For the second time in a week, Seattle’s Jewish community joined together to express their support for an Israel under attack.

With a handful of pro-Hamas protesters standing across the street; over 400 area Jews and Israel supporters assembled for a “Community Gathering for Israel” at Seattle’s Beth Shalom Congregation. There was not a spare seat to be had in the modest sanctuary as host-Rabbi Jill Borodin offered words of welcome and set the tone for the event. In contrast to the flying flags and Israel approbating signage at last Sunday’s “Rally for Israel”, the atmosphere at this event was more akin to a High Holiday service; solemn and reflective with prayers and hopes for an Israel at peace. 

GatheringadRecognizing  the diversity of visions for Israel within Seattle’s Jewish community, Rabbi Borodin acknowledged that “those who love Israel have many different visions of our ideal Israel”. The Rabbi shared the toll of war on Israel”s citizens, speaking of the “exhausted scared parents who need to wake their children up throughout the night to the sound of sirens”.  She went on to express our communal concern for those in the Israel Defense Forces “facing unknown dangers in protecting the state”. Rabbi Borodin expressed horror at Hamas’ using civilians as human shields, holding the terror group responsible for the loss of life of innocent civilians.

Following Rabbi Borodin, Rabbi Daniel Weiner of Temple De Hirsch Sinai  lamented the difficulty in being here while “our spirits are there, worried and worn”. He spoke in lofty poetic language of  the difficulty in enacting a vision of peace when  “the highest ideals of our people meet the stark realities of a broken world”.

Sending out an unfiltered warning call;  Israel Consul General Andy David declared “Radical Islam is moving from country to country and destroying it from within”. He railed against those who keep a perverse scorecard of Arab vs. Jewish deaths as if a morality award is granted to the population with the greatest number of casualties. Said David, “when you face evil you have to take action”.

Consul General David challenged accusations that his country engages in collective punishment. Said David of Hamas “what do you call firing thousands of rockets at civilian populations?” He added “I’m standing here proud of my country, of our moral values, I’m proud of the IDF and the way they conduct their war. I’m mourning for the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in order to prevent more deaths on the other side, because it would be easy to take an F-16 and carpet bomb Gaza, but that’s not how we work, we send the troops inside to try to minimize damage, and we pay”. Consul David and by extension the state he represents were rewarded by the sympathetic audience with a standing ovation.

Congressman Derek Kilmer

Congressman Derek Kilmer

Offering words of support was Congressman Derek Kilmer of Washington’s fifth district. Rep. Kilmer repeatedly earned enthusiastic applause for his unabashed backing of the Jewish state. “Israel has a right to exist, Israel has a right to her own self defense, this is something Democrats and Republicans in Washington DC can agree on;  it may be the only thing they can agree on”, he added with a smile. One of the best received of Rep. Kilmer’s comments was his observation that “Peace will be easier to come by when there is an acceptance of the fact that the Israeli people have a right to a land that has been their historical homeland for thousands of years”

Closing remarks were made by Federation President Keith Dvorchik who movingly reminisced of his first trip to Israel when he kissed the tarmac upon deplaning at Ben Gurion Airport. Said Dvorchik “While I live in America, Israel will always be my home”.  “I want to be clear and direct, we love and support Israel, we love and support the IDF soldiers keeping Israel safe” . Dvorchik concluded by quoting Israeli singer Noa “Hamas are extremists, they are Jihadists, they are dangerous, they aim to kill every Jew including me and my children. They do not recognize Israel, they plan to turn all Gazans into Shahids”.

Keith Dvorchik, Federation President and CEO.

Keith Dvorchik, Federation President and CEO.

The “gathering ended with a rendition of Hatikva before participants exited into the bright sunlight and about a dozen Hamas supporters still holding signs and banners across the street.

While 26 community organizations and congregations co-sponsored the “community gathering”, noticeably absent among the official sponsors was representation from Seattle’s Orthodox and Sephardic community. The opposite was true exactly a week prior when the Jewish Federation along with the Conservative and Reform communities and leftist organizations like J Street and New Israel Fund declined to participate in a well attended outdoor rally for Israel in Pioneer square. 

Community sources informed the Mike Report that the  absence of the vibrantly pro-Israel  Orthodox and Sephardic communities can be attributed to their near complete exclusion from the planning stages of the event. No less critical to their decision though was their perception that  a component of moral equivalence would be integrated into the program. Specifically concerning to them was a statement in promotional materials for the gathering that declared the community to be  “mournful at the loss of all human life”.  The unqualified “all”  in that sentence was interpreted by some Orthodox clergy as a reluctance to discern between victim and murderer. 

While these more controversial elements were heavily muted at the actual gathering, Ben Murane of the leftist organization New Israel Fund quicky emphasized those very themes as well as the “prayerful, somber” tone on his Twitter feed soon after the event.

murane tweet

The Seattle Jewish Federation’s JTNews’ article on the event also reported the gathering’s emphasis on “mourning the loss of all human life”.

JTNEws article on the gathering  (excerpt above) emphasized the very elements  of moral equivalence that were of concern to the Orthodox community.

JTNews article on the gathering (excerpt above) emphasized the very elements of moral equivalence that were of concern to the Orthodox community.

They could have easily used the language of mourning all “innocent” life and nobody would have objected, but insisting on using the words “the loss of all human life” suggests that we mourn the death of Hamas terrorists who were killed while trying to murder innocent civilians” said community member Nachshon Ben-Ami,  “I’m sorry I can’t mourn their deaths, who can?”

Another pro-Israel organization, StandWithUs was also missing from the initial list of sponsors. One can presume that there was much negotiation regarding program content  between planning committee members associated with groups critical of  Israel like J Street, New Israel fund and Rabbis for Human Rights and the pro-Israel StandWithUs.  Apparently satisfied that any ambiguity regarding support for Israel had been excised from the program StandWithUs belatedly lent their name to the program on Friday afternoon.

Cantors David Serkin Poole and Sharona Feller singing "songs of peace".

Cantors David Serkin Poole and Sharona Feller singing “songs of peace”.

After being told of the unquestionably pro-Israel tone of  last Sunday’s Federation sponsored event, one reader of The Mike Report asked “what purpose did it serve? pro-Israel rallies in Mexico City and New York received extensive publicity in Israel doing much to raise morale. The behind closed doors event at Beth Shalom did little for anybody other than the 400 or so people who were at the “gathering”.  If you don’t have any press coverage, no imagery it is as if it never happened. If a tree falls in the woods and nobody sees it does it occur? As far as I’m concerned this event did not occur beyond the walls of Beth Shalom certainly not where it was needed most”‘

Nevet Basker of Israel Education organization Broader View disagrees “Some people want to “rally” while others “gather in prayer.” יבורכו כולם. We are all on the same side! Some want to mourn the casualties on both sides (thankfully very few of ours); that’s fine too. They are not mourning the Hamas fighters, or placing the blame on Israel; they are lamenting the fact that uninvolved civilians, especially children, are suffering. “

Revital Levy shared the "situation on the ground" live from Kiryat Malachi, Israel.

Revital Levy shared the “situation on the ground” live from Kiryat Malachi, Israel.

Also addressing the community gathering was Rabbi Aron Meyer of  TDHS who read letters from elected officials, Rabbi Oren Hayon of Hillel who led prayers for the State of Israel,  Cantor David Serkin Poole who offered a prayer for healing and Rabbi Jason Levine who led a moment of silence. The event was enhanced by the communal singing of Hebrew “songs of peace” led by Cantors Sharona Feller and Serkin Poole.

Sponsoring organization of the “Community Gathering for Israel” were: A Wider Bridge * AIPAC * American Jewish Committee * Anti-Defamation League, Pacific NW * Bet Chaverim * Caroline Kline Galland Home * Congregation Beth Shalom * Congregation Kol Ami *Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation * Hillel at UW * J Street * Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle * Jewish Family Service *  Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle * Kavana Cooperative * Livnot Chai * National Council of Jewish Women * New Israel Fund * Seattle Jewish Community School * StandWithUs * Stroum Jewish Community Center * Temple Beth Am * Temple Beth Or * Temple B’nai Torah * Temple De Hirsch Sinai * The Tribe *