As have so many, I have found myself constantly thinking about the situation in Israel and struggling to put into words how I feel at any given moment.

A couple of days ago, I was not able to join with a group of clergy friends for our monthly virtual meeting because I was participating in an online briefing concerning the situation. These are people whom I have talked with about many important issues over the past few years and I was disappointed that I couldn’t talk with them this week.

This morning, I wrote an email to the members of the group expressing how I feel. I wanted to post my note to them for others to read. I’ll offer a bit of a disclaimer that this is how I am feeling at this moment. I might feel very different in a few hours but I am confident enough in my thoughts to post them here.

I know everyone will not agree and I respect that but this is a horribly complicated situation brought about by a heinous, evil attack which we can not completely comprehend.

Here, then are my thoughts as I share them with my colleagues:

I missed talking with you especially since it is always comforting to be with friends, even virtually, during difficult times. 

These times have been very difficult for me but of course exponentially less difficult than for those who have lost loved ones to this massacre or who are wounded or who are waiting to hear news from family members who have been taken hostage. I have close friends and extended family in Israel and everyone I have contacted is OK physically but I’m sure there are people I know who have been personally touched by this tragedy and everyone in the country has been traumatized in so many ways. 

An issue that I have raised on many occasions in sermons and in my writing is how Jews must be careful not to allow the memory of the Holocaust to dominate our thinking. We must remember the victims and join with others in teaching the world the dangers of bigotry and hatred but we have more to offer our children than to think of ourselves as perpetual potential victims. 

I still believe that, but the nature and extent of this horrible attack brought back Jews’ historical memories of  anti-Semitic violence from the Crusades to Pogroms to the Holocaust and I think it is fair to say that in striking back against Hamas, Israel is also striking back against the ghosts of the past through times when Jews had no power to respond with force to their enemies.

 I have never idolized the Israeli Army like some do. I have always recognized their vital and irreplaceable  role in keeping Israel safe and deeply respect the dedication of those who fight for their country- something I have never done- but I haven’t felt comfortable buying into celebrating the Israel Defense Forces like some do. Still, at times like this, to know that there can be a forceful response to violence of this kind is a matter of deep pride and complete gratitude. I wish each and every one that is fighting or has been called up on reserve strength and courage.

I do grieve for the innocent children and adults who are caught in the crossfire in Gaza. But, Hamas planned and executed these attacks knowing precisely how Israel would respond and that response would certainly put every person in Gaza in mortal danger. This was their choice. I don’t believe that that removes responsibility from Israel to do all it can to minimize the possibility of killing innocent civilians and hopefully Israel is doing  this as it has done before but it is inevitable that innocent people will die because of the decisions that Hamas has made. Israel now must make a calculation as to whether it is strategically wise to start a ground campaign especially given the reality that it would cost many more lives on both sides. That is a military decision that I can’t evaluate. Of course, I pray that there will be an end to this madness but to even suggest that Israel is “to blame” for the situation is totally misguided and wrong. The attack on Saturday was not a response to Israel’s policy towards Palestinians. This was a step in Hamas’ stated goal to completely destroy the State of Israel. 

I read yesterday that a Palestinian journalist wrote that the retaliatory attack on Gaza won’t bring peace.That is an understatement. And, as one who has been very blunt in my criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza (although we need to remember that Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, leaving infrastructure that could have been used positively and the leadership in Gaza has chosen to divert funds that could have been used to build up a reasonable society to build tunnels and rockets with the goal of destroying Israel)  and who has advocated for an end to the occupation and the creation of a  Palestinian state, I am devastated by the reality that whatever fading hope there might have been for some kind of movement towards a settlement of this enduring conflict any time soon has disappeared completely in the wake of this attack. 

I pray that there will be an end to this violence but I am also deeply concerned for the future of the State of Israel. While Israel’s founding as a nation was not the simple, clean picture that we might have been taught it was in our Hebrew school classes, the reality is that Israel was formed through the dedication of Jews seeking a place of refuge and endorsed first by the British, then by the United Nations, surviving a war after the state was established and through several wars since and  has sought and achieved peace with some of  its neighbors. Israel has not been blameless in this conflict. There is blame on all sides, but the nation carries with it the hopes and vision of Jews throughout the world for a place of refuge and strength. And for many of us, that also means striving for a country embodying the most sacred of spiritual and ethical values. 

I fear for the future as we mourn for those who have been killed, pray for the healing of those in pain and for the return of those who have been captured. After that, I pray for peace for the entire region and for an end to this horrible conflict between cousins who have so much to live for. 

That is the end of my note to my friends. I encourage your response on this page.


  1. Charles Van Heck

    I agree with everything you have written here. My heart has been breaking over the events this past week and the knowledge of what is to come. Already one sees the shift in news coverage. Our war is kvar ba aleihem, a response to deliver Israel from an enemy; undertaken in response to a hostile, barbaric acts—and as such is milhhemet mitsvah. Our enemy is Hamas, not the Palestinian people. But the media and others will not make that distinction. My prayer is that we will be guided by our deepest spiritual and ethical values to prevent both Jewish and Palestinian casualties. My prayer is for peace and an end to hatred.

    1. Rob Dobrusin

      I agree, Charles. Decisions need to be made which are not based only on strategic aims but on ethical values as well although always keeping in mind that in Jewish thought, we have an obligation to survival as individuals and a people. This is a terribly difficult situation brought on first by many decades of conflict which neither side did enough to address and more immediately by the barbaric acts of Hamas. We must pray act for peace and an end to hatred.

  2. Ken Phifer

    Beautifully and kindly thoughts in a terrible time. I have seen no finer statement, no kinder words, no reflection more hope-filled, no sentiment of justice and hope than what you wrote. Thank you, for being a leader in the struggle to help humanity stop killing each other, to find in our hearts the compassion we all need. Israel deserves to live in peace and has tried to do so, but too often been thwarted by violent opponents. BLessings to you, Rob.
    Ken Phifer

  3. Bruce Geffen

    This is about the BEST statement I have read or heard so far this week, Rabbi! Thank you for articulating so well what I try to mumble through as best I can. Your words and reflections reach out to all involved.

  4. Miriam Greenberg

    These are indeed thoughtful and compassionate words. You remind us that the concept that Israel “carries with it the hopes and vision of Jews throughout the world for a place of refuge and strength” is both powerful motivation to survive and overwhelming responsibility to uphold our values. It’s important to remember this. Thank you.

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