“A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”
These words from the prophet Jeremiah are not in the scripture readings appointed for today, but they are the verses of scripture that have been forefront in my mind the last two weeks.
Those words uttered by the prophet more than 2,500 years ago have been playing on our tv screens since the terrorist attack on Israel earlier this month.
We have seen the pictures and heard the stories of the slaughter of Israelis at a music festival, of entire families killed, of more than 200 people taken hostage.
As President Biden said, the attack on Israel by Hamas, a terrorist group whose stated purpose is the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews, is nothing less than pure, unadulterated evil.
There is no justification for the attacks, just as there was no justification for the terrorist attacks on this country a little more than two decades ago.
Israelis are not the only victims of Hamas’ attacks. Innocent Palestinians are also dying and suffering. Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people or have their best interests at heart. There are reports of Hamas using innocent Palestinians as human shields, and that the deadly explosion at a hospital this week was from a Hamas missile.
Gaza is running out of food, water, medicine, and other supplies in what aid groups call a rapidly growing humanitarian crisis.
This crisis for both Jews and Palestinians has repercussions here.
Incidents of antisemitic and Islamophobic hate have increased in the last two weeks, including the vandalism of a Jewish fraternity house at Georgia Tech this week. Both Jews and Muslims living in this country are fearful.
Rachel Timoner, senior rabbi at a synagogue in Brooklyn, said in a sermon last week that one member of her congregation told her through tears that she was considering removing her mezuza from her door.
“That is what terrorism is intended to do: to terrify us,” Timoner said. “And to make us and the world feel that maybe, maybe we deserve it.
“I said to my congregant, and I plead to all my fellow Jews: Please, please do not take your mezuza off your door. Please do not stop assembling in your synagogues to be together. Please do not take your star from around your neck. Please do not stop living as proud Jews.”
Timoner believes that a cease-fire is not possible until the hostages are freed and Hamas is incapacitated. “Those are necessities,” she said.
“But because we are all created in God’s image we must also plead, pray, and lobby for Israel to focus on those must urgent priorities and stop all indiscriminate attacks on Palestinians.
“We must reject barbaric calls for the annihilation of Palestinians; we must decry all acts of blind vengeance. Killing thousands of Palestinian civilians will not bring back the Israeli civilians who are so bitterly and excruciatingly mourned.”
Palestinian and Muslim Americans are both fearful in the wake of the attacks.
“There are no fun or easy options for American Palestinians at the moment,” Stephanie Nadi Olson said in an interview with Fortune magazine.
“I want to concurrently scream into the void that we should be demanding the stop of Palestinian genocide, embrace my Jewish friends who are also living through great fear and suffering right now, and keep my mouth shut altogether out of fear.”
“As a Muslim, my heart aches witnessing the brutal acts of Hamas, and I hold a sincere hope that the Israeli response won’t add to the spiral of hatred that has been burdening us all,” said Columbia University student Ahmed Al Qutaini.
“If we see only evil in one another, we miss the profound truth. Now, more than ever, we must advocate for peace, embrace each other’s challenges, and see understanding. Together, we can weave a tapestry of peace from the shared threads of our pain.”
The fears of American Jews and Muslims are not unfounded.
This week a six-year-old boy, Wadea Al Fayoume, was stabbed to death near Chicago because he was Muslim. His mother was also stabbed a dozen times, but survived.
The family’s landlord has been arrested and charged with the attacks.
And as I was writing this sermon news broke that Saturday morning in Detroit, Samantha Woll, the president of a local synagogue, was also stabbed to death.
It should go without saying that there is no room for religious hate and bigotry in any of the three Abrahamic religions. All of us are children of Abraham.
Right now in worship we are using Eucharistic Prayer C, known to many Episcopalians as the Star Wars prayer because it talks about “the vast expanse of interstellar space.” If you look at it in the Book of Common Prayer and compare it to the service leaflet you will find that we have altered it a bit.
The official prayer book version talks about the “God of our fathers, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” We, and many of my colleagues, add women to the mix — our mothers, Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel.
But a while ago I realized that was not complete, either. Jacob had two wives, sisters, named Rachel and Leah. So I added Leah to the prayer.
And Abraham fathered a child named Ishmael with his slave Hagar, so I also added her. Ishmael’s descendants include Muhammad, so Ishmael is considered one of the fathers of Islam.
I love that every Sunday that we use this prayer we are acknowledging three great religions — Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, all part of the same family, all acknowledging the same God in different ways.
To paraphrase Rabbi Timoner, I pray that the hostages are freed, that Hamas’ reign of terror comes to an end, and innocent lives of Palestinians and Israelis are saved.
And I pray that someday, all people will see Jews, Muslims, and Christians in their goodness, in their pain, and in their humanity, just as our one God sees us all.