The Agudas Achim and Ezrath Jewish congregations combined in 2003 to form Congregation Agudas Achim - Ezrath Israel. Temple Agudas Achim-Ezrath Israel also offers programs for men and women and holds Shabbat geared towards children and families.
As the High Holiday season approaches, we long for the New Year and hope that it will sweeten the bitterness of the past months. It has been a long and difficult summer for our people. Our hearts are torn as we consider the terrible cost of fifty days of war and counting. We mourn the deaths of over 70 Israelis. We lament the deaths of thousands of Gazans as well, for the loss of human life, even of our enemies, pains and distresses us. The war in Israel has affected all of us. We have been wracked with worry about our family members and friends who have been in harm's way. We have witnessed, and even experienced ourselves the astounding rise in anti-Semitic demonstrations and attacks around the world. We are appalled at the distortions of Israel's image in the media of the world.
It is vital that we take upon ourselves the responsibility to answer Israel's detractors. A key point that Israel's critics seem to make is that Israel had a choice in going to war, and taking the battle to the rocket launchers, the command centers, the stockpiles of deadly weapons hidden among civilian neighborhoods. I am convinced that when no amount of warning was heeded, Israel had no other reasonable choice. The uninformed or unthinking will often speak of the principle of “proportionality.” Would that principle have meant that England would have been unjustified in attacking Germany in response to the rockets sent against London in World War II? If a battleship is targeting a city along the shore, does that mean that those under attack can only seek to take out the gun that is actually shooting at them and not seek to sink the attacking ship? It is a principle that cannot apply to the type of asymmetrical war in which Israel has been forced to participate.
There will always be those who question whether a war is necessary. In the case of the Gaza war of 2014, the Jewish people, are nearly unanimous in our determination that this was a war that could not have been avoided. In Jewish tradition there are two kinds of war – Milchemet Mitzvah, a war which is obligatory and Milchemet Reshut, optional war. The obligatory war, in post-Biblical times, is defined by Maimonides as a war “to deliver Israel from an enemy who has attacked them.” The Bible and our tradition frown on wars which are considered optional, whose main goal is to seize territory. Only wars which are for self-defense are considered just and necessary in order to preserve the nation and its citizens. The Bible also set forth considerations for the just conduct of war, rules which were elaborated upon by generations of rabbis and teachers. Prisoners must be treated humanely. The environment must be preserved so that life may be supported when peace does return. The enemy must be given the chance to accept terms of peace. Civilians must be given the opportunity to flee rather than be annihilated. However, civilians who do not flee when warned lose their status as non-combatants according to Jewish ethical teachings. Efforts must be made to negotiate a surrender. However, this does not mean that battle must be endlessly delayed in negotiations. The enemy is to be given a reasonable chance to accept terms, and then the battle may continue. Israel has scrupulously adhered to this code of conduct. If any other nation's armed forces were held to the same standard as Israel, they would all be condemned by the world press and skewered by the pundits of every nation.
One of the most compelling discussions of how Israel got to this point was penned by Dennis Ross, former Middle East envoy. He recounted his visit to Gaza after the end of the last Gaza war in 2005, just a few months before Israel had withdrawn completely from Gaza. The Gazans were to have open border crossings, cement and supplies to rebuild homes and schools, fishing rights, and the path to prosperity and eventually toward creation of a Palestinian state with the West Bank. At a conference held in Gaza at the time, Ross had the unexpected opportunity to speak with the leaders of Hamas. He encouraged them to seize the moment to bring prosperity, healing, and peace to their people.
Here is what Ross wrote on August 8, 2014, about the events that followed:
“Unfortunately, we know the path Hamas chose. Even as Israel was completing the process of withdrawing all its settlers and soldiers from Gaza, Hamas carried out a bus-station bombing in Israel. Then, from late 2005 to early 2006, Hamas conducted multiple attacks on the very crossing points that allowed people and goods to move into and out of Gaza. For Hamas, it was more important to continue “resistance” than to allow Gazans to constructively test their new freedom — or to give Israelis a reason to think that withdrawal could work. Some argue that Israel withdrew but imposed a siege on Gaza. In reality, Hamas produced the siege. Israel’s tight embargo on Gaza came only after ongoing Hamas attacks.” (Washington Post, August 8, 2014)
In the moments after the cease-fire was to go into effect, Hamas began shelling the border crossings they had helped to reopen. Missiles began to fly once again into Israel. And, we now know, Hamas began to divert building materials to create rocket launching and terror tunnels. These are the same leaders with whom Israel has now made another truce.
Would that Israel had different, more rational, enlightened enemies. But it is a truism that one cannot choose one's enemies, and must try to make peace with the enemies one has. Such is the situation of Israel today. Will the Gazans give up their dream of destroying Israel? Probably not, but perhaps they will put it off until the future messianic time, just as religious Jews pray that the Temple will be restored “Biymot Ha-Mashiach” in the messianic time, relieving them of responsibility for bringing that outcome to fruition by their own hands.
But, perhaps the Messiah – whether Muslim or Jewish or of some other faith, will decide that we should put aside our differences and focus on the healing that human beings really need... Perhaps we can recognize that we are human beings first and that the language of our prayer or the mode of our worship is less important than our common humanity. Perhaps we will come together as a human race to eliminate all forms of extremism, Ebola and Polio, Malaria and even Cancer. Perhaps we will recognize sooner rather than later that we should fight global warming instead of fanning the flames of hatred and enmity.
Perhaps we won't wait for the Messiah to come to this realization.
That is the purpose of religion -- to continue to present this vision of a world redeemed. This vision is rooted in a future – perceived as the perfect reflection of our values. All that remains is for us to find a path to that imagined place and move, deliberately and steadily in that direction.
With wishes for a year of Peace and Healing for our Israel, our People, our Community, our Families and the World Entire.
Rabbi David Kudan
Holiday services will be conducted by Rabbi David Kudan, accompanied by Sexton Wayne Freedman and Cantorial Soloist Phyllis Werlin, as well as lay leaders of the Congregation. Click Services for further information on our regular services and our special holiday services.
Agudas Achim - Ezrath Israel 245 Bryant Street Malden, MA 02148