I love Shabbat (the Jewish day of rest). I end my workweek in the early afternoon on Friday and bake the challah bread that I will bless. My daughter, who is away at college, sends me pictures of her challah. Hers usually comes out better than mine, and I am proud. But since October 7th, when Hamas militants massacred 1,400 Israelis, young people at an outdoor rave, entire families, and then Israel, drunk with revenge started carpet bombing, I haven’t felt able to light the Shabbat candles that usually warm my heart. The death toll keeps climbing – 2,000 killed, 5,000 killed, as I write this, over 9,000 lives, one-third of them children, are gone. Tomorrow the number will be higher. How can I enjoy the smell of bread baking while Israel’s siege is preventing food, water, and medicine from entering?
I traveled this past weekend to Alex Haley Farm in Tennessee for a retreat convened by Red Letter Christians, a movement whose motto is Jesus and Justice. I had been looking forward to the retreat for months, but given the depths to which my heart was aching and how unconnected I was feeling to my faith, I found myself trepidacious about being the only Jew at a Christian gathering.
Upon arrival though, surrounded by people who literally melt down guns and turn them into garden tools, a former soldier, now committed to militant nonviolence, and a woman who runs a Christian abortion rights organization, I knew that I was home among my people.
During the Sunday morning service and communion, led by Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, who spearheads Episcopal efforts of racial reconciliation, I rediscovered my connection to G-d. Amid songs of worship, I whispered She’ma Yisraeli, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai E’chad (Hear O Israel, the Eternal is G-d. The Eternal is one). Graciously welcomed to join from my own religion, I took a piece of the bread they were passing around for communion and said motzi (Jewish blessings before eating a meal). I cried and for the first time in weeks felt hope for the future of humanity.
Amid ongoing bombing with no end in sight, and an announced intention by Israel to bomb Al Quds hospital in Gaza City, other horrors are occurring as well. In the Russian province of Makhachkala, a pogrom took place as a mob, chanting antisemitic slogans surrounded an airplane, aiming to attack Jews on board. At American University in Washington, D.C. a Palestinian-American professor had a death threat slipped under the door of his office. At Cornell University, my alma mater, threats to kill and rape Jews caused a kosher dining hall to be placed on lockdown.
I don’t know how high the death toll in Gaza will climb or if the U.S. will be dragged into an all-out Middle East war. But after my experience this past weekend with the Red Letter Christians, and given the huge numbers of Evangelical Christians who support Israel’s actions, I am more convinced than ever of the need to embrace the interfaith aspect of our Beloved Community as we deepen and expand our calls for a ceasefire.
The families of the Israeli hostages being held in Gaza have adopted the chant “Everyone for Everyone,” pleading for their government to agree to release all Palestinian political prisoners in exchange for their loved ones. Their cry has meaning far beyond the situation they are speaking to. Everyone for Everyone must be adopted by all of us. It is only through solidarity, a collective commitment to nonviolence and a struggle against all forms of hatred and oppression, that we can help the world to recognize that all people, no matter their religion, race, or nationality, are created in the image of G-d.
*Writing “G-d” instead of God is a custom of some Jews as a symbol of respect.
Ariel Gold is the Executive Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the oldest interfaith peace and justice organization in the world.