Last Thursday, I gathered with some of my local clergy friends at Temple Kol Tikvah in Davidson. Our colleague Rabbi Becca Diamond invited us to come spend some time in their sukkah, a temporary dwelling built to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.
It was a truly glorious day as we sat around the table together, enjoying the autumn breezes and the cheerful decorations made by the Kol Tikvah youth to signify the beginning of a new year—year 5784 on the Jewish calendar. Rabbi Becca told us a little about the holiday. Sukkot follows shortly after the more somber holy day of Yom Kippur, and is meant to be a joyful time celebrating the harvest season. Jewish families construct the sukkah, and then spend time in it together, building community and enjoying one another’s company all week long. Then they dismantle it and commence a new year of reading the Torah together.
After giving us a little Sukkot 101, Rabbi Becca shared that this year’s celebration had been dampened by a bomb threat to the synagogue that had occurred just two days prior. This was the same threat that had caused my kid’s school down the block to go on lockdown. Rabbi Becca spoke about what a stressful and anxious time it was for the Jewish community with so much antisemitism on the rise. I left with a heaviness in my heart, but also feeling grateful to live in a tightknit community where inter-religious friendships are not only possible, but the norm.
All of this was already weighing on me when the news reports of the sickening violence perpetrated by Hamas in Israel began to emerge over the weekend. The atrocities are unthinkable, and yet they are all too real. My heart continues to break for the people of Israel and for the Jewish communities across the world who are reeling from these horrific acts of terrorism resulting in the largest single killing of Jews since the Holocaust.
This past Tuesday night, I found myself back at Temple Kol Tikvah for a gathering to pray for peace and show solidarity with Israel. I may not agree with all of the policies and practices of the Israeli government (or the U.S. government, for that matter) but that does not mean I cannot show up and pray with my neighbors and friends when they are hurting.
At the gathering, Rabbi Becca spoke about how lonely it can feel to read and absorb the horrifying news, but that coming together for prayer and solidarity helps ease that loneliness a bit. Her words struck me deeply. As people of faith, we are called to compassion, companionship, bearing witness, and prayer in the face of evil and pain.
Because we are called to compassion, companionship, bearing witness, and prayer, I am also holding my Palestinian friends closely in my heart at this time. Most of the people who work and worship at the Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem are Palestinians. In spending time with them this past summer, my fellow pilgrims and I heard firsthand about their daily struggles and injustices. It is sobering and heartbreaking to think of what civilians in Gaza are now facing and will face in the days and weeks to come. My fervent prayers are also with them, and all who are suffering and grieving.
My friend Iyad Qumri, one of our guides in the Holy Land this past June, spoke to a group of Anglicans at a meeting in London earlier this week. He, a Palestinian, urged his fellow Anglicans and Episcopalians to “take no side but the side of peace.” Many, many Palestinians agree with him, but those voices are too often drowned out by extremists who wish to annihilate one another rather than seek a peaceful path forward where everyone can thrive.
The people of Israel AND Palestine are suffering unbelievable pain. They all deserve to live in safety and harmony. The situation is so complicated that most of us will never fully grasp the depth of hostility in this part of the world, but as Christians, our primary task is always love. In the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” That abundance of life is Christ’s desire for all people, and as Christ’s followers, that is what we must pray for and work toward.
To that end, I will be holding a simple service of Noonday Prayer this coming Friday, October 13 in the nave. We will begin at 12:15 p.m. and the service will last about 15 minutes. All are invited to join me in praying for peace.
Yours in Christ,