Rabbi Laurie Rice of Congregation Micah was invited to deliver the invocation to a Metro Council meeting in the week following the terrorist attacks in Israel. Prior to the start of the meeting, Rabbi Rice was greeted with hugs, handshakes, and words of support by many council members. Below are her remarks:
“Thank you for inviting me to be here tonight. I am proud to call this city my home and I look out in this room at so many faces of those I call friends, relationships built over nearly 2 decades.
According to the Jewish legend, a two-headed man lived in the time of King Solomon. He fathered six normal children and a seventh with two heads like himself. When the father died, the son with two heads came before King Solomon demanding a double share of the inheritance. King Solomon wanted to know if this was truly one soul with two heads, so he covered one head and poured hot water on the other. "Ouch!" both heads cried out. Last week, Jews in Israel were slaughtered and Jewish people everywhere cried. One body… many heads. The Jewish community is still collectively in shock and mourning over the savage mass murder and kidnapping of our people. And yet, this week, I am asking my congregants and all of us here tonight to dare to hold the humanity, the heartache, and the need for security of the Israeli people while also holding the humanity, the dignity, the need for justice of the Palestinian people. For too long, these two have been set up as incompatible. But this is a false binary.
This week I read statements from folks, some of them allies, that were so implausible, I had to read them several times to make sure they were not satire. In these statements was not only an inability to condemn the murder of innocents but sometimes also an unwillingness to condemn Hamas, sometimes even a subtle hint at celebration. And let me just say that defending Hamas’s atrocities does not signal that you care about justice for Palestinians. It only reveals that you accept the same tropes of Jewish power that led to the murderous rampages in Europe and throughout history, the potent ancient lie that any Jew is responsible for the behavior of every Jew. The certainty that all Jews, any Jew, every Jew is responsible for killing God, responsible for the Black Death, responsible for economic collapse, responsible for migrant caravans, and hurricanes and space lasers, responsible for Covid. Responsible for all human suffering.
So what can any of us do? Call a friend in Israel and let them know you stand with them in sorrow and solidarity. Call a Palestinian friend and share your hope for a better future. We can’t take each other’s pain away, but we can make sure none of us navigates pain alone. Message your Jewish friends and tell them that you are horrified at what Hamas did in Southern Israel on October 7th. Empathize with their pain. Message your Muslim friends and let them know that vigilante revenge murders against Muslims anywhere in the world is immoral and will not be sanctioned.
And please, as Esther Perel wrote, be careful to separate people from the policies of their governments and from the actions of terrorists who live among them. Be careful not to collapse history and context into narrow interpretation. Be careful not to eschew complexity and nuance for the sake of memefication. Be careful to recognize that grief or support for one side does not mean hate for the other. Be careful not to lose empathy for those with whom you disagree. Be careful not to dehumanize others because when we do, we dehumanize ourselves. And lastly, please let us be tender with ourselves and each other. We have already lost so much, I pray we do not lose our minds. I fear that in the coming days and weeks, we will continue to see bloodshed and violence, and we will mourn collectively the loss of life - and somehow we need to find the grit and will to support each other as we work toward the ideals of justice and dignity for all people.
Let us not lose touch with the parts of ourselves that are needed most right now, and that which makes our city unique and a model for other cities, I hope: our compassion, our humanity, and our care.
Shema Koleinu, please God, hear our prayer.”
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