Ramah New England’s Statement on Israel
Shalom Ramah New England Community,
Nachamu, nachamu, (comfort oh comfort) my people, says your God. These words of Isaiah that we chant the Shabbat after Tisha B’av are also the song that generations of edot leading Kabbalat Shabbat sing as we gather as a camp in the Chorsha (grove). It is important to offer words of comfort in these times. Comfort to those who have lost loved ones, comfort to those who are being called to war, comfort to those who face anti-Semitism on their college campuses or work places and comfort to those who simply cannot make sense of tragedy and feel lost. Ramah has played a significant role in generations of Jewish lives and serves as a beacon of hope, community, joy and belonging to so many. Wherever you are, take a moment to close your eyes and view the mental pictures in your head of moments and places at camp where you felt good. If you are a parent, ask your children to share those memories. Then, sing the camp songs – al kol eleh, acheinu, hamalach hagoel oti. I feel that one of the powers of Ramah is that our campers and alumni know that Ramah is there – throughout the ten months and throughout the years – as a source of strength and love for them. We are sending that to you now.
We are reaching out to our entire community during these difficult times. We are sending special love and support to our Israeli staff members, families and campers as well as our American staff and alumni who are in Israel, whether as students studying abroad or on gap years, or serving in the Israeli military. So many of our friends and family are serving in the Israeli armed forces. We are with you and pray for your safety and wellbeing.
National Ramah has set up this link with many resources and a way for you to message our Israeli staff.
Many of us have witnessed, whether on college campuses or in our communities, or seen on social media and television, anti-Israel demonstrations. We have heard vitriol accusing Israel of genocide and justifying Hamas’ actions. It is scary and unsettling.
The senior leadership of Ramah New England and our Board of Directors feel it is important to make this statement:
Ramah New England is a Zionist Jewish Summer Camp. We support self-determination and statehood for the Jewish people in our ancestral homeland, the Land of Israel.
Within our community, there are a wide range of acceptable opinions on what precisely this State of Israel should look like, what the government’s policies should be and how Israel acts the Palestinian people and on the world stage. There are also limits to what is acceptable debate in a Ramah context. Like a multilane highway, there are double yellow lines on both sides of the highway that we must adhere to.
Here are three statements about the current situation that reflect our position and set the boundaries of our
Hamas’ Simchat Torah attack was pure evil, without any attached qualifications.
Israel has an obligation to protect its citizens and remove the threat of further Hamas attacks.
Israel should prosecute its just war against Hamas in a way that minimizes Palestinian civilian deaths as much as possible.
Many of you are facing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic responses to what is happening in Israel. Below our signatures is an educational piece, written by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, which helps explain the Ramah/Jewish approach to supporting Israel, the responsibility of Israel to fight Hamas, and rebuts claims of genocide. We believe you might find this helpful as a resource as you and/or your children navigate these incredibly tenuous times. Rabbi Tucker has been connected to Ramah New England for decades and continues to teach at camp each summer. Here is a link to Rabbi Tucker’s bio.
With continued tefilla for the safety of our people and for peace,
Rabbi Ed Gelb, CEO, Ramah New England
Ed Pletman, COO, Ramah New England
Josh Edelglass, Co-Director Camp Ramah New England
Michelle Sugarman, Co-Director Camp Ramah New England
Rabbi Jill Levy, Director Ramah Day Camp Greater DC
Rabbi Rachel Silverman, Director Ramah Day Camp Boston
Board signatories to date:
Elizabeth Waksman, President
Rabbi Greg Harris
Rabbi Gordon Tucker’s D’var Torah on the Situation in Israel:
We are all dealing with very trying, frightening, and morally challenging days. So many of the members of our Ramah community are directly affected by the war that has been provoked by Hamas’ unspeakable terrorism inside Israel, because we have family, friends and loved ones in Israel. But none are affected nearly as deeply and in ways that continue to threaten their lives, as soldiers and civilians, as the Israeli members of our community, and we owe them our love and support as human beings and as fellow Jews. We pray for their safety, and for an eventual peace that will move the needle of justice for everyone.
It is not easy to think dispassionately when the wounds of these despicable attacks are so fresh, and when the fate of the hostages is frighteningly unknown. And yet, the several values that we all stand for require us to think conscientiously about the battles that lie ahead. This moves me to make the following observations, and I begin — for reasons that will presently be clear — with two verses from the Book of Shemot (Exodus):
And God did so the next day: all the livestock of the Egyptians died, but of the livestock of the Israelites not a beast died. (Exodus 9:6)
The waters turned back and covered the chariots and the riders—Pharaoh’s entire army that followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. (Exodus 14:28)
That’s the way it often is when the Bible tells stories of conflict and battle. All of the “bad folk” are eliminated, and every one of the “good folk” survive. It’s all so clean and neat.
Life, however, is not so clear cut. Just people die in just wars. And unjust people survive them as well. Those hard facts are the source of enormous moral wrestling and debate, when just causes cannot guarantee protection to all innocents, nor ensure the elimination of all bad actors.
Israel faces some choices at present, and none of them are good or easy. The best we can say is that some are worse than others. And we ought to be sufficiently humble to acknowledge that none of us would ever want to be facing those awful choices, all of which will surely take the lives of brave soldiers fighting in a just cause, and just as surely take the lives of innocent civilians in Gaza who are being used to shield the perpetrators and celebrators of horrendous crimes.
I trust we can agree — actually, as members of a Ramah community, we must agree — on two things at the outset:
- Beheading babies, gunning down at point blank range people who are huddled in a bomb shelter for protection from rockets, and kidnapping people of all ages to use and abuse them in ways known and unknown, are all acts that cannot be understood, condoned, or in any way justified. No amount of injustice done to Palestinians over the years can ever justify this kind of murderous rampage. There have been voices claiming that these acts of terror are somehow acceptable acts of resistance, but no Jew (indeed, no person of conscience) can stand by such a claim. Being a victim of injustice does not grant anyone a moral free pass.
- Israel has not only the right, but an obligation as a protector of its citizens, to fight to eliminate a terrorist organization that perpetrated these crimes, and whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction and for the killing of Jews. No self-respecting state can stand by when such a sworn enemy is literally miles away from its borders, and that makes no pretense about its intention to inflict more cruelty and death. (And let’s remember that the number of Israelis killed that day, all of whom (even the soldiers) were non-combatants, pro-rates to more than 30,000 deaths relative to the U.S. population). This means that Israel’s war against Hamas is a just war. And note that we speak here of Israel’s war with Hamas, not a war with Palestinians.
If we agree — as we must — on these two things, we can then proceed to consider what comes next, without exaggeration or sensationalism.
The war on Hamas is a just war. And, it is also axiomatic that not every act in a just war is automatically a just act. Does Israel have a responsibility to prosecute this war in a way that minimizes civilian deaths as much as possible? Yes it does, and all but the most extreme elements of Israeli society agree with that as well. How exactly one does that is one of the knottiest problems one can face. One possible approach, which is admittedly imperfect, is to warn those innocents to leave the areas with the biggest concentration of terrorist infrastructure. Israel has been doing that, even though they themselves recognize that this is neither simple nor a guarantee against harm or even death. Yes, there are serious humanitarian concerns when hundreds of thousands of people are forced to displace themselves to the southern sector of Gaza, where basic supplies are just as scarce as they are at their homes. But in these excruciating war scenarios, one must think of the alternatives. Which of the following is worse for the innocents: (1) to move from one area of severe hardship to another, or (2) to stay and play the role of human shield in front of terrorists who must be taken out? Another way to pose the matter is this: who right now cares more for the Palestinian civilians in Gaza — the Israeli army that is exhorting them to get out of the way of a just war, or Hamas that is urging them to stay and place themselves in the line of fire? Again, this is not to minimize the suffering of the innocents. But in the fight against an enemy sworn to kill us, and possessing a record of inflicting lives of misery on those same innocent Gazans, there may be no perfect or ideal choice.
We should care about Palestinian lives, and we should pray for those innocent lives just as we pray for Israeli captives, soldiers, and civilians who remain in harm’s way. We should work for a just peace that recognizes and provides for the legitimate needs of the Palestinian people. That, too, is our long-term commitment as human beings, as Jews and as Ramahniks. And if there are actions taken by Israel going forward in its just war that may raise questions of morality in war, we should make it possible for lovers and supporters of Israel to have those discussions and debates should that time arise. But however one may wish to label and describe what is happening now, it is most definitely not “genocide”. To call it that is to misunderstand what the word means. People bent on genocide do not urge people to evacuate a zone of immense danger. What’s more, using the word “genocide” is to make genuine moral debate impossible, it is to condemn at the outset a war whose objective is a just one, and it commits the sin known in our tradition as “Motzi Shem Ra”. That phrase means wanton slander, in this case slander of soldiers and their commanders who will be trying their best to kill or capture only the criminals, knowing the tragic truth that they will be unable to save every civilian who is being cynically used by those very criminals. And knowing as well that some of those very criminals may yet survive to act another day, God forbid.
When these battles finally subside, with God’s help, there will be more sober discussions and debates. Let us be sure to remember that we are a community of committed Zionists all of whom share agitation and sleeplessness over Israel’s security and well-being, and thus honor the diversity of views in our community of committed Zionists about mistakes of commission and omission that may have been made in the years and decades that have led up to this terribly painful situation.
Above all let’s be more thoughtful about the words that we use. The moral debates among right, left, and center, which Ramah has always encouraged, will then be able to proceed when it is time to have them.
As Psalm 125 expresses the prayers we should have:
Do good, Lord, to the good, to the upright in heart. But those who in their crookedness act corruptly, let the Lord make them go the way of evildoers. May it be well with Israel. שלום על ישראל