Despite our anguish, we are commanded to act with compassion


We lament the brutal invasion of Israel and the murder and abduction of so many Israelis and others in Israel on Oct. 7. There is nothing that will ever allow us or the world to excuse or forgive the unspeakable brutality of the Hamas invasion.

We understand the fear, the horror, the mourning, the sadness and the anger our families and friends in Israel and around the world experienced then and continue to experience now. All humanity experienced a deep moral injury on Oct. 7, a moment when we had to look into the human psyche, and found a barbarity there that was previously unimaginable.

And yet, we must go on. None of what the people in Israel, in Gaza, in the Diaspora or in the rest of the world experienced absolves us from the responsibility to be human, to repair what is broken.

Our Jewish tradition teaches us to value all human life and to respect the dignity of others. As Hillel the Elder said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.”

To live in the way that we are commanded means we must always defend ourselves, but we also must respect the lives and dignity of others.

During this challenging time, we find ourselves focusing on one central Jewish value, the idea that human life is holy; it is our most precious gift. Our belief in the value of human life is what sustained us as a community when we were despised, when we were driven from place to place, when people tried to force us to convert or take God’s name in vain.

So we urge the government of Israel and that of the United States, and people and governments around the world, to make a superhuman effort to provide robust humanitarian and medical aid to the people of Gaza, who are also suffering now, along with assistance to the people and communities in Israel that have suffered unimaginable horrors.

We have no illusions about the dangers that Israel faces or about the many roadblocks to peace. But we also know that we were strangers in Egypt, and the Torah repeatedly invokes the memory of our suffering there to remind us of our obligation to be compassionate and humane.

We lived in exile for more than 2,000 years; that exile taught us how essential kindness and compassion are for our survival and the survival of all humanity.

We have carried with us a yearning for our homeland that never left us, a determination to survive and a hope for a better future, which sustains us to this day.

Who is more determined than we are to take care of one another and keep one another safe and secure? And who is also better able to understand the yearning and dreams of the Palestinians?

As Jews, we feel a keen sense of responsibility to Israel, to our people and to the world, to help find a pathway to peace. Surely that pathway begins by leaning into the shared humanity of all people, and by acting with kindness and compassion for others in their time of need, even as the IDF does its best to hunt down and destroy the organization that perpetrated the murder and mayhem of Oct. 7.

The hostages must be returned today. We must all do anything and everything to ensure their safe return.

We don’t live in Israel. We don’t know what it is like to live under constant threat. But we do know that the anguish of Israelis and the suffering of another people is not a way to peace.

We urge full humanitarian and medical aid to the people of Gaza, and we simultaneously urge the world to understand the depth of Israel’s distress and desire to live in peace and security.

We pray that leaders of both the Israeli and Palestinian people can find the courage and strength to envision and actualize a new reality, in which both can dwell in peace, side by side.

We share the dream of the prophet Isaiah: “In all of My sacred mount [the Holy Land] nothing evil or vile shall be done; for the land shall be filled with devotion to God as water covers the sea.”

MICHAEL FINE is a writer, community organizer, family physician and public health official.

WAYNE FRANKLIN is senior rabbi emeritus of Temple Emanu-El, in Providence.

opinion, Michael Fine, Rabbi Wayne Franklin