Hello. I’m Jay Judkowitz, president of Temple Shalom, a Reform congregation in Waterloo. But, I’m going to speak here personally, not on behalf of the congregation or its board. It’s a diverse community and I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouths. I will speak as honestly and vulnerably as I can.
My closest family member, my brother, Eric, lives in Israel with his wife and his two beautiful, talented, and innocent young children. I woke up Saturday morning to a frantic call from him telling me the news. I don’t have words to express how I felt on that call and still feel. They are safe for now, thank G-d, but I am so worried for them.
Those who know me personally know that I’ve been critical of the Israeli government and its treatment of the Palestinian people. In speaking here, I am not changing my position or cheerleading for any government, policy, or action. I’m here because of my love and concern for the people on the ground, people just like my brother and his family. I’m here to stand against the terror that all of Israel is currently experiencing and to share my grief over the hundreds of murdered dead and the thousands injured, to add my voice to the millions in mourning. No matter how anyone feels about the overall context in the region there is no explanation, no justification, no excuse for this act of terror. Not now, not ever.
Hamas has once again shown its true colors. Hamas is an organization that puts military targets near its own people, using them as human shields, in order that when they are attacked, there is guaranteed death amongst their own civilians to put on the news. And, Hamas does not attack military targets or make any attempt to avoid hurting civilians. As we all witnessed on Saturday, their singular purpose is to kill as many Jewish civilians as possible. Civilians like the hundreds of youth who were raped and massacred while attending a music festival. But, the numbers don’t really tell the story. If you read the gut-wrenching accounts of survivors, or watch the horrific videos proudly and unashamedly posted by the terrorists, you will begin to appreciate the nihilism and wanton cruelty of the attacks. What kind of person walks into a group of young people peacefully listening to music, murders them all at close range, and then celebrates?
As horrified as I am by this terrorist rampage and as worried as I am for my family and all of Israel, I know we must take care not to equate the Palestinian people with Hamas. Most of the people in Gaza were not even of voting age the last time a real election took place and can not be held responsible for the terrorist government that claims to act in their name. I can’t say how many support this attack and how many do not. But, like Israel has innocent civilians, so does Gaza. And, I know those people have been suffering the last 16 years and have their own very legitimate grievances and aspirations.
All of us here know that Hamas must be decisively defeated and the Israeli hostages rescued. But I also deeply worry that in that process there will be a lot more pain and suffering in Gaza for the innocent along with the guilty. I pray that Israel has the wisdom and capability to minimize that damage and to set itself on a path for peace with all of its neighbors as a member of the nations of the world. Right now, many capitals all over the world are lighting up their monuments in blue and white. They stand in solidarity with Israel against terror from Hamas. I pray that Israel’s response is wise, proportionate, and effective and can leverage its current global support and build upon it. And, when this war ends, as it must eventually end, I pray that Israelis and Palestinians can finally, after all this time, find solutions to the root causes of this terrible conflict. None of us want to be here again for the next vigil, and the next and the next.
I pray for the hostages. I pray for my immediate family. I pray for a Temple Shalom congregant who is in Israel. I pray for our past rabbi who is also there. But, I can’t just pray for people who share my religious traditions. I have to pray for all the people who are and will be affected, for all of the innocent Israelis, and all of the innocent Palestinians. And, most of all, I pray for a lasting peace with security and justice for all.