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Shabbat Shalom from Rabbi Arnow 3/1/2024

Dear Kol Rinah Family,

(Make sure to read to the end of what follows--reading just the beginning may leave you misinformed!)  

Until yesterday, the news recently from Israel had been a little quieter, the headlines smaller.  

Yesterday, news alerts were that Israeli soldiers had opened fire on Gazans who were trying to get food, killing more than 100, wounding more than 700.

I felt so sad, at the loss of life, and about the consequences of what should (rightly) be labeled a massacre.  I felt angry--Israel is engaged in a just war, but they are still obligated to fight that war justly.

Ten hours later, the news reports had changed somewhat.  It was not a massacre, only a terrible tragedy.  Most of the deaths and injuries were from people being trampled; "only" ten people had been killed when a few Israeli soldiers felt threatened by a crowd coming towards them.  You can read the 
complicated details here, although what precisely happened may be a matter of debate for decades, and different news outlets will and are reporting it differently.  

Did I, do I, feel better?  Marginally--when something terrible happens and you discover that people you care about and identify with are not (as) responsible, there is a bit of relief.  

But does it matter how I feel?  There are about two million people in Gaza, and very, very few of them have enough to eat.  Most are almost starving, have no medical care, do not have permanent structures to live in, and have had to flee their homes, which have now been destroyed.  

Almost every element of what happened can perhaps be explained away as not Israel's fault.  Soldiers who feel threatened can defend themselves.  It's Hamas's fault that this war happened, and they could end it.  Israel's army is the most moral army, and they have been as careful as possible.  The news media is biased.  The UN has not done enough to distribute aid. Hamas is stealing aid, etc.  

In contrast, I share with you the words of Yehuda Kurtzer and Rabbi Donniel Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute, written yesterday: 

The premise of Israel as a sovereign nation is that we are responsible for what takes place under our rule and watch. This is true in peacetime, and it is also true in war, when the territory of the enemy and the civilians living in it come under our control. This is the deep meaning of the Deuteronomic text of the beheaded heifer: if you are in charge, you are in charge. It does not matter whether you are directly responsible for the violence that takes place under your aegis: you spilled this blood.

The State of Israel is responsible and must take responsibility for the deaths of the more than 100 residents of Gaza who died tragically today as they desperately sought food for themselves and their families. Even as our news media debates the number of dead and the proximate causes – whether by trampling or the gunfire of soldiers who perceived a threat to themselves – in a moment like this, of immense human tragedy, we must stop our relentless pursuit of self-justification and self-righteousness and simply take responsibility. This tragedy took place under our watch, and we are responsible.

The fact of the just cause for Israel’s war against Hamas, and the villainy of the enemy, still require the war to be fought justly. There is an important moral difference between the tragic but inevitable killing of civilians in wartime, especially those used as human shields by the enemy, and events like the one that transpired today, the senseless violent deaths of civilians simply seeking the food that they are entitled to as human beings.

Victory for the State of Israel in this war, and for the Jewish people in fulfilling our moral aspirations, requires the preservation of our humanity and the essential humanity of others. Events like today deserve our condemnation, our atonement, and our insistence that they never happen again.

I'm reminded a little of Aaron's response when Moses asks him, in this week's parasha (Ki Tissa), essentially, why did you make the golden calf?  Aaron said, "Don't be mad.  You know this people is bad.  They said to me, "make us a god to lead us; for that man Moses, who brought us from Egypt--we do not know what has happened to him.  So I said to them, 'Whoever has gold take it off!' They gave it to me and I hurled it into the fire and out came this calf!" (Ex. 32:21-24)

Aaron abdicates any responsibility here, and spends, according to some views, his entire life trying to repent.  

Aaron may have had no choice--this might have been the best of the bad options.  But could he at least have taken some responsibility?  

* * * 

Tonight, candle lighting is at 5:37pm. 

We'll gather for an a cappella Kabbalat Shabbat at 6pm.  Come welcome Shabbat and sing with me! 

Saturday morning, we'll start at 9am.  I'll be leading Torah Talk at 10:10am, where we'll look at a confusing passage about the Israelites "taking off their finery."  I'm excited for it! 

There will not be Tot Shabbat tomorrow. 

Our member Rena Munster will be speaking during services tomorrow about her recent trip to Israel volunteering--she has powerful stories to share.  

Kiddush will follow services. 

Starting at 4:45pm, we'll have mincha, food, ma'ariv and havdalah, and we'll be celebrating the bat mitzvah of Hattie Scharff!  

Mazal tov  to her parents, Lilly Scharff and Daniel Scharff, as well as her siblings, Teddy and Andy.  

Shabbat ends at 6:41pm.  

Sunday, Verein's series on the Yiddish theater concludes, led by Ralph Graff and focusing on the Yididsh theater in St. Louis, starting at 4pm on Zoom.  
Sign up here.  

March 8-10, Dr. Mara Benjamin will be our scholar-in-residence, teaching over Shabbat on "Climate Change, Climate Catastrophe: Exploring the Limits of Jewish Wisdom."  The whole schedule with details and dinner sign-up, is here.  The deadline to sign up for dinner is Tuesday, March 5.  She's a terrific scholar and teacher, and an old friend of mine too.  She's doing some of the most cutting-edge Jewish theology on climate change.  Don't miss it!  

Today begins the 
Clean Speech campaign--sign up to get daily emails for a month about "words of peace."  

Sunday, March 10 is the annual 
Man and Youth of the Year luncheon from 12-2pm at B'nai Amoona. Our very own Dr. Ralph Graff will be honored as Kol Rinah's Man of the Year and Rebekah Simmons and Grace Cooperstein as Kol Rinah's Youths of the Year.  (B'nai Amoona will be honoring Creighton Cohn as their Man of the Year, and Samara Landy will be honored as their Youth of the Year.)

The Purim mailing went out, and all the 
Purim details are also here!  

For more and collected Israel information, see this page on our website, as well as the Jewish Federation of St. Louis's Israel Resources page

Every Shabbat morning, we are still reciting a 
prayer for the State of Israel, a prayer for Israel Defense Forces soldiers, and a prayer for hostages.  

May the one who makes peace in the heavens make peace over us, and over all Israel, and over all who dwell in the world.  

Shabbat shalom and see you in shul,
Rabbi Noah Arnow

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