Yom Chamishi, 20 AdarI 5781
Thursday, 4 March 2021
It is not enough to pray for peace

By Simon Rothstein
Editor, lj today
28th August 2014

THE CURRENT situation in Israel and Gaza has proved a very important and far-reaching issue for the entire British Jewish community. Colleagues, congregations and even families have been split by a multifaceted conflict that changes with every passing hour.

For these reasons, the leadership of Liberal Judaism took some time to formulate a full response. There were many discussions within the Liberal Judaism Board of National Officers, as well as in communities up and down the country, as to the significance of the conflict and responses to it.

The first public pronouncement came when Liberal Judaism chief executive Rabbi Danny Rich and chairman Lucian J Hudson joined with the leaders of the Movement for Reform Judaism, Masorti Judaism and the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation to release a short statement. It read: “In these painful times we regret the loss of all innocent life. Our thoughts are with all those who grieve and we fervently pray that we soon see a just and lasting peace for all in the region.”

Danny then followed this up with a lengthy pastoral letter, sent to every member of a Liberal Judaism constituent community on Tisha B’Av 5774 and the 100th anniversary of the declaration of Britain’s entry into the First World War.

After discussing the events of the past, Danny used the letter to fully break his silence on the escalation of tension and ultimately war between Hamas located in Gaza and the State of Israel. The letter has won praise from across the religious spectrum and can be read in full by visiting www.liberaljudaism.org

Danny started by explaining why he had been “uncharacteristically quiet”. He wrote: “In truth the reason I have been silent is because, like so many, I am conflicted. My friends and family in Israel tell me they are scared and will support their Government in ‘ending the threat of rockets’ but any decent human being is anguished by the death, destruction and humiliation inflicted on the Palestinians by Israeli armoury.

“In these circumstances it is hardly surprising that an estimated 90 per cent of the Israeli population supports its Government’s actions or that Hamas receives heroic press from Palestinians and others. Fear breeds hate and ignorance nurtures extremism.”

Danny then laid out six Liberal Jewish values that must be upheld. These include the belief that “no people should live under occupation and no country’s right to exist should be constantly challenged”, as well as the promotion of the idea of two narratives – one Jewish Israeli and the other Palestinian/Arab – which both must be acknowledged in a just and lasting resolution.

Danny concluded the letter with a fitting quote from the late Rabbi John Rayner: “It is not enough to pray for peace. We have to work for it: to challenge those who foster conflict and refute their propaganda; to ascertain and make known the truth, both when it confirms and when it runs counter to conventional views; to denounce injustice, not only when it is committed against us but also when it is committed against others; to defend human rights, not only our own but also theirs; to insist that peace requires sacrifice – of pride, or wealth, or territory; to practise and promote the way of moderation, compromise and reconciliation; and to build bridges of respect and understanding, trust and friendship, across the chasms that divide humanity.”

While Danny has been the public face of Liberal Judaism’s response to the conflict – including making many media appearances – Lucian has been an active influence behind the scenes.

He has played a key role in shaping the debate within the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council to ensure that whatever position the UK Jewish community takes on the conflict, it reflects our distress at the loss of human life on both sides and the range of views in the community.

Liberal Judaism’s rabbis have also been highly active, speaking to members in sermons, conversations and actions. Rabbi Neil Janes, of The Liberal Jewish Synagogue, explained how he has tackled the issue. Neil told lj today: “I have sought to connect us to the history and future of the Jewish people, recognising that the State of Israel is part of that. Liberal Judaism also demands the universal, recognising that we do not have a monopoly on suffering and war takes its toll on innocent lives on both sides.

“This war has brought a spiritual crisis too: how do we have faith in human progress when so many people seem hell bent on evil? I have also tried to show how we can have strongly-held opinions and still be judicious and respectful in our choice of language.”