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.