Washington and Seattle University (where he earned his MBA).