It is in the normal course of things that a congregational rabbi is expected to comment on moments of import. Many community members seek spiritual guidance and leadership, particularly around crises such as national calamities, episodes of antisemitism, major political events, and the like. Sometimes it’s a struggle to find something to say in those moments – something that isn’t too hackneyed or clichéd, something that meets the moment and looks at it, ideally, through a Jewish lens. Something that offers a bit of comfort or perspective.
Of course, the thing that is occupying all of our minds right now is the terrible and senseless war in Ukraine. I have struggled for two weeks now to figure out what message may console, calm, explain, offer hope. In truth, I come up empty-handed. I have no business playing the role of op-ed writer; I can find no universal truth in these events, at least not a comforting one; “thoughts and prayers” seems utterly insufficient, even if they are our only option.
What I know is that the lives of the Ukrainian people were turned upside-down in an instant. People who, like us, were living comfortable, stable, mostly-predictable lives, who were just about to start a new job, or graduate from high-school, or go to the dentist the next day, found themselves in a war. There was no provocation, nothing that would warrant such an attack, and despite the amassing of Russian troops on the border, there was no real reason to anticipate it. Now, there is a refugee crisis of global proportions, the world’s economy is in crisis, the threat of chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons is on the table, and there are a thousand questions about what the future holds for Ukraine, for Europe, and for the world. Pundits and Europe-watchers say that, barring some unforeseen event, this is likely to continue indefinitely.
My anguish around this war extends in many directions, and raises a host of feelings and questions: empathy for the Ukrainian people; troubling analogues to the beginning of World War II; the global instability already caused by the events, and the certainty that that will only grow; concern around the way that wars are reported when they involve white Europeans as opposed to others ethnicities or nationalities; opinions around no-fly zones and the response of NATO and the US, not to mention Israel; moral and philosophical questions around the idea that a single person (Putin) can cause so much anguish, despair, and disruption; and a host of other struggles and concerns. I have no answers.
We can create a forum for EMJC community members to come together and share their own questions, concerns, and fears around this evolving situation, letting our hearts speak, even if our minds are unsure of what to say. In the meantime, please do what you can to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. And yes, pray for peace.
Wishing you all Shabbat shalom um’vorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat,