Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu
by Dr. Dan Glass, Head of School
It has been a challenging week
for those of us who care about Israel; for those who have friends, family, and loved ones there; for those who still hope for a lasting peace for both Israelis and Palestianians. Any time people are killed in the ongoing conflict, the rifts widen, and the families and communities undone by the loss are never the same; the dehumanizing impact of violence moves in generational cycles. And the current violence is happening against the backdrop of what appear to be autocratic governmental reforms, with the confluence of Passover and Ramadan on the horizon. It is a frightening time for Israel.
On the first day of school each year, one of the songs we sing here at Brandeis is “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu,” or “Salaam,” a song written against the backdrop of the ongoing conflict in the region. The title roughly translates as “peace will come upon us yet.” We sing it at Brandeis to affirm our shared commitment to a more peaceful world for everyone, across the world.
This week in our parent minyan, we prayed for those impacted by the current wave of violence. And while we don’t know how much prayers will help, we do know that affirming our shared values, and our ongoing mutual connection, is as important now as it has ever been. It’s part of the work we have been doing with Resetting the Table in recent weeks, continuing to make space for our faculty to have “sustained conversations about important and challenging topics regarding contemporary Jewish life and practice,” as we put it in the Brandeis 2023 strategic plan
With that in mind, I am using this week’s space to share the joint statement written this week by JCRC Bay Area and the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, called “On Israel, Leading with Shared Values.” It is worth a few minutes of your time. I encourage you to read it, and to make time to check in with the Israelis in your life, whether your own family members, or parents in your child’s class. May peace come upon us all, yet.
With a deep love for Israel, and a strong stake in its future, we release this statement of our shared values, concerns, and commitments.
The Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund and JCRC Bay Area and unwaveringly embrace Israel as the Jewish and democratic state and are committed to upholding its safety and security. Israel is an integral part of Jewish identity for many Jews here in the Bay Area, and millions around the world.
Following free and fair democratic elections in November 2022, the most right-wing governing coalition in Israel's 75-year history coalesced. Across our community, the outcome provoked sadness, confusion, anxiety, and alarm, including in corners rarely expressing such reactions. Frequently raised are concerns about the coalition's more extreme members, whose track records of homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and anti-Arab racism stand in stark contrast to our beliefs and values. While it is difficult to predict what the new government will actually do, there is also great concern about its coalition platforms, agreements, rhetoric, and proposed legislation.
Across the Israeli political spectrum, there is growing recognition that divisions are being exacerbated – much like America. More broadly, there are growing worries about Israel’s future: its democratic nature, the protection of minority rights, its relationship with diaspora Jews, as well as the viability of a future independent Palestinian state.
It is not inherently antisemitic to criticize policies and actions of the Israeli government, or any government. Yet the actions of the Israeli government must never be used to delegitimize Israel’s existence or excuse antisemitism. We know from recent experiences, such as the aftermath of the May 2021 Israel-Gaza escalation, that criticism of Israel can cross the line
and lead to acts of antisemitism, including scapegoating, accusations of dual loyalty, and online bullying.
As Bay Area Jews, most of us are not Israeli voters, nor do we live with the same consequences as people on the ground. However, recognizing the shared peoplehood, traditions, and future of Bay Area and Israeli Jews, and our longstanding advocacy for a Jewish and democratic state, we believe we have a legitimate role to play in ongoing discussions about Israel’s future:
1) We believe in a strong liberal democracy that respects both the will of the majority as well as the rights and protections of minorities. The separation and division of powers between the judiciary and the legislative and executive branches must remain intact. A strong and independent judiciary provides critical checks and balances, including consideration of minority rights and constraint on the concentration of power. Any reforms to the judiciary should reflect a broad consensus of Israeli citizens rather than a narrow majority, and should preserve the rights and protections of minorities and equal application of the law.
We also believe a strong liberal democracy requires civil discourse and respectful disagreement. The rights of free speech and lawful dissent are basic and indispensable in a democratic society. Israel must maintain an atmosphere in which differing viewpoints are respected, while rejecting extremist rhetoric that incites hateful, illegal, and violent acts.
2) We hold that the diversity of the Jewish community is core to our strength, and underscores why Israel serves as a beacon for the entire Jewish world. We believe Israel should be a homeland for all Jews, regardless of religious practice, nation of origin, or lineage. We embrace Jewish pluralism, including our Orthodox and Haredi communities, and believe all Jewish families deserve equal recognition, legitimacy, and rights on issues such as marriage, divorce, adoption, conversion, access to holy sites, law of return, and more.
3) We believe in civil, economic, and social equality of all citizens of Israel, including its Arab citizens. While Israel’s Declaration of Independence
is clear about the equal treatment and inclusion of all, Israel has yet to fully live up to this promise. Just as the United States must right historical injustices, Israel must choose to strengthen protections, rights, and freedoms for historically disadvantaged communities.
The participation of Israel’s Arab minority in Israeli society contributes to its diverse fabric, and ensures the country’s continued political, social, and economic stability and prosperity. We believe it is the moral responsibility of elected leaders to promote engagement and investment in Israel’s Arab sector, rather than to sow division and distrust between its Arab and Jewish citizens.
Thanks to more than 40 years of relentless activism, Israel’s LGBTQ+ community has been a global trailblazer. Israel was among the first countries to allow openly gay and later openly transgender military service, as well as the provision of spousal benefits to same-sex couples. Israel must remain committed to the path of LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion by addressing homophobia and transphobia, continuing public spending to support education and health services, and attaining same-sex and civil marriage rights for all.
We similarly hold that women’s rights are fundamental, and that gender protections must be preserved and strengthened. At a time of decreased female representation in the Knesset, increased violence against women, and continued wage inequality, elected leadership must lift up the role of women in strengthening Israeli society by ensuring their equal participation and civil rights.
4) We believe the Palestinian people deserve to live in peace, security, and dignity and have the right to national self-determination. This vision includes an independent and viable Palestinian state within defined, secure, and internationally recognized borders, living side by side with the Jewish and democratic state of Israel. As a community, we have long championed the many coexistence programs working to build the trust, cooperation, and partnerships on the ground that will make a future peace between Israelis and Palestinians more likely.
We must pursue policies that strengthen, rather than impede, such possibilities for the Palestinian people, including the protection of human rights. Rhetoric of incitement will only serve to provoke wider conflict, and it is the responsibility of those in power to exercise restraint with their words and their actions. Palestinian territory and autonomy must also be respected, and the viability of a Palestinian state is essential for Israel’s Jewish and democratic future.