By Nancy Kho
In the immediate wake of the heinous Hamas attack on Israel on Saturday, October 7, many of us struggled with how to respond in a meaningful way. Our Jewish and Israeli neighbors were traumatized, and it was also clear that innocent people in the Gaza strip would be harmed by an Israeli counterattack. In the week that followed, with division and hatred highlighted on social media and in the streets, the challenge was to find a response that showed compassion, faith, and a recognition of complexity and shared humanity of the situation.
A few members of St. John’s found a step to take that was simple but felt profoundly meaningful. Earlier in the week, Senior Rabbi Jackie Mates-Muchin had issued an invitation to the greater Oakland interfaith community:
My community and I are having a difficult time. The details of the atrocities committed by Hamas are inconceivable; women raped, murdered, and paraded naked through the streets, babies decapitated in their cribs, entire families kidnapped. It is so horrible. And of course, the details also bring up, for us, other times in our history where Jews were so brutally murdered. We appreciate that so many countries have decried Hamas’ actions, including ours, and yet we are feeling alone.
Of course, there is a lot to unpack and discuss about the overall situation with Israel and Palestine, and there must come a time when peace is a possibility. But right now, our East Bay Jewish community is in need of friends and support. We understand that there has been a call put out to rise up in support of Hamas and we are concerned that could mean individuals seeking to do harm to Jewish communities. We are feeling vulnerable. In that spirit, I want to invite you to join us for Shabbat Services this Friday night.
May the One who makes peace in the high heavens make peace for all of us here on earth.
In friendship, Rabbi Jackie Mates-Muchin
A few of us agreed to meet at Temple Sinai where some of us had attended b’nai mitzvahs in the past. The beautiful space, at the corner of 28th and Webster Street, was packed with worshippers who welcomed us warmly when they saw our St. John’s name badges.
Rabbi Mates-Muchin started the service by welcoming “our friends in Oakland from other religious faiths,” asking the St. John’s contingent to wave hello. But we weren’t alone: there was a pew full of Southern Baptists, a Methodist minister, and a faith leader from another congregation in the city. With the announcement of each group, I could hear audible gasps around us. “This is so kind,” whispered the women behind us. “This is so beautiful.” I felt the same way – at a time when there is so much to criticize about Oakland, this interfaith support for our vulnerable neighbors gave me unexpected hope.
One of the members of Temple Sinai had a cousin who was killed by Hamas on October 7. We know this is a complex geopolitical issue, but there is nothing complex about demonstrating to neighbors that they do not suffer or grieve alone. Nor is there a debate around whether innocents everywhere deserve safety and peace.
We will continue to seek ways to support our Jewish neighbors at this difficult time. Our intention is to also find ways to support Palestinian and Muslim neighbors in Oakland who may be vulnerable or grieving as well. If you know of ways to do that, please contact Father Scott and/or me.
I’ll close with a prayer from the Jewish prayer book that made me catch my breath, and an invitation to meditate on what it means for you:
Pray like everything depends on God.
Act like everything depends on you.