A few days ago, I sent an email to a congregant because their child was in Israel and I knew that imagining your child there amongst the violence must be incredibly scary. I received an email back, part of which I’d like to share with you:
“This trip was to learn about Israel, and this [violence] is a very real part. As hard as it is, I hope that it might bring more understanding and concern to all the young adults there. I hope they bring that back [to the US] and maybe someday be part of the process to bring peace. We've screwed things up pretty bad...my hopes lie with this next generation. :). They're pretty awesome.”
It was a beautiful email to receive especially amidst my own despondency at this never ending cycle of violence and retribution. The events and history in the Middle East are so complicated and the recent bloodshed adds one more link in this devastating chain of brutality.
On June 12, three Israeli teenagers were abducted and then murdered by two suspected Hamas members. Israel launched Operation Brother’s Keeper in an effort both to retrieve the boys and to dismantle Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank.
Jewish extremists then murdered a Palestinian boy, leading to riots in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Unlike the Palestinians’ response to the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers, Israeli politicians, educators, rabbis, and commentators from across the religious spectrum strongly denounced the murder. “I unequivocally condemn the murder of a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “Murder, riots, incitement, vigilantism — they have no place in our democracy.” Israel quickly tracked down and arrested the teen’s suspected murderers.
Israel made several efforts to defuse the situation last week, but Hamas rebuffed every attempt. On July 3, Israel proposed a “quiet for quiet” formula to Hamas. A Hamas source responded, “We will not agree to ‘quiet in exchange for quiet.’ If Israel does not agree to our demands, I expect we will continue this battle.”
Instead, Hamas made impossible demands, including the charge that Israel not respond to ongoing attacks from Gaza. After enduring more than 400 rocket attacks from Gaza in the past three weeks, Hamas’ aggression forced Israel to defend itself. The IDF launched Operation Protective Edge on July 7 and has targeted more than 150 terror sites in the Gaza Strip.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest condemned “the continuing rocket fire into Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza, “No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and [the US] supports Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.”
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We grieve at the tragedy which began this violence--3 Israeli boys murdered for no reason other than their nationality. Nothing detracts from our acute outrage. At the same time, the young Palestinian who was murdered and set fire at the hands of Jews feels like a knife in our hearts. These Jews did what our worst adversaries have done to us. Heinous revenge like this in the name of justice is similarly disgraceful. Granting legitimacy to acts of revenge plants the seeds of violence and the next murder. Even though these incidents do not reflect the overwhelming majority of Israeli society, we must never condone this mindset.
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And holding all of this hatred, all if this pain in my heart, I think of our young congregants who are in Israel right now and this mom’s expression of hope for the future. As Jews, our Eternal prayer is one of peace. But what exactly is this peace for which we pray? The Tanakh itself contains many different descriptions of shalom: utopian peace, imperial peace, and true peace. There is utopian peace described in Isaiah, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb…and the calf and the beast of prey… together; with a little boy to herd them.” While this utopian description is heartwarming, it does not describe a reality for which we can sincerely aim.
We see imperial peace such as that mentioned in Deuteronomy:
“When you approach a town to attack it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it responds peaceably and lets you in, all the people present there shall serve you as forced labor. If it does not surrender to you, but would join battle with you, then you shall lay siege to it; and when the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword; You may, however, take as your booty the women, and the children, and the livestock, and all that is in the city, all its spoil, and enjoy the use of the spoil of your enemy, which the Lord your God gives you.”
This imperial peace keeps revolves around those in power and while it leads to better biblical outcomes than most for those captured, it is utterly imposed by one party and leads to instability and hatred.
True peace is exemplified in the book of Zechariah.
“Thus says the Eternal: I have returned to Zion, and will dwell in Jerusalem…there shall yet be old men and old women in the squares of Jerusalem, each with his staff in his hand because of their great age. And the squares of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the squares.”
This is true peace--a vision of old and young enjoying, delighting, and sharing with one another. This peace permeates life so deeply that it is best expressed through life’s most simple and true pleasures—elders relaxing in the village square and children’s laughter.
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And thus, the peace for which I pray is not a cease fire to be followed by another cycle of violence but dignity for all of earth’s inhabitants. The peace I pray for is not one country or political power imposing its singular understanding of peace on another but a shared conversation where multiple generations feel validated, supported, and protected. This is a peace inspired by Torah, with a concern for human rights, security, and democracy.”
God-willing we will move towards this true peace sooner than my congregant’s email predicts. God-willing, leadership on both sides will recognize the urgency of this vision. And may we as concerned Jews continue to pressure our leaders to manifest it.
Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom, aleinu v’al kol Yisrael, v’al kol yoshvei tevel, v’imru: Amen.
In this time of tragedy and violence, may we not lose hope. And may the time not be distant when true shalom is a reality and all of God’s people receive its blessing.
Rabbi Jessica Kessler Marshall
Temple Beth Or
 Inspired by a lecture by Rabbi Donniel Hartman, Temple DeHirsch Sinai, Seattle, May 2014.
 Isaiah 11:6.
 Deuteronomy 20:10-15.
 Zechariah 8:1-8