Opinion: Moral clarity is insufficient for innocent Israelis and Palestinians

An Israeli soldier walks past a building damaged by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz K’far Azza in southern Israel. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

On Saturday, October 7, I lost a friend – a man of peace, a visionary who believed that life between Israelis and Palestinians living in Gaza could be improved.

His name was Ofir Liebstein. He lived in Kibbutz K’far Azza and served as mayor of the beautiful, idyllic region of Shaar HaNegev, the vibrant community that became the epicenter of the massacre that took place on that tragic day in Israel. Unfortunately, as I write this column, I have learned that one of his sons, Nitzan, has also been found dead in his student accommodation – another victim of this painful tragedy.

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Ophir and Nitzan are two of the thousands who were killed, kidnapped or injured on this Shabbat and holiday. The horror of the attacks is compounded by the fact that Israelis and Jews feel invisible – the lack of a wider community to acknowledge our pain, our kindness, or even our basic humanity.

I am a congregational rabbi serving San Diego’s largest and oldest Jewish community, a congregation composed of seekers and critics, learners and practitioners, and spiritual professionals. Our presence and reach extend beyond the boundaries of our protected and fortified campus.

We are active in our local schools and colleges; we work in hospitals and biotech companies; serve on US military bases, participate in politics and social justice organizations; we study and travel abroad. We are your friends, your colleagues, your neighbors.

Yet at this moment, many of us find ourselves navigating cascades of emotions: grief, despair, anger and worry, feelings of abandonment and shame, pain and hatred. And we find ourselves in this turmoil, largely alone, as we deal with the hateful rhetoric and threats coming from our own extended communities.

In the week after the abuse began, I met with our 10th grade students who shared in person and online the abuse they were subjected to on a daily basis, causing many to hide any sign of being Jewish. The past week has seen more anti-Semitic hate incidents in our city. That is the purpose of terrorism: to terrify us. And make us and the world feel like maybe, just maybe, we deserve it.

Yet my moral compass, the one that has led me to fiercely view the “other” as my fellow man and to act in their service time and time again, knows that this is simply not true. We don’t deserve it. No group deserves it.

There is no history, oppression, grievance or intellectual distortion that can justify the horrific actions of Hamas. Point.

Over the past two weeks I have been asked again and again why it seems so difficult for some very wonderful people in our lives to acknowledge or even reach out and notice our personal and collective loss. I realized that blaming the Israeli occupation for the actions of Hamas is a way to try to maintain a world where hurt people hurt people.

The impulse to live in this reality makes a lot of sense, but blaming the victims of intolerable cruelty and barbarism for their own suffering, in the name of preserving one’s own ideological and moral convenience and comfort, is incredibly dangerous, both in the short and long term. plan. term. To open up to the complexity of the moment, to reorient oneself with a wider lens to understand the difference between justice and depravity, between the oppressed and the butcher, requires moral courage. Unfortunately, this courage seems to be lacking.

The great Rabbi Hillel of our rabbinic tradition taught, “In a place where there is no man, seek to be a man.”

In other words, when we are in a place where no one is behaving humanly, we should strive to do better. When others show fear, we must respond with courage. When we experience those who act callously, we should be the ones who care. When others are complacent, we must respond to their indifference by taking action.

In this place, even as we consider unspeakable tragedy and personal as well as collective loss to the people of Israel and Gaza, we will continue to reject barbaric calls for blind vengeance, call out extremism in all its forms, and condemn it whenever is there – for us and the other.

In this place, while we are met with silence from friends and mandates of moral equivalence, we will continue to emphasize the critical importance that innocent Israelis and Palestinians deserve freedom, safety, self-determination and peace. We will redouble our efforts to build bridges of understanding and create more space for bold conversations.

In this place, as a Jewish community, we will not hide our identity and will continue to support the need for Israel to defend itself against a terrorist organization whose charter mandates that Israel be wiped off the face of the earth. We will gather in our synagogues to be together. We will stand as steadfast supporters of our Israeli family who feel incredibly alone in the world.

We will not stop calling for the return of the hostages or the necessary humanitarian aid to be brought to Gaza now. We will commit to checking up on Israeli friends and family here and there. And we will not stop taking moments to find joy in a world shrouded in darkness.

In this place, our San Diego community, we can call upon one another to illuminate the inherent divinity of our nature; to empathize with those who suffer – in conflict and in loss. We are called to open our hearts so that we can strengthen the value of our humanity: old and young, strong and vulnerable.

Moral courage may not be enough, but together, seeing each other, I know we can find more.

Jason Nevarez is the senior rabbi and spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel, the largest Jewish congregation in San Diego and the oldest in Southern California.

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