Dear Congregation Beth Israel community,

We woke this morning to the news that Israel is officially at war with Hamas. My heart is heavy with grief. It’s especially heartbreaking on Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah. Like the Yom Kippur War, almost exactly fifty years ago, this coordinated series of attacks via land, sea, and air were a shock on a day of national religious celebration.

How can we rejoice with the Torah at a moment like this? And yet our tradition calls us to do precisely that. Our ancestors danced with Torah in times of Crusades and pogroms. We too can find strength in our traditions and in community. And we can dedicate our grief and our celebration alike to our most fervent prayers for peace.

Within our small community we have multiple religious identities, political ideologies, and relationships with the Land of Israel and the State of Israel. It is difficult to hold that kind of complexity, especially when this news may awaken generational trauma. And… I know that we all share the deep values of justice, compassion, and peace.

We can’t know what coming days will hold, though I am braced against what seems the certainty of terrible news and incalculable losses. Join me in praying with all our hearts for the inhabitants of that beloved land. I am here to listen if you need to talk. And… if the news becomes too much, or if anxiety becomes difficult to quell, please be gentle with yourselves.

I’ll close this note with the short prayer I wrote for Shemini Atzeret services this morning, which we shared also at Simchat Torah tonight. The words feel inadequate, but they are deeply heartfelt.

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May the One Who makes peace in the high heavens bring about a real, fundamental, just and lasting peace, speedily and soon.

Sending care to all –

— Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
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