Monday, October 23, 2023

A vigil for the Innocent, a condemnation of terror, a prayer for peace.

 October 23, 2023

Rabbi Robert Tobin

West Orange NJ - At the Interfaith Clergy Association of Verona vigil in support and empathy for Israel Gaza and the Region.

Shalom Aleichem.  Salam Aleikum.  Pax Vobiscum.  The Peace of the Lord be with you.

October 7th marks a turning point in all of our lives.  For Israelis, it will now forever be the day that Hamas terrorists broke through the barrier around Gaza, conquered the defending army base, and proceeded to wreak slaughter and havoc upon more than 2 dozen innocent and undefended small villages and towns.  It will be the day Hamas began a barrage of missiles fired from civilian neighborhoods into civilian neighborhoods, not caring who gets killed by them on either side.  It is the day they murdered over 1,300 people, most of them unarmed, undefended men women and children in a brutal butchery we have not seen in this generation.  

For Hamas, it was their greatest success, and their pride and joy.  It is their rallying call to free Palestine, by any means necessary.  To label every Israeli human a legitimate military target for death.  And for the 2.2 million Palestinian people in Gaza, 1 million of whom are under the age of 18 and  have known nothing but Hamas in their schools, government, hospitals and social service agencies, it now results in exactly what Hamas knew would happen: thousands of innocent Palestinians killed  by Israeli military might as Israel tries to eliminate Hamas with weapons of war in the most densely populated region on God’s green earth.  

The attack of October 7th is still happening today.  It started with missiles, continued with murder, developed into hundreds of hostages taken captive back to Gaza, and predictably - intentionally - has turned into war fought on civilian ground. And those missiles have continued to fire off every hour of every day even right now as we stand here in vigilant empathy for the innocent who are caught up in the horrors of this war.

The Palestinian child crushed in the rubble of Jaballah or Khan Yunis, or the Israeli child killed in their bed in Beiri don’t know the difference between the very adult decisions that have come to destroy their lives, their families and their communities.  The innocent pay the price, and war is terrible.  We grieve for the rampant, ongoing human suffering and watch the news agape in horror.  

Tonight, this group here on the steps of Verona Town Hall, this clergy association serving the spiritual needs of our community, are united in that human horror - even if some of us are divided on the war, the conflict, and the history.  I pray that we are not divided on our hope for peace, security and dignity for all innocent people in the region.  As a diverse community of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and more, we unite in empathy for those whose lives have been destroyed and those whose lives may yet be saved.

I would hope, pray - even demand - that all people of moral virtue condemn terrorism, deliberate slaughter of non-combatants, human shields, hostages, and all violations of the geneva conventions protocols for the treatment of civilians in the theater of war.  Let me repeat that. [Repeat]

Hostages of all nations and ages must be released.  Combatant prisoners of war must be treated as such.  Humanitarian aid must flow into the region and those seeking refuge must be allowed and helped to reach a place of relative safety.  The international community must insist on this and support this by all means.

The Verona Clergy Association has met before to pray for peace.  We have worked in mutual respect to build our shared society and all of us must not lose hope even when that day of peace seems to be very far away.  How terrible it is for us to hear the cry from anyone who tries to use this moment for only one or the other side of a fight - for so called Justice or Freedom for one people only - from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.  This war today is not about solving the Israeli Palestinian conflict. It is about the horror that Hamas inflicted on Israel and Israel’s predictable response.  It is about a calculated sabotage of growing peace agreements between Arab nations and Israel.  It was a calculated attack not only on Israel, but on the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and any voices of Palestinian or Arab Israelis that speak up in hopes for peace and coexistence.  It is a deliberate attack on our common humanity.

So tonight, the missiles are still flying, and the innocent are still dying.  The violent militant and military conflict that began on October 7 is ongoing.  Hamas isn’t stopping.  They continue even now. And Israel isn’t stopping in the face of that relentless attack, and the hundreds of captives imprisoned and afraid.  Stop the missiles. Free the hostages. Save the innocent. Protect civilians.

If anyone says the ordinary people don’t matter, tell them they are wrong.  If anyone says civilians are legitimate targets, tell them they are wrong.  If anyone says October 7 was anything other than a terrorist slaughter, tell them they are wrong.  If anyone says military operations permit an army to cut off of food water and medicine to the people, tell them they are wrong.  If anyone says humanitarian relief should not be allowed and protected, tell them they are wrong.  And if anyone says that peace can be achieved by denying the human rights of any other group of people permanently, tell them that they are wrong.

We have our differences, but we have our humanity.  

We pray together today, without a clear way out, for the protection of the innocent, 

the elimination of hatred, butchery and terrorism, 

and the coming of a day when a shared world of civil rights will protect the dignity of all peoples in the region 

and provide the kind of peace that God has promised for all of us.

I ask that you pray for this and more as I read from the book of Psalms.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

A Time for War

 Parshat Bereishit, 5784

October 14, 2023

A Time for War

Rabbi Robert Tobin

On Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur we affirmed that our lives and every life may have a natural or an unnatural end this year.  In the unetaneh tokef prayer we said so many words that have become horribly true.  Who will live and who will die? Who by fire, who by sword? We now know that the poem born of persecution and torture in the 13th century in Europe spoke not only to the Crusades, the pogroms and the shoah, but to the towns of Ashkelon, Sederot, Kfar Aza, Beeri, Reim, the Noa music festival, Zikim, Holit, Nahal Oz, Kerem Shalom, Netiv HaAsara, Alumim, Nirim, Kisufim, Ein HaShelosha, Sufa, Nir Yitzhak, Mefalusim, Nir Am, Gevim, Ibim, Or HaNer, Yad Mordechai, Kibbutz Erez - and more - all the way to Ofakim 20 km from Gaza City.  And we prayed in our faith and hope that Teshuvah (repentence), Tefillah (prayer) and Tzedakah (charitable giving) could take away some portion of any evil decree for the year ahead - ma'avirim et ro'a ha-gezeirah - and make our lives better.

Now we are reminded that Teshuvah, Tefillah and Tzedakah have their own opposites - human choices that don't wish to avert the evil decree but to enflame it and to grow it.  That opposite free will choice pours out human hate upon the innocent.  Rather than the self-reflection in teshuvah to be self-critical, humble and to seek to be a better person, the terrorist is self-affirming - so superior in their viscious arrogance that any man, woman or child in front of them can be slaughtered by their hand.  And in those violent murderous and barbaric acts they reach for tefillah by perverting and twisting what my Moslem friends and colleagues promise me is meant to be a prayer of peace and mercy - instead rejoicing in their blood frenzy and calling out Allah Hu-Akbar!  Their prayer to God screams hate and rains death upon the innocent. And what of their tzedakah?  Billions of dollars have been sent to Gaza since Hamas took over - first in 2006 with an election and then in 2007 by killing Palestinian Authority rivals fighting a civil war to make their military dictatorship permanent.  Billions of dollars from the US, the EU, the Arab League - and in particular Iran and Qatar, but also NATO ally Turkey and others:  to build a country; to build a government; to build an infrastructure; to build an economy; to build a life of peace and sustainable prosperity.  But instead they have build a terrorist war machine.  Missile factories.  Machine gun factories.  Bullet factories.  RPG's. Grenades. Bombs. Drones.  Jamming equipment.  Everything turned to war.  TeshuvahTefillahTzedakah?

Last week, as the first words of the attacks were spreading through our community, we read the third chapter of the Book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes). We were reminded that God's world has a time for everything... a time for every experience under heavenA time to live... a time to die... a time to laugh... a time to cry... a time for war.... a time for peace.

Now is not a time for peace.  Now is a time for war.  Peace was the farming community of Holit.  Peace was the Israelis removed from Gaza in 2005 who settled on our side of the 1948 Armistice line and built tomato farms and dairy farms.  Peace was Oslo and offers of a Palestinian state in 1947, 2004, 2007, 2013 - all rejected by Palestinian leadership - all scorned by Hamas.  Hamas has an absolute extreme terrorist mentality, built within a radical religious world view, that every inch of Israel is Palestine and every single non-Palestinian is - in their words - an "occupier" and "a military weapon of occupation."  Every baby, child, grandparent and foreign worker they call a military weapon and declare a right to murder them at any opportunity.

On our college campuses right now across the country a group called Students for Justice in Palestine have published a toolkit for organization with action plans and talking points that completely adopt the extreme Hamas terrorist platforms.  They are gathering under the banner of Justice but they are teaching hate and terror.  Let me quote from their own sources for you:  the barbaric slaughter of civilians in their beds and in the streets they described as "gained control over illegal settlements."  Describing the day's actions they say "these events are the natural and justified response to decades of oppression and dehumanization."  They say explicitly, "settlers" - and remember "settlers" means every Israeli anywhere at all - "settlers are not civilians... they are military assets used to control stolen land."  End quote.  Every Israeli anywhere is a "settler," of any age, any ability and they say that Hamas terrorism and mass murder is QUOTE "Natural and Justified." End Quote.


In their toolkit they seek to "normalize" armed resistance and to fight "by any means necessary."  Their goal is the complete "liberation of Palestine from (the Jordan) River to the (Mediterranean) Sea."  Violence.  Armed attacks.  Mass killing.  Ethnic cleansing.  "By any means necessary."  In their words, again, "All of it is Justified.  All of it is necessary."  

Well.  We Jews have heard that before, haven't we?  We know better than anyone what all of that means, and now the world has seen it.  And SJP are openly and completely supporting it.  They are a proud part of it.  They are the terrorist's mouthpieces.  They have no place in the legitimate discourse of any liberal arts institution. 

I have argued for a Palestinian State and I still believe that is the only possible eventual solution.  This is not that.  Palestinians deserve better than this.

Why is there a fence around Gaza?  Look what happens when there is not.

In their attack on Israeli towns, killing over 1,300 people and taking prisoner over 150 hostages, Hamas has attacked humanity.  They have murdered or captured people from FORTY-TWO other countries in addition to Israel.  The US says that 29 citizens were murdered and 14 are being held captives.  If that happened anywhere else in the world the United States would send in the Navy Seals and the Marines, and would be right to do so.  

Hamas will not stop.  No amount of peace talks, or humanitarianism will convince them to stop.  As a peace-person, an interfaith person, a rabbi who admires and values diversity and cares deeply about the suffering of all innocents... as an international relations guy, a supporter of the U.N., a law and relief agency kind of guy, I see no alternative.  There is a time for peace.  There is a time for War. Now is the time for War.

Peace is never won by the military.  Peace is the purview of the diplomats.  

The humanitarian suffering is real.  And there are innocents in Gaza right now losing their lives for the terror that Hamas brought and the horror that comes with Israel's bombs and the coming ground war in pursuit of the terrorists and the hostages.  It is horrible. Consider supporting humanitarian aid for Palestinian refugees - so long as the money does not go to Hamas. Egypt must open the southern border of Gaza for humanitarian aid and refugee safety.  The UN, the Arab League, the US and the EU need to support that.  And the US must care for our citizens trapped in Gaza and get them out. But there is no room in the world for Hamas any more and every hostage must be freed or accounted for.  

I pray for a rebuilt Gaza under new leadership that values not only peace but truth.  That recognizes historical facts.  That Zionism was a partner with the Ottoman Empire, under Moslem rule, for decades before WWI - peacefully and legally buying land, developing resources, building towns - long before the League of Nations gave Britain legal control over the area.  And that Zionism was a legal partner with the British doing the same:  buying land, developing resources and building towns and infrastructure.  And that after WWII, the Mandate for Palestine was legally turned over to the United Nations, who voted for the establishment of Israel, legally and legitimately.   And then that legal and legitimate State of Israel solved years of massive refugee crises from the Displaced Persons camps of Europe by bringing the survivors of the Shoah to Israel for asylum.  Israel is a legal, legitimate country.  

Do you really think people who supported the slaughter of young and old in their beds believe in civil rights?

Israel's history is not "Colonialism," despite those well meaning fools who have fallen for that false narrative and that fraudulent reading of history.  This is a displaced people, who have legally returned to their ancient homeland, joining generations of Jewish settlement that never completely left that land.  They consistently returned by legal means under Moslem, Christian and now Jewish rule.  10% of Israeli citizens today are Israeli Arabs, living in peace and relative prosperity in Israel, enjoying civil rights and democracy unthinkable under Hamas' boot in Gaza.  Israel is a diverse society racially, culturally, and religiously.  Truth and true history are a necessary part of eliminating intolerance, hate and terror.  Don't fall for their twisted campaigns masquerading as Justice and Civil Rights as they proclaim every Israeli from the River to the Sea to be a settler, a colonist, a racist and a military asset to be destroyed.  Listen to what they are really saying and watch what they are really doing.  Don't fall for it.

We have always wanted peace.  But not today.  Not after this.  Not with Hamas.  It is, sadly, just not possible.  

So pray for the dead.  Pray for the wounded.  Pray for the captured, the displaced and the suffering. Pray for those who are now putting their lives on the line to save the hostages and eliminate the terrorists and their tunnels, factories, missiles and all their tools of war so that one day, may it be soon, the diplomats may ensure that all of us can live in a genuine peace.

Od yavo shalom aleinu - aval od lo hayom.  Peace will come to us one day, but not today.

There is a time for War and a time for Peace.

To support Israel in its time of need click on either of these links:

Monday, October 9, 2023

Hamas Invasion of Israel: Mass Murder, Kidnapping, War Crimes, Terror. The Evil that Must be Stopped.

 Dear Friends,

Ayin leTzion Tzofia.  Our eyes are all focused on Israel.

Today is a day of absolute moral clarity and determination.  Below you will find links to support our people and to contact our political leaders.

Hamas has invaded Israel.  In the last two days, hundreds of armed fighters flooded into border towns and brutally murdered over 700 civilians, 50 soldiers and gravely wounded over 2,000 more.  Peaceful kibbutzim, small villages and large towns saw machine-gun-mounted trucks and jeeps, strike forces on motorcycles indiscriminately kill anyone they could find. Militants slaughtered over 200 unarmed innocent revelers at a music festival.  Rampaging soldiers with military grade weapons hunted and killed hundreds of civilians of every age in their homes and on the streets. Shockingly, the Israeli defense forces were unaware and unprepared, and help came only after hours, or even days. In the meantime, estimates are that as many as 100 civilians were captured and dragged back to Gaza as human shields and bargaining chips, some paraded proudly in the streets of Gaza by the militants with the approval of adoring crowds.  In addition, thousands of missiles continue to be sent from Gaza to pound random Israeli civilian locations from the Gaza border to southern Tel Aviv and around the Gaza envelope.

Mass murder.  Kidnapping.  War Crimes.  There is not an inch of pardon or justification that is possible for the brutal and targeted slaughter of hundreds of civilians in a single day.  Our people’s deadliest day since the Shoah.  No political cause and no organization that engages in such behavior can be allowed to continue unchecked on the face of the earth.  The leader of Hamas in Gaza, speaking to Al Jazeera on the record, has been clear even yesterday:  Every Israeli anywhere in Israel is a “settler” and all settlers “are not civilians.”  They are legitimate targets in their eyes - any person of any age, wherever they can find them are subject to immediate execution.  When we say “antiZionism” is “antiSemitism” this is exactly what we mean.

We all wish for peace.  The Gaza fence and border was built because of this violence, and only that borders has held back this violence to this point.  Hamas has been the ruling government in Gaza since it won their first and last elections there in 2006.  For 17 years they have received billions in international aid, but they have incessantly turned that aid into military infrastructure, tunnels, rockets and have raised a generation to believe that mass murder is holy work.  This is what they do.

Israel has now mobilized every person capable of military service - over 300,000 persons.  The war has begun.  For Hamas this is still the war of independence from 1948, and it is about Israel even existing on any level. Israel is starting by smashing Hamas infrastructure and striking back at any location that is firing missiles.  Since Hamas has knowingly embedded these terrorist targets in civilian neighborhoods, the collateral damage to civilian life is unavoidable. Should Israel invade Gaza in pursuit of the killers, they will seek military targets and control.  Compare that to the slaughter of innocents this weekend. Despite the inevitable news reports that will seek to raise the equality of the civilian harm on both sides, there is no moral equivalency to how any why civilians are dying on each side.  Every death is the moral responsibility of Hamas.  This is not a skirmish.  This will not be quick.

As human beings we care about what is right, and empathize with those wrongfully slaughtered, captured, wounded and terrorized. As Jews we know the price that our families and friends are paying each moment. We lament the death and devastation we are forced to engage in.  We must rise up and respond.

  1. We must immediately, tangibly support Israel’s civilian population’s needs.  25 border towns are being evacuated, and those people need shelter, schools, trauma support and more.  2,000+ victims are suffering from wounds endured from gunshots, stabbings, missiles, explosives and more.  The hospitals are over-run and supplies have run out.  Every member of this congregation must give something today.

Our immediate partners, the Jewish National Fund/USA and the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest are already on the ground responding to these needs.  Supporting their emergency campaigns is the fastest and most immediate way to help:

JNF/USA Israel Resilience Campaign - “Evacuation from hardest hit communities on the border including transportation and emergency housing; Provide hygiene, bedding, and care packages to those in need; Provide firefighting and protective equipment to those on the front lines; Offer psychological treatment; Give the local communities the promise of rebuilding for tomorrow”

Jewish Federations of Greater MetroWest Emergency Fund - “Support Critical, lifesaving efforts”

  1. We must assert to our political leaders unconditionally that Hamas is no longer a sufferable player in the Israeli-Palestinian political conflict.  No such organization can legitimately claim the mantle of hope for a free or peaceful Palestinian people in any configuration of any kind.  Apologists for them and their actions are complicit enablers of war crimes and terrorists like the world has not seen since the Nazis.  Assert (a) Israel's absolute need for our support and (b) Hamas’ complete forfeiture of legitimacy on any level.  They and their partners are the enemies of civilized hope.

Find your Representative

Find your Senator

Governor Murphy

President Biden

The goal of our advocacy is to:

  1. cease any support of the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip, 

  2. to ally the United States actively in the military support of Israel’s efforts, and 

  3. to condemn the propaganda that seeks to legitimize the Hamas tactics as any form of legitimate “pro-Palestinian resistence.”

In addition, please know that our sister synagogue in Arad is not directly affected, but that every person in Israel is profoundly affected.  They are in our prayers, and every point of contact you may have with any Israeli family or friend is appreciated at this time more than you know.  And, of course, our Israel trip in late January - which is not scheduled to be in the theater of conflict, is being carefully considered.  Now is not the time to disengage, and is of course also a time for care and concern.

In the meantime I also caution you to care for your well being.  In the age of media blitzes the news can be overwhelming.  Make sure that you are putting limits on your exposure and not adding unnecessary trauma by watching repetitions of the same news over and over.  Turn it off for a bit, and find a cause or an organization that you identify with that is trying to help.  Take the positive path and go to a rally.  Post and repost on your social media, and advocate for Israel with your family, friends and colleagues.

There will be many briefings, rallies and opportunities for you to engage in the hours and days ahead.  Last night the local Federation held a rally with local and state leaders at Temple Bnai Jeshurun.  Today, the JNF/USA will have an online briefing at 12:00 noon today.  You can join using this link:

Finally, please know that many of our families have children, grandchildren, parents, siblings and dear ones who are directly in the midst of the conflict.  Each morning service for the foreseeable future we will be including a prayer for Israel’s defense forces and for the safe return of our captives.  In community we can find strength, and our prayers are real.

We remain steadfast in our love of and support of Israel, and our hopes for a better future.

Rabbi Robert Tobin