Hope Beyond the Divide

Dear Friends,

As a North American Jew who feels deep love and responsibility for Israel and the Jewish People, I find this moment in time profoundly humbling and vexing. This week has highlighted both our struggles and our resiliency, both the depths of our dividedness and the power of our collective strength. 

As we celebrate the miracle of Israel’s 75th year, we are also witnessing existential conflicts over many aspects of both the Jewish and democratic character of Israel. I believe in the resiliency of Israel and continue to hope that this moment could result in greater commitment from across the political spectrum to an aspirational vision for our Jewish democratic state. At the same time, I share the fears of many in Israel and here in North America that both the rhetoric and proposed policies of Israel’s governing coalition threaten some of the core tenets of Israel as a liberal democracy and a homeland for the entire Jewish People — including checks and balances on power, protection of minorities’ equality and dignity, and respect for all Jews and different expressions of Judaism. 

In the face of great disunity, we need to stay engaged directly with Israel and Israelis and to continually educate ourselves, with openness and curiosity, about the complexity of this present moment. Those of us who can also need to directly express our concerns respectfully but strongly to the Israeli leaders and partners with whom we are already in close relationship. 

In that spirit, after consultation with federations across the country — including CJP — Jewish Federations of North America shared a letter with Israel’s elected officials this past Tuesday calling on the government to embrace the compromises that President Herzog has called for. I know there are those in our community who believe the letter steps over the line in its criticism of Israel’s democratically elected government. I also know that others in our community believe the letter does not go far enough in its criticism. That said, I believe the JFNA letter reflects the sentiments of a broad cross-section of our community and North American Jews, and I proudly support it.  

CJP will continue to curate resources and educational opportunities to share with our community, including two learning opportunities on Monday evening. I encourage you to join me at Temple Emanuel for Israel’s Identity Crisis: How Should Friends Respond? to learn from Yossi Klein Halevi or to attend Identity Politics and Jewish Peoplehood: A conversation with Dr. Mijal Bitton and Rabbi Elaine Zecher, which will take place at Temple Israel of Boston.

In contrast to the internal conflicts we’re seeing in Israel and to the toxic polarization that plagues us in so many areas of our lives, this week also marks the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a crisis that has been a unifying force here at home and around the world. 

This humanitarian disaster and geopolitical travesty has no end in sight. Our hearts continue to break for the death and destruction that this war has caused, and for the Ukrainian refugees who have been driven from their homes. 

This war has seemed to strike a nerve and inspire in so many of us a sense of arevut (collective responsibility) that has transcended political, religious, and generational divides. 

A few days into the war, CJP created an Emergency Fund and within months, we had raised almost $4 million from over 3,500 donors from both within and beyond the Jewish community. Together with federations across North America, we have collectively mobilized $85 million in emergency funds. Thanks to this outpouring of generosity, we have been able to work with global partners to get life-saving resources to where they are needed most. CJP’s decades-long relationship with our extended family in Dnipro, Ukraine, put us in direct contact with a Jewish community whose courage, resilience, and spirit continue to inspire us every day.  

Crisis has a way of reminding us that we are, indeed, in this together. It helps us remember that, as my colleague Dr. Sarah Abramson says, any of us could become vulnerable at any time – there, but for the grace of God, go we. And, for many in our Jewish community, this war has also awakened in us a collective memory of those who have risen against us and driven us from our homes too many times throughout our history. This feels frighteningly familiar. 

This Shabbat, let us keep our Ukrainian brothers and sisters in our prayers and let us remember that both the acute needs and the refugee crisis will only grow in the years to come.  

Let us also draw motivation and hope both from the resiliency of the people of Ukraine, from our extended Boston family in Dnipro, and from our collective response to this crisis.  

When we come together, work together, dream together — anything is possible.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Marc Baker