A Weekly Message from Rabbi Sam Levine 5.12.23

May 12, 2023


This past Wednesday, we had a presentation from Founder and President of the Center for Peace Communications (and EMJC member) Joseph Braude. The Center for Peace Communications, a New York-based non-profit, works to “roll back divisive ideologies and foster a mindset of inclusion and engagement” in the Middle East and North Africa. They recently produced a series of 25 videos featuring interviews with residents of the Gaza Strip. As the Times of Israel put it, the videos feature “ordinary people telling authentic stories about common problems that are drastically exacerbated by Hamas’s control, ordinary people with expectations and aspirations and dreams — from running a pharmacy to working as a journalist to simply dancing — that they are forbidden from realizing.” (You can watch them here, among other places – I highly recommend them.)


The coincidence of Wednesday’s presentation with the current cross-border conflict between Israel and Islamic Jihad (operating with the tacit approval of, if not direct participation with Hamas), was poignant. A significant majority of Gazans are deeply unhappy with life under the brutal and corrupt rule of Hamas. But the current conflagration only highlights the fervency with which hate is allowed to flourish in certain segments of certain societies. The rockets raining down on Israel from Gaza do not represent the majority of the Gazan population, but they do tell a story of intractable hate by the “true believers” of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.


One speaker on March’s Mission to Israel that I participated in noted (with regard to both Palestinians and Israelis) that one of the (seemingly) intractable problems of the conflict is that at some point, hate becomes “the thing itself” – that it becomes, in essence, its own religion, and that the prospect of losing it – of giving it up – is akin to losing a limb. People become so invested in their hatred of the other that it does take on the quality of religious fervency. And as often as not, it is fundamentalists and religious zealots, practiced in religious fervency, who lead the charge. Next Friday is Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), a day that has always been meaningful to me (that being the place of my birth). A flag of Jerusalem – blue, white, and yellow, with the Lion of Judah replacing the Jewish Star in the center – still hangs over my childhood bed in my mother’s home in Toronto. But Yom Yerushalayim has become yet another “flashpoint day” in Israel, with the relatively new practice of thousands of religious ultra-nationalists marching through the streets of the Old City, and the Muslim Quarter in particular, violently threatening the Arab inhabitants and shopkeepers. Last year, some 60 people were injured, and chants of “Death to the Arabs” reverberated far beyond the walls of the Old City. The year before, the march was credited with helping to spark the 11-day war with Hamas. 


On the one hand, I can understand why it is so hard to let go of hatred; It’s like a drug – it’s such an emotionally easy solution. I need to do no work to arrive at that point. I just need to let go. Hatred is a warm bath. In contrast, reconciliation and the pursuit of peace take work. And it’s not very “sexy” work, at that. It speaks to my head, not my heart. 


On the other hand, this phenomenon represents perhaps the great conundrum of religion – how can a religious viewpoint, a religious life, tolerate so much hate? How does the transformation take place? How is it that people who profess to believe in a God of peace, who hold up saints and heroes as icons of peace, who pray daily for peace, can sink into the abyss of hatred with no sense of irony?


As dispiriting as the question is, Wednesday’s presentation reminds us that most people do not celebrate hate. Most people want to live their lives without fear of violence. Most people want only to be allowed to pursue their dreams, whether that means running a business, being able to attempt a career in the arts, having the freedom to travel and experience other cultures. This is a universal truth, and is certainly true on both sides of the border. We have to believe that most people want lives free from missiles raining down on them, free from violent and provocative rhetoric, free from having to witness the seething hatred in the eyes of a neighbor. 


Let us all commit ourselves to continuing to learn about the situation in Israel and the Middle East. Knowledge and understanding are our greatest tools – without them, we risk slipping into the narrative of blind hate; with them, we can build toward a better future.


Shabbat shalom um’vorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat,


Rabbi Sam


  1. S.: below please find three announcements that I sent out in the blast this week, in case you missed them there.


High Holy Day machzor (prayerbook) for ONLINE services

This fall, High Holy Day services will be conducted exclusively out of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Machzor Lev Shalem for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The synagogue has purchased copies for use in the sanctuaryWe will no longer be announcing pages from the Silverman machzor. If you are going to be attending virtually (on Zoom or via live-streaming) and would like to follow the page announcements, you have two options:


  1. You can purchase your own copyof the machzor by calling the distributor, G & H Soho, at 201-216-9400 ext. 2.For delivery by the end of August, place your order by August 24. You can also order online here.

It may also be available on Amazon.


  1. We will make a certain number of digital copiesavailable on a first-come first-served basis (we lease copies for use during the High Holy Day season). Since we pay a small amount for each individual license, a donation to the synagogue would be appreciated to cover the cost. 


Please note that if you are using a digital copy, unless you have a second computer screen or tablet, you will not easily be able to view the service and the text of the prayerbook simultaneously. For this reason, it is preferable to have a hard copy of the machzor in your hands.


Hakarat haTov (Acknowledging the good things)

Do you have good news to share? We’d love to hear it. Send in your family simchas, personal achievements, and any good news that you’d like to share with the community so we can spread it around! Email info@emjc.org.


Congratulations to the Zidell family. Last week, Blake and Shana Zidell’s daughter Arlo was called to the Torah as a bat mitzvah on our bima. Brother Abe’s turn will be coming up before you know it. 


Mazal tov, too, to Pearl and Harvey Berkowsky on their granddaughter Lily’s becoming bat mitzvah, and mazal tov to proud parents Ariel Chesler and Shannon Berkowsky.


Every year, Hannah Senesh Hebrew Day School publishes a school calendar and searches for the best student art for its cover. Shira Stone and Gail Horowitz’s daughter Yardena nabbed the honor. Well done!


Speaking of the Hannah Senesh School, Matan Levine, son of Rabbi Sam Levine and Courtney Walsh, just returned from a two-week trip to Israel with his eighth-grade classmates. He reports that his favorite experience in Israel was visiting the Aqua Kef water park on the Kinneret! 


What have we missed? We know lots of kids will be graduating soon. Tell us!


Returning prayerbooks

If you borrowed a prayerbook for Zoom services at the peak of COVID and are no longer using it, please return it to the synagogue or consider making a donation so that we may purchase replacements. As more people return for services (especially for big simchas), we need more prayerbooks. Thanks!