More than 1,000 rabbis from across the country signed onto a rabbinic letter of unity and solidarity with Israel that was initiated by the Zionist Rabbinic Coalition, whose chair is Congregation B’nai Tzedek Senior Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt.
Many area rabbis signed the letter because they felt the need to stand together regardless of their religious denomination or political leanings following Hamas’ attack on Israel that slaughtered some 1,400 people.
Rabbi Marc Israel of Tikvat Israel Congregation in Rockville was emphatic in his call for solidarity. “Every display of unity is important – it is critical that Hamas and anyone who supports or tries to justify their actions understand that their horrific actions will only bring us together and make us stronger.”
Rabbi Adam Raskin of Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac agreed. “I believe it is important for Jews and non-Jews to see that while rabbis may differ on other matters, we are united in our devotion to Israel and to advocating for Israel, especially during this crisis.”
The letter begins, “Our hearts are broken and our souls are grieving. As rabbis from different denominations and movements, we do not all share the same beliefs, practices, or theology. Yet at this critical time, we are united.”
Weinblatt told Washington Jewish Week, “The letter was written in the aftermath of the ashes of Oct. 7, at a time when the fires were still burning.”
Many more rabbis signed onto the letter than are members of the Zionist Rabbinic Coalition, according to Weinblatt. There were pulpit rabbis, rabbis from college Hillels and Jewish day schools. The signatories included rabbis who don’t have a congregation and those who aren’t affiliated with a particular denomination.
Weinblatt shared the letter with the Embassy of Israel, which in turn shared it with members of the Foreign Ministry. “It was very well received,” he said.
“Rabbis have the opportunity and the obligation to be on the front line of countering the misinformation and countering the negative information, the negative propaganda against Israel,” said Weinblatt. “People need to understand why it is necessary for Israel to do what it is doing.”
Rabbi Michael Safra of B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville signed the letter. “I have felt this crisis moment to be a moment of unity for our congregation in that it has understood that our relationship with Israel is not primarily political.”
Rather, he noted, “Israel is a critical component of Jewish identity, and we have been feeling the impact of this war on a very personal level. Members of our congregation have returned to Israel to serve, they have family members living in Israel and serving in the army, and if they do not know someone in that situation, they know someone who knows someone.”
Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, Head of School at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, also pointed to the closeness of the situation to his students and family.
“At JDS, our community was deeply affected by the terror attack as so many of us have family and friends who live in Israel, experienced personal loss and have relatives who are serving in the IDF.”
Some involved with JDS have family members and friends who were taken hostage, and one former student, Omer Balva, was killed by Hezbollah as he served on Israel’s northern border.
Rabbi Daniel Burg of Beth Am Synagogue in Baltimore flew to Israel following the attack and visited one kibbutz where there had been a massacre and blood still remained. “This is obviously very much in our minds and our hearts. I think it’s important to show solidarity,” he explained.
During this past month, the nature of these attacks awakened some of his congregants to the reality of antisemitism and that Hamas cannot be a partner for peace. While some grieve for both the Israelis and Palestinians who have been killed, “They do understand they can’t let Hamas do this again,” Burg said.
Rabbi Jonah Layman of Shaare Tefila Congregation in Olney said that the war against Hamas “is front and center of everything I’m doing right now.”
He shares links to news stories, speaks about the war on Shabbat morning and teaches about it during his weekly Zoom classes.
While this is a frightening time, Layman pointed to “a glimmer of hope” and support from area non-Jews. Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney currently is putting on the play, “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Layman was asked to comment on the play and antisemitism today following the Nov. 4 performance. He also met with the cast and provided Jewish context.
Raskin also pointed to a positive amid “a persistent sadness.”
“There is definitely a sense of strength that we all derive from being together. Whether it was the Montgomery County vigil at Har Shalom that drew over 2,000 people, or the rally in downtown D.C.,” he said.
While his congregants have diverse view about current events, the Israeli government and the status of the Palestinians, “I have experienced people truly uniting around Israel,” he said.
Raskin, as well as Rabbi Evan Krame of The Jewish Studio, have turned to the Torah to discuss some of the issues, especially concerning rescuing hostages.
“So many of the episodes of the parashiyot over the past month have provided a powerful Jewish lens on the current conflict,” Krame said. “My approach has been to look to the Torah for my inspiration.” He added, “I’ve tried to use Torah to justify my feelings.”
Suzanne Pollak is a freelance writer.