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11/30/2023 03:20:58 PM



As many of you know, I served at a congregation in Ohio as an interim rabbi the year prior to joining Oheb Shalom. There I met Diana and Romi and their 12-year-old daughter. This was during the height of COVID, and I only met them once in person. Not because they were COVID-cautious, but because they did not believe it was real. In their objection to their sense of government interference with personal liberty, they also therefore refused to attend zoom programming and had pulled their daughter from school. Romi hung out in QAnon circles. You get the picture. Despite their political differences from the rest of the congregation, they were beloved and had many close friendships in the generally blue-leaning, progressive community.

Halfway through my time there, Diana was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer. They did not trust the medical establishment and so treated her at home with herbal remedies. In the days and weeks that followed, one thing became super clear: no matter what, Romi and their daughter needed a community and they needed a rabbi. They needed me to show up and not care about their politics or ideas about medicine. The only thing that mattered was that Diana was dying. Romi and I spoke daily after Diana passed. As he worked through his grief, much of our conversations involved QAnon and other political ideas I did not share. It didn’t matter; Romi needed to talk, and my role was not his political advisor but his rabbi. Just a few months later, Romi died of a sudden heart attack. Because I’d stuck around, this suddenly orphaned 12-year-old had a rabbi, too. Her first zoom was the congregational shiva visit we organized for her to dial into, from her uncle’s home in another state. Her new life began surrounded by the community that loved her no matter what her parents’ politics had been.

Over the past weeks, since war broke out on October 7, my job has completely shifted. The pastoral care that had been focused entirely on people’s personal needs has become infused with anguish over what is going on now at the peoplehood level. For some, the anguish is about the hostages, the terror attack by Hamas, the IDF soldiers risking their lives to defend Israel. For others, the anguish is about the suffering in Gaza, the war being waged there, and a sense of rage and betrayal that Israel would cause such suffering. The overlay of the 400% rise in antisemitic attacks here in the US over the past five weeks – including a friend being shoved last night in a nearby town and called “f-ing Jew” – has many on edge, or over the edge. Our hearts hurt, our heads spin, many are anxious and afraid, and many don’t know what to do or think.

My job is not to judge anyone as right or wrong in our ideas about Israel or anything else. My job is to hold all of us in community and love. My sense of responsibility as a leader of the Jewish community does mean I stand publicly with Israel, where half of the world’s Jewish population lives, and a spot on earth that has been part of the Jewish story since the first chapters of Genesis. It does not mean, though, that my heart is closed. The images of the suffering and destruction in Gaza touch the deepest parts of our humanity and it is hard to know how to hold both – caring for Israel and caring for Palestinian life – in a way that has intellectual cogency. I’ve sat with many of you who are confused how to hold it all, how to care for Jews and Palestinians, how to get through the day without this taking over, how to feel and function.

For me, the work feels like it is about learning to hold multiple truths. Truths that are complete opposites, truths that don’t work together and logically can’t all be true. That is a feature of deep truth, that something and its opposite can both be true. For me, the work right now feels like it is about stretching my heart as big as it will go. I leave the political solution-izing to others.

We are a diverse group with lots of different ideas and feelings about Israel, as with everything else in Jewish life (and life life). We seem to love our pluralism in other areas – some of us keep kosher, some don’t; some pray every day, some don’t. We treasure our diversity in gender expression and sexuality, in the colors of our skin, in our marital statuses and neurotypes and in so many other ways. I hope we can treasure our political differences, too. I hope we are able to hold pluralism here with as much love as we do in other areas of our communal life. I hope that our sense of commitment to Jewish life and community trumps our need to feel right and to be with only people who agree with us. I hope we can create safe space for all of us to show up and feel that we all belong here at Oheb and in Jewish community. Because we do.

On Sunday morning, December 3, at 9:30 am, I will host a Listening Circle. This program, which will take the place of my regularly scheduled Sunday morning class,  will be a highly structured, facilitated gathering, designed to support participants in sharing from the heart, and will be appropriate for teens and adults. The goal is not to work towards common ground or any particular outcome, but rather to share, honor and listen to the authentic multiplicity of views that make up our community.

With a big heart, prayers for peace, and much love for all of us whose hearts are hurting and heads are spinning,

Mon, April 15 2024 7 Nisan 5784