On Oct. 27, 2018, as Jews gathered in Sabbath worship at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, we were horrified with the news that a gunman entered the synagogue and killed 11 Jews in worship.

This year, almost exactly five years later, as Jews celebrated the joyous holiday of Simchat Torah (“Joy in the Torah”), the world learned of the savage butchery, torture, rape, murder, decapitation and kidnapping of Israeli babies, children, seniors, and men and women of all ages. The perpetrator of these heinous acts was Hamas. The United States, the European Union, and most countries in the world have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization whose mission is to eradicate the world of the Jewish people. 

Rabbi Debbie Israel

The events unfolding in Gaza warn us to oppose extremist ideology anywhere that would compromise the rights of anyone to live in peace. The cruelty of Hamas was not about Israelis versus Palestinians. Hamas is not seeking a two-state solution; they demand a one-state solution, which they attempt to achieve by killing all Jews. 

In their zeal for doing so, they disregarded the safety and future of innocent Palestinians. As a civilized society, we support and honor every person’s dignity and human rights and we pray that innocent citizens of Gaza and the West Bank will be safe and unharmed as Israel attempts to rescue the captives. 

Jews are in deep mourning now. Most Jews have a relative or friend in Israel or know someone who has family in Israel, many of whom were victims. We understand that this attack could just as easily have been our loved ones—or even us. 

When the Tree of Life Synagogue was attacked five years ago, antisemitism was rising in our country. We are shocked that antisemitic incidents surged to historic levels in 2022, with a total of 3,697 incidents reported across the United States, an increase of 36% to 2021—also a record-setting year (as reported by the Anti-Defamation League). We don’t have statistics for 2023 yet, but we see an obvious surge in antisemitic incidents in recent days, with antisemitic bigotry becoming more blatant and dangerous.  

We know that when hate mongers are present, they don’t come for just one of us. We worry about innocent Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. We worry about our Muslim brothers and sisters in the United States and around the world, who are already in danger, as evidenced by the murder of the 6-year-old child and the attempted murder of his mother in Illinois last week.  

We worry for all marginalized people. The only solution for us is to support one another, to stand up for one another, to be present for one another.  

“Abandon me not to the will of my foes. False witnesses have risen against me, people who breathe out lies. Mine is the faith that I surely will see God’s goodness in the land of the living. Hope in God and be strong. Take courage, hope in God.” (Psalm 27)

Rabbi Debbie Israel is Rabbi Emerita of Congregation Emeth and one of the founders of the Interfaith Clergy Association. She can be reached at [email protected]

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  1. Well said. Thank you, Rabbi Israel. I so hope this war ends quickly. It’s time to reduce antisemitic incidents in the world.

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