(The front covers of the major Israeli newspapers on 7/25/23. The text at the bottom says:
“It is a black (dark) day for Israeli Democracy.”)
This Shabbat has a special name: Shabbat Nachamu – Shabbat of Consolation. The name is derived from the opening words of the Haftarah for this week, Isaiah 40:1-26. This Haftarah speaks of comforting or consoling the Jewish people for their suffering after their exile from the land of Israel and the devastation and loss they experienced. This is the first of seven special Haftarot of Consolation we read between Tisha B’Av (which began this past Wednesday) and Rosh Hashanah.
Though the text of Isaiah was composed somewhere between 740-701 bce, its message is very poignant and fitting for us this week. We find ourselves living in challenging and turbulent times, especially in our beloved land of Israel. This week, following 29 weeks of threat and an ever-growing national protest movement, events have unfolded that seem to shake the foundations of Israel’s democratic and Jewish nature. Multitudes of people, both in Israel and throughout the Diaspora, are feeling disheartened, worried, and frustrated. However, it is precisely during these moments of uncertainty that the messages of Shabbat Nachamu resonate most profoundly.
The prophet Isaiah speaks words of solace to the Israelites after their suffering in exile, reminding them that despite their difficulties, God’s compassion will prevail. The notion of being comforted amidst turmoil, and discovering a spark of hope in the darkness, serves as inspiration for us today, as we try to navigate the complexity of the situation in Israel.
Our Reform Movement in Israel, congregants, leadership, clergy, as well as Movement leaders, have been on the front lines of the protests. They join hundreds of thousands of Israelis from all walks of life, from across the political and religious spectrum. They are fighting for an Israel who lives up to the dream that Israel is both a Jewish and a democratic state. They are entering their 30th week of living out the Jewish value of “speak up, stand up and fight for what is just and right.” This is not simply about judicial reforms, it’s about fighting for those who cannot speak for themselves: women, LGBTQ+ Israelis, the poor, the disadvantaged, Palestinians. Israel’s current government is threatening those who are most vulnerable, who are the weakest. It’s about fighting for the very soul of Israeli society.
Today, I thought it important to share some reflections from my Israeli Reform Movement colleagues:
I want you to talk about hope.
I want you to talk about love.
I want you to talk about how hard
it is to see a country one loves
choose a dangerous path of self-harm.
I want you to make clear that democracy
is not just the tiny thin majority enforcing its will on the minority
and that is true wherever we are.
There are universal moral truths which we cannot turn our backs on.
(Rabbi Haim Shalom)
As you know our country is burning … It is a sad and difficult afternoon here…. Yet – the protest brought many indifferent people out of the house to show how important this country is to them, and how unwilling they are to give up democracy, civil rights and matters of religion and state. We really hope that this protest will also lead people to choose by their feet and join the liberal movements like the Reform movement. We have a lot of work to do in all fields, and the road is long – “the hope is two thousand years old” – and it does not end with one decision or another. There is a large movement of protest here, and alongside it a large movement of people who want to continue holding hands despite all the differences. We as the Reform movement and communities are here to hold on to hope even when darkness seems to be falling. (Rabbi Rinat Safania)
As hard as this is to see and watch from afar, and the reality is certainly very very very concerning, there are also huge waves of people working for a better Israel. And that this is not the end, but a pit that we can climb out of, like Yossef. Like all those who are struggling, we need friendship and solidarity more than ever. The rabbis and members of the Reform Movement in Israel are front line activists.
(Rabbi Leora Ezrachi-Vered)
Do not despair. Continue to educate ourselves and our communities about the issues, from both sides. To be leaders in dialogue. To delve into “All of Israel is Responsible for One Another.” To talk about the dangers of sin’at chinam [baseless hatred]. What is Reform/Progressive Zionism? How we can be supportive of Israel and supportive of Reform/Progressive Zionist values? How important every single person is to the success of Israel, both those of us who live here and those who live elsewhere. עוד לא אבדה תקוותנו להיות עם חופשי בארצנו
[our hope is not lost to be a free people in our own land].
(Rabbi Stacey Blank)
A few thoughts from Jerusalem for what it’s worth:
I am incredibly proud to be part of the protests which are inspiring and invigorating. However protests are not elections. And I have been wondering who is in charge of converting these protests into political strategies that will result in electoral victories? Because in the end if we don’t win the next election, we are really in a lot of trouble. How are we making sure that the 10% of moderate Likud / Dati Leumi voters will in fact vote for our side next time? If we do not court them in a thoughtful way, we might win the protests but lose the next elections. I love [Rabbi] Gilad Kariv and vote for Labor. But Labor has only four seats. I hope to see plans from our leadership that will be able transform this energy into tachlitic [sic. Derived from the word “tachlis” – meaning “of substance.”] election results.
(Rabbi Rich Kirschen)
Our sages teach us that true comfort comes not from avoiding difficulties, but from facing them head-on with faith and determination. This wisdom resonates so deeply for us today. We too must confront the issues currently eroding Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature with steadfast resolve. As a community, let’s stand together and stand with our brothers and sisters in Israel. Let the timeless teachings of our tradition inspire us to find strength, guidance and hope during these dark days.
As we gather this evening for Shabbat Nachamu, let us remember that comfort and consolation take time to achieve. By recommitting ourselves to our Jewish values of tzedek (justice), rachamim (compassion), yachdut (unity) and tikvah (hope), we can play an import role in supporting Israel as it navigates these waters.
Please join us for our Erev Shabbat service this evening. I will share some more reflections on the situation confronting Israel today and offer an opportunity for discussion and dialogue.
Below is a list of action items that you can do to support Israel today, as well as links for further resources and reading. As my colleague Rabbi Haim Shalom said: “I want you to talk about hope. I want you to talk about love.” When we join together in solidarity, support and action, the possibility for hope and love becomes endless.
The well-known Israeli song Ein Li Eretz Acheret, I Have No Other Country, (by Ehud Manor) has become one of the anthems of our Israeli brothers and sisters.
Ein Li Eretz Acheret – I Have No Other Country, by Ehud Manor.
I have no other country
Even if my land is aflame
Just a word in Hebrew
Pierces my veins and my soul
With a painful body, with a hungry heart,
Here is my Home.
I will not stay silent
Because my country changed her face.
I will not give up reminding her
And sing in her ears until she will open her eyes.
I have no other country
Until she will renew her glorious days
Until she will open her eyes
I will not give up reminding her
And sing in her ears until she will open her eyes.
With a painful body and a hungry heart
Here is my home.
(One of the many signs and posters that our Israeli Reform Movement is using during the protests)
List of Action Items that You Can Do Today to Show Your Support:
- Make a charitable donation to the URJ’s Israel efforts (click here) and the IMPJ & IRAC Emergency Campaign (click here).
- Print protest materials to show your solidarity with Israel at this time (click here) and subscribe to the IRAC’s Pluralist (click here).
- Join the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) (click here) as a congregational or individual member. Your membership acts as your voice in Israel’s national institutions, helps our Movement in Israel expand its reach, and creates a strong Reform and Liberal Zionist Movements in North America.
- Stand in solidarity with Israelis by finding an UnXeptable protest near you
- Reach out to your friends and family in Israel: call, text, email your loved ones in Israel to let them know you are thinking about them during these difficult times. It may seem like a small action, however it makes a huge impact.
- Join a letter writing campaign, sponsored by IRAC, to give voice to your concerns (click here).
- Contact your Member of Congress (MOC) to express your concerns and to remind them to continue their support of financial aid to Israel for safety and security issues. (Our Israeli friends want us to know that they are against conditioning aid to Israel. Israel is facing threats from both within and without, and they rely on their good friend and ally, the United States of America, for providing the necessary resources for safety and security measures). At the same time, Israel needs to hear from our MOC’s and our government that if Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State is at risk, Israel’s safety and security is at risk and the US-Israel relationship is also at risk.
- Stay up-to-date on the situation. Read the English translation of Haaretz, The Times of Israel, other news sources as well as updates from ARZA, The Israeli Reform Movement (IMPJ), The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), The Shalom Hartman Institute (Hartman offers fantastic programs and lectures. Sign up to be on their email list to join the conversation and hear critical thinking on important issues affecting Israel and the Jewish people. The Shalom Hartman Institute is a leading pluralistic center of Jewish thought and education, serving Israel and North America.)
- Visit Israel to show support and solidarity. TBS is traveling to Israel at the beginning of May, 2024 (adults) and in June of 2025 (family trip). Itinerary, Registration & Pricing for TBS’ May 2024 Israel trip will be available by the beginning of next week. We hope you will join us!
A Few Resources to Gain More Understanding of the Situation:
Recording of the Reform Movement webinar: “Emergency Briefing: Update on the Vote in the Knesset to remove the Reasonableness Clause.” With MK and former head of the Israeli Reform Movement Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Orly Erez-Likhovski (Director of the Israel Religious Action Center), Anna Kislanski (Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism) and Yair Lootsteen (Chair of the IMPJ), introductions by Rabbi Rick Jacobs (President of the Union for Reform Judaism)
For the Sake of Argument: Democratya Handbook (resources and stories to frame the situation from different perspectives)
Israel’s High Court to Hear Case Against Netanyahu’s Judicial Overhaul,
NYTimes, July 26, 2023
It’s a Dark Day in Israeli History and I Don’t See a Way Back, Interview with
Martin Indyk, former US Ambassador to Israel. Haaretz, July 25, 2023
(A collage of some of the memes/posters: Theodore Herzl crying and David Ben-Gurion holding his head in disbelief.
One of the posters says: The Government of Israel is against the People of Israel.
The poster of the Knesset with jail bars says: “To be a free people in a free land” – from Hatikvah)
Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel
Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom