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“The Landscape Before Us,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

January 19, 2024 | 9 Sh’vat 5784

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat and this week, particularly, our Shabbat of Justice, Shabbat Tzedek. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings as we move toward Shabbat. This week I am scooping myself by offering the words I will present tonight and will also appear in Insight. Though it will be embellished tonight a bit, what follows is the basis of my topic. It feels important to share in multiple places. We will also reserve some time to share questions and thoughts and, as always, practice being in a brave space (see below) we strive for here at Temple Israel.

As the reality of October 7th set in, and in the midst of our mourning and despair, we began to consider how our world was turning upside down and inside out. Nothing would ever be exactly the same for those in Israel and also for the way we in the Jewish community could exist under the dark cloud of terrorism, death, and violence an ocean away. In addition, the rising tide of antisemitism screaming at us in our own neighborhoods, college campuses, secondary schools, and professional networks nearly swallowed us. So many people shared with me their sadness, disappointment, and turmoil from what they faced from those whom they regarded as leaders in their own orbits. We considered the existential threat to Israel and what it would and could mean to be Jewish in America. And the heavy weight of the tremendous loss of life and humanitarian crisis in Gaza greatly concerns us as well.

We are still in the midst of this very challenging narrative, and yet we still must figure out how to navigate a landscape that has changed and will continue to alter its course. Our clergy, along with our leadership, have set forth and been guided by four areas that have directed our actions, programming, and relationship building.

The first area is that awareness of Israel and, more importantly, concern for her wellbeing has grown stronger within our congregation as well as the greater community. The desire to learn more, to discover connections that had previously lay dormant has been awakened. At the same time, the desire to understand the complexities between Israelis and Palestinians and what might be possible to create a pathway to peace has spurred great interest and significance. Our programming has focused on Israel and the many organizations which help to foster peace as well on the effort to understand the geo-political landscape and the challenges present. We have seen that we cannot ignore the plight of the Palestinians as we seek to ensure the vitality, security and safety of Israel and Israelis.

The second area is a stirring of the importance of Judaism that may have been dormant. The Jewish spark has been kindled in people we might have considered lost or on the outer edge of Jewish life. We have welcomed many newly awakened seekers. We have also felt grateful for the presence of our synagogue in our lives as a central locus for positive and joyful experiences of Jewish life.

The third area is the underbelly of the anger projected on Israel and the Jewish people all over the world. We take security very seriously here with multiple layers, some of which we see and much we do not. Antisemitism is real and Jewish hate is insidious. Our awareness of hatred includes our Muslim colleagues and community who have faced hateful reactions as well. Bigotry is rampant and we are paying close attention. Yet the salve to this wound is the opportunity to foster and build up our relationships with the greater community, many of whom have reached out to us to support and to express their worry with us and for us.

The fourth area is the recognition that our synagogue must be a refuge and gathering space where we can and must be able to express where and how we see ourselves in light of all that is going on. Our community spans a spectrum where people may feel progressive about one facet and much more moderate about some other idea. It is not just being a safe space. We need to be brave; to have the strength to speak out and to listen; to challenge and to respect; to comfort and to disturb takes a kind of bravery to hold what does not fit into any neat package. We will not always agree — nor should we — but can act respectfully. We work hard to be curious rather than critical, and to connect in order to understand instead of cancelling another. It is not always smooth nor easy, but we must try our best. This is what it means to foster a brave space to ensure the strength of our synagogue community.

Opening up to learn more about Israel, Israelis, and Palestinians, feeling a renewed sense of connection to Judaism and being Jewish, facing and responding to antisemitism and Jew hatred while ensuring that we create a secure environment and foster a brave space where respect of viewpoints shared overpowers an unwillingness to listen and understand. These areas have guided us and helped to establish equilibrium and a shared desire for a strong synagogue community.

We are grateful to our members and all those in the Temple Israel orbit whose voices have risen together, sometimes with dissonance and other times in harmony. As our mission guides us: we are living Judaism together.

I continue to value the many comments you exchange with me through these Shabbat Awakenings. Share with me what you think here. Your email goes directly to me!


  • We come together as a community to celebrate Shabbat at 6:00 p.m.onsite or on ZoomFacebook Live, or our website
  • Torah Study gathers onsite or online at 9:00 a.m.
  • Thank Goodness it’s Shabbat gathers at 10:00 a.m. No registration necessary.
  • Family Concert with Evan Haller at 3:30 p.m. Register here.
  • Gather online to say goodbye to Shabbat with a lay-led Havdalah on Zoom at 8:00 p.m.
  • Join us onsite for a staged reading of The Glass Room Sunday at 4:00 p.m. onsite.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Elaine Zecher