I woke up on October 7 to see that some family members had changed their social media profile pictures to an Israeli flag and were saying they “stand with Israel.” I soon learned why: Hundreds of Hamas fighters broke out of the blockade sealing Gaza and massacred hundreds of Israelis. While some were soldiers, many of those killed were civilians in their homes or at a concert. Hamas fighters also took 200 Israelis hostage in an attempt to push the release of more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners.
The knot in my stomach grew larger when Israel declared war. Officials from the most openly right-wing government in Israeli history pledged a total war not just against Hamas but against the “human animals” of Gaza. Soon, Israeli rockets began leveling buildings in one of the most densely populated regions of the world.
Within days, Israel had killed thousands of Palestinians. A month into the war, Israel has killed more than 4,000 Palestinian children alone.
Although Israel claims to be fighting Hamas, the war has also expanded to include the West Bank — where Fatah, not Hamas, is in power. There, settlers attack Palestinian civilians, and the Israeli army bombs Palestinian refugee camps.
While Israel, with the support of the United States, has used the Oct. 7 attack as a justification for war, many Jews have said that one atrocity does not justify another. Even some who lost loved ones on Oct. 7 have opposed the war. Noi Katzman, whose brother Hayim completed his Ph.D. at UW and was killed by Hamas, said the most important thing for their family “was that his death won’t be used to kill innocent people.” And yet, that is exactly what much of the U.S. political establishment continues to endorse through their support for Israel’s war.
Like many other Jews in Seattle and around the world, I have been in outraged mourning. Jewish tradition has specific rituals for grieving the dead. The formal mourning period lasts 30 days. During that time, dubbed “shloshim” from the Hebrew word for 30, the bereaved are supposed to avoid haircuts, new clothing or parties while they focus on grieving their loss. As with so many other aspects of Judaism, mourning is supposed to be a time of reflection and togetherness. During shloshim for those killed during and since Oct. 7, American Jews have refused to let grief be a call to war. We have called for a cease-fire and an end to the Israeli occupation.
As Americans, we reject the billions of dollars our government gives to Israel in the form of military aid. Funds from Congress, together with munitions from American companies such as the Washington-based Boeing, have enabled the Israeli occupation that sparked the horrific violence on Oct. 7. They are now being used to kill thousands of Palestinians — and to arrest, harass or displace hundreds of thousands more. Many of the bombs and other weapons used by Israel against the people of Gaza were manufactured in and paid for by the U.S. Especially as some Israeli officials declare their intentions to either destroy or depopulate Gaza, we have a responsibility to ensure that our government does not allow war crimes in our name.
As Jews, we know the harms of persecution and violence. Our holidays honor histories of perseverance in the face of displacement. Many of us have family who escaped pogroms or the Holocaust and carry the memories of family who did not survive. Many of us grew up singing ancestral songs of peace: “Lo yisa goy/ el goy cherev/ lo yil’medu/ od milchamah” (“A nation shall not raise/ a sword against a nation/ and they shall not learn/ any more war”).
Of the Holocaust, we were taught: Never Again. We are duty-bound by faith, tradition and history to protest injustice. The killing of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank is an abomination. War makes everyone less safe. And so we are adamant: Never Again for anyone.
Around the country, Jewish activists bring the best of Jewish tradition to bear in demanding a cease-fire, the release of the hostages and an end to Israeli apartheid. The scale of protest has expanded with the urgency of the war. Within days of the war’s onset, Jewish activists blocked entrances to the White House, were arrested inside the U. S. Capitol and shut down Grand Central Station in support of a cease-fire.
Hundreds of thousands of people around the country rallied in solidarity with Palestine on Nov. 4, followed by actions in Oakland and Tacoma to block a boat of weapons heading to Israel. While on the East Coast, activists shut down a Boeing factory outside of St. Charles, Missouri; in New York, they rallied together and called for a cease-fire at the Statue of Liberty.
Locally, Jews from across Seattle are holding regular protests both outside and inside Sen. Patty Murray’s downtown office demanding that she support a cease-fire. Murray is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which delegates discretionary spending, including the $14.3 billion military aid package Biden wants to send to Israel. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-7) is the only Washington state congressperson to have co-sponsored the cease-fire bill, originally written by Representatives Cori Bush of Missouri and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
At the conclusion of shloshim, the bereaved are meant to slowly begin resuming activities. But 30 days after the start of Israel’s war on Hamas, our mourning expands with each rocket strike. In protests outside of Sen. Murray’s office, we have recited a traditional prayer called the mourner’s kaddish. The kaddish speaks not of the dead but of our hope for the living: “May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us.”
The only way to mourn the 1,400 Israelis killed and the more than 10,000 Palestinians killed is to work urgently to stop war. Jewish tradition commands us to end war and seek justice. A cease-fire is the necessary first step to securing abundant peace and life for us all.
Dan Berger is a historian, the author of several books and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace.
Read more of the Nov. 8-14, 2023 issue.