A Letter from Jerusalem

Photo above: Randi Weingarten, Vivian Silver, z”l, and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum in 2018. Vivian Silver was murdered in the Oct. 7 attacks. Listen to Ghadir Hani‘s eulogy for Vivian here (via Facebook).

Read the article via Haaretz: ‘Most U.S. Jews Don’t Want to Choose: They Can Stand With Israel, and Stand With Palestinians’: Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, the spiritual leader of the world’s largest LGBTQ synagogue, and her partner, union leader Randi Weingarten, are paying a ‘shiva visit’ to Israel, while dealing with U.S progressive voices who ‘believe that Israel kind of deserved what it got’ on Oct. 7. (Read the Nov. 26, 2023 article)

Dear CBST Community,

שִׁ֥יר הַֽמַּעֲל֑וֹת מִמַּעֲמַקִּ֖ים קְרָאתִ֣יךָ יְהֹוָֽה

A Song of Ascents: Out of the deepest depths I call to you, Holy One. (Psalm 130)

I am writing to you from Jerusalem on Nov. 22, 2023. Randi and I arrived on Nov. 19, and already everything has become more real and deep. We are deeply moved. There is news that some hostages will be released soon. While obviously that is welcome news, everyone is holding their breath.

The trauma of the October 7 atrocities by Hamas terrorists is still active and intense for many of us. The fear and desperation about the hostages kidnapped into Gaza is without limit. Bring them home!

The intense grief and fear of Israelis and those who love them is ongoing.

The pain and terror of Palestinians living in Gaza is simply immeasurable. The loss of life is staggering.

We live in divisive times full of hate and violence. The hardest task for all of us is not to let the anguish we currently feel delude us into believing there is a simple answer to the problems we face. Halevai—if only genuine salvation were as simple, as pure, as the pain we feel.

As Jews, as thinking human beings, we must reject the binary. We must feel the pain of both Jewish and Palestinian Israelis and the pain of those in Gaza and the West Bank. We can hold the pain of all who are suffering, and we must hold it all.

We are taught in Leviticus 19:16, in a verse that God signs with God’s own name:

לֹא־תֵלֵ֤ךְ רָכִיל֙ בְּעַמֶּ֔יךָ לֹ֥א תַעֲמֹ֖ד עַל־דַּ֣ם רֵעֶ֑ךָ אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָֽה ׃

You are not to tell tales among your kinspeople.

You are not to stand by the blood of your neighbor;

I am YHWH!

What does it mean to “tell tales?” It means spreading a falsehood, repeating something that isn’t true, but that we know people will want to hear. To do this is to stand idly by and inert at the blood of our neighbor.

To envision this conflict in simple and binary terms is to remain willfully indifferent while the blood of our fellow human beings—neighbors to one another—is spilled before our eyes.

We must reject the binary. To support Israeli Jews does not mean we cannot support Palestinians; to support Palestinians does not mean we cannot support Israeli Jews.

We must amplify and support the voices in all communities who have a shared vision of a shared future (even if we don’t know all the details), and we must reject the voices who advocate for a fear-driven, merciless and extreme hard line, who will only be satisfied with the abject defeat of the other, whoever that happens to be.

We are in uncharted territory. This is an historical moment unlike any we have lived through, and the ability to engage thoughtfully with each other is essential.  

I know that there are folks in our community (I have heard you!) who feel that CBST and I are politically too far to the left or too far to the right. We are a diverse community and my own political perspectives on Israel are much discussed, even if I’m not sure they are as well understood.

I care deeply about a shared future for Palestinians and Israelis that respects and honors these two complex peoples, their proud and painful histories, and their hopes for better futures.

I stand against violence that takes innocent lives in Gaza, in the occupied Palestinian territories, or inside of Israel.

I condemn Hamas. Israelis have a right to live in peace and security anywhere, including around the Gaza region.

There must be humanitarian aid for all the 1.7 million displaced people in Gaza. This is a catastrophe.

We must have an end to the violence. I, too, want a ceasefire. For it to work, it must be bilateral.

This must include the release of all the hostages and the demilitarization of Hamas, the rebuilding of Gaza, and a vision for a just and secure future for Palestinians and Jews in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank.

I want an Israeli leadership that will be smart and thoughtful about building for the day after. The current leadership is not.

I want a leadership committed to the compassionate work of making clear and hopeful paths to a shared future in which both peoples can live in peace and justice and security.

I want a leadership that is not corrupt, racist or incompetent and doesn’t fund Hamas with one hand and fight them with the other.

Jews and Palestinians both have deep, deep roots to this land. Both of those histories deserve to be recognized. No one is going anywhere.

The level of antisemitism we are witnessing around the world—including from the left—is horrifying. The blurring of the lines of anti-Israel criticism and antisemitism is frightening.  

The increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab violence and harassment we’re seeing is heartbreaking.

We must hold many complicated truths at once, and make space in our hearts and souls for many layers of pain and complex truth.

The silence and denial of so many in the face of what Hamas did is devastating. I am horrified that anyone can dismiss those sadistic atrocities, rapes, and unspeakable butchery and claim that they were not real. This is Jew hatred. The ripping down of posters of kidnapped Israelis is not acceptable. It’s a form of denying pain and suffering.  

The hardening of so many people’s hearts to the deaths of entire families in Gaza, including so many children, is devastating to me. My heart breaks for those destroyed families and children. For the orphans left without parents, and for the parents who are left grieving for their children.

Jewish grief. Palestinian grief. We can hold both. We must hold both. It must not be a crime to hold both.

Palestinian Israelis and left-wing Israeli Jews are currently facing serious repression and repercussions for exercising free speech inside of Israel. People are being arrested for social media posts expressing support for Gazans, and there have been attempts to fire Palestinian workers simply because they are Palestinian. The Israeli police have tried to ban peaceful protest against the war. Thanks to ACRI (The Association for Civil Rights in Israel), the courts have blocked these attempts.  

Israel can hold both the pain of loss and the need for justice. Israel must hold both. Israel has a right to security and peace. Palestinians have a right to security and peace.

Just before October 7, a poll was conducted in Gaza showing that the vast majority of Gazans do not support Hamas. It shouldn’t have to be said, but it must be said over and over again: All Palestinians are not Hamas. All Palestinians should not be held responsible for the actions of Hamas. Equating all Palestinians with Hamas is a toxic, dangerous, binary fiction. Not all Palestinians are hateful just because there are some who have given themselves over to hate.

There has been terrible violence by West-Bank Jewish settlers against Palestinian civilians. The same truth applies: Not all Jews or Israelis are hateful just because there are some who have given themselves over to hate.

Those are complex truths that can only be held if we are wise, if we are compassionate, and if we reject binary fictions and accept nuanced truths. We can accept these truths. We must accept them.

I return to the pasuk—verse—from Psalm 130 with which I started.

שִׁ֥יר הַֽמַּעֲל֑וֹת מִמַּעֲמַקִּ֖ים קְרָאתִ֣יךָ יְהֹוָֽה

A Song of Ascents: Out of the deepest depths I call to you, Holy One. (Psalm 130)

This is a psalm of anguish, but it is also a psalm of hope. There is no limit to the depths of the psalmist’s despair. But it is a song of ascents. We acknowledge the true and complex horror around us, because that acknowledgement creates our first foothold for ascent, for climbing out of this pain.

We are in the depths, my friends. But we will climb out. That is what I ask of you. Climb with me. Let us ascend to holiness and peace together.

Let’s continue in community together. I look forward to discussing, studying, and praying these ideas together.  

Being here in Israel this week, speaking to Israelis—Jews and Palestinians—reminds me again and again that this is a sacred place to both peoples and inspires me to fight for a shared future.

May this Thanksgiving be full of blessings that remind us that the past does not have to define the future.

With so much love,

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum
Senior Rabbi

PS: For details about the many classes, webinars, sermons, and resources we have offered at CBST since October 7, please visit cbst.org/crisisinisrael

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