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Dear Friends,

Six months ago we awoke to news that the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust was underway. The reports were horrific. The images that eventually came out were worse. And it was immediately clear that after years of violence in the region, this was something different.

Six months later the situation is even worse.
–Every Israeli remains traumatized by the attack, the existential threat of Iran and its proxies, the massive disruption caused by the war and the failure of their own government and military to protect them.
–Tens of thousands of Israelis remain displaced. They are unable to return to their homes, assuming they are still standing, in the Gaza Envelope due to ongoing rocket fire from Gaza. They are unable to return to their homes in the north due to daily rocket fire from Hezbollah in Lebanon. (Sadly, the constant rocket barrages have been shockingly underreported by western news outlets.)
–Hundreds of Israeli soldiers have been killed and thousands have been injured.
–Millions of Gaza’s non-combatants have been displaced and far too many have died.
–The humanitarian crisis in Gaza continues to grow.

–And six months later, Hamas continues to hold 130 of the hostages they cruelly took on October 7th.

Far too much suffering exists on both sides of this conflict. There is no doubt that a humanitarian pause is needed to rapidly expand relief efforts in Gaza. But there is also no doubt that with the help of social media, an organized campaign to vilify Israel, and political gamesmanship in an election year, that Hamas continues to hold most of the cards.

Since the beginning of this conflict, I have tried to avoid litigating the war and instead tried to focus on the suffering and needs of our community. That has, at times, been misinterpreted as my not being concerned for the wellbeing of the non-combatants in Gaza. That is far from the case. But in the absence of military training, and the presence of a tremendous amount of misinformation (more than 20% of the social media posts on this conflict are propaganda that comes directly from Iran), I did not feel qualified to litigate the war itself. Instead, I tried to focus on what I do know; the pain and suffering in our community and the need for Israel to know we stand with them.

But let me be clear: for the sake of Israel and the civilians in Gaza I want this war to be over. Israel does, too. I know that for a fact because I have heard it from every Israeli friend and colleague with whom I have spoken.

But too often, I believe we have lost the thread.

On October 7th Hamas attacked Israel, brutally murdered over 1,200 people and kidnapped hundreds. They came in planning to inflict far more damage than the unimaginable carnage they succeeded in causing, and have vowed to repeat October 7th if they are allowed to remain in power.

As Hamas hoped and expected, Israel responded by unleashing their military might. They have forced Israel to fight a war unlike any previously seen. They built their military infrastructure beneath the civilian structures and created a tunnel system more extensive than the London Underground.

Their propaganda machine has been working overtime and for reasons that still escape me, the international community has taken the word of a terror organization over that of a functioning, albeit flawed, democracy.

The result is exactly what Hamas cynically hoped to achieve—there is tremendous suffering among Israelis and Gazans alike.

But six months after the attack, Hamas still holds 130 hostages. And the world seems to have forgotten.

Thankfully, not everyone has.

At a recent Maplewood Town Council Meeting, former Maplewood Mayor Dean Dafis offered a thoughtful and balanced statement on the conflict.

And last night Chris Cuomo offered these powerful thoughts.

I want this war to end. And the first step toward that is for us to make our call for Hamas to release the remaining hostages AND for Israel to facilitate the transfer of more humanitarian aid and insist the international community do the same.

In the meantime, at services this evening we will offer the prayer for the redemption of hostages. Whether you attend services or not, I invite you to join in offering this prayer with us at 6:05pm:

Acheinu kol beit yisrael, han’nutunim b’tzara uvashivyah, haomdim bein bayam uvein bayabasha. Hamakom Y’racheim Aleihem v’yotziem mitzra lirvacha um’afaila l’orah umishiabud lig’ulah, hashta ba’agala uvizman kariv. V’nomar: Amen

Our family, the whole house of Israel, who are in distress, or in captivity — who stand either in the sea or on dry land — may the Omnipresent have mercy on them and take them out from narrowness to expanse, and from darkness to light, and from oppression to redemption, now, swiftly, and soon!

Baruch atah Adonai, Elohainu melech haolam, matir asurim.

Blessed are You Adonai, Lord our God, King of the universe, who frees the captive.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Daniel Cohen