Like so many of us, I am pained by the suffering of all who call the far eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea home. 

This includes the Palestinian people, who have been killed and exiled from their homes by Israel. I painfully carry with me the reality that from Deir Yassin to Sabra and Shatila, Palestinians suffer oppression and humiliation daily at Jewish hands, paying for the egregious sins of the Roman, Ottoman and British empires, to say nothing of Christian Europe, none of which they had anything to do with.

This also includes the Jewish people, some of whom, like my family, returned to our ancestral homeland after millenia of exile — some fleeing centuries of persecution in Europe that culminated in the Holocaust, others expelled from their homes in the Middle East and North Africa, who comprise the majority of Israel’s Jewish population. As virtually every Jewish prayer testifies, during the centuries we were in exile, we never abandoned hope of returning home to Israel. 

There are at least two truths crammed into that narrow sliver of land known as Palestine by some and Israel by others, and it can be incredibly painful to hold on to both of them. However, the root of violence is the belief that only “my” truth matters, but “your” truth does not. 

I know and acknowledge that in the long years in which the vast majority of Jews were in exile from our homeland, another people, the Palestinians, put down their own deep and meaningful roots in that land. For more than a century, these two deeply traumatized nations, each of which has been formed in part by their suffering, have fought war after war in the misguided hope that this time, violence and coercion will set them free. 

Violence might neutralize an immediate threat, but it never sets us free, and never truly liberates us from conflict.

Amid countless stories of war and violence, the Hebrew Bible offers a path for transforming conflict which I believe can help us here. We are taught (Exodus 25:20) that in the construction of the ancient holy ark, there are to be representations of two divine beings, standing with their arms outstretched, as if in surrender, each one facing the other. The Torah teaches that it is there — between those beings facing each other with openness and vulnerability — that the Holy One meets humanity. 

I’m an American Jew with deep and strong connections to the people, state and land of Israel, but I am not a policymaker, a soldier or even an Israeli. Bibi Netanyahu and Ismail Haniyeh can reach for guns in the deluded hope that they will force their opponents into submission in the second century of this conflict, despite the failure of that approach during the first century of this conflict. I don’t think there is anything I can do to dissuade them from that destructive path. 

And we can replicate that dynamic here, reaching not, thank God, for guns, but for the symbolic power of the Beacon City Council, hoping that if the council agrees with “us,” we can coerce “them” to seeing things our way. 

We can choose to do that, but we don’t have to. Here in Beacon, we can draw on our own traditions to do something better. 

In 1977, there were several days of violence along racial lines in our small city. In that moment, wise-hearted leaders came together to create opportunities for dialogue and growth, not more coercive violence. That led to the Spirit of Beacon parade, and that is the spirit of Beacon we need. 

If the City Council decides to pass a simple declaration denouncing only Israel — or Hamas, for that matter — it will have no impact on the horrific loss of life there, but it will strain, if not shred, the social fabric here in Beacon. We can and should do better than that. 

Even if those we love in Israel and Palestine cannot yet do so, I hope that, when the tensions of the Middle East are so palpable in Beacon, the City Council will embrace the Spirit of 1977 and lead us on a path of dialogue and reconciliation.

Behind The Story

Type: Opinion

Opinion: Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.

Brent Chaim Spodek is the rabbi at the Beacon Hebrew Alliance.

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14 Comments

  1. As the former chair of Spirit of Beacon Day, I was taken aback by Rabbi Spodek’s column in which his proposed local solution to addressing the war on Gaza would be to go the route of coming together to have something like a Spirit of Beacon Day Parade instead of the City Council passing a cease-fire resolution.

    Rabbi Spodek is responding to the request of several citizens of Beacon — Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Christian, undeclared — to have a permanent cease-fire, the return of all hostages and kidnapped and detained Palestinians and the defunding of Israel by the U.S. (and, by extension, New York and Beacon tax dollars).

    He attempts to relate the mega-homicide going on in Palestine to the racial riots by some of Beacon’s youth in 1977, which went on for days. Those riots had physical clashes but nothing close to the mutilation of bodies we have seen of the children of Gaza, the digging of Palestinians from the rubble or the systematic destruction of schools, hospitals, mosques and churches that occurred after Oct. 7 but also occurred before that date under Israel’s occupation.

    If a cease-fire resolution in Beacon is fruitless, why the pushback against it? Rabbi Spodek says it would “strain, if not shred, the social fabric here in Beacon.” However, Beacon residents who have family and land in Palestine are already strained as they text each morning and night to see if their family and friends are still alive. With the rejection of the consideration of a cease-fire resolution, the community that supports Palestine feels even more not seen or heard.

    In the spirit of having dialogue, one could argue that a cease-fire resolution is spot-on with what the Spirit of Beacon “spirit” would aim to accomplish: bringing together community members in the public forum of City Hall to stand against the slaughter of Palestinian doctors, journalists, parents, children, teachers, aid workers, donkeys, lambs, olive trees and anything that is alive in Palestine.

  2. I am a Beacon resident who is strongly in favor of the nuanced statements that Rabbi Spodek outlines in his My View column. For me, what is most striking is his line: “The root of violence is the belief that only ‘my’ truth matters, ‘your’ truth does not.”

    Irrespective of one’s views on the absolute tragedy that is unfolding in the Middle East, any hope for a diverse community like ours is for people from a variety of perspectives to come together for genuine and openhearted dialogue with the goal of sustained peace. This doesn’t eliminate the presence of real pain for everyone involved — and neither would a local governing body passing a resolution that is surely outside its purview.

    Frankly, we cannot afford more division in our community. The priority must be a conversation and an expression of shared grief. It won’t be easy, but there may be an underlying simplicity to it that we are all not acknowledging: The shared nature of the human experience is a rich currency.

    I pray we can all lean into that collective knowingness and that local governments in the Hudson Valley see that the path forward is by sponsoring events that bring people together with thoughtfulness and sincerity.

  3. Rabbi Spodek was not making any sort of moral or numerical equivalency between the death and destruction taking place in Gaza and the much smaller-scale violence that occurred in our city in 1977. Instead, with his thoughtful, sensitive and nuanced proposals, he is arguing that the response to that moment in Beacon is a useful guide for how we can respond now.

    Our City Council, which has no foreign policy advisory staff, hosts no embassies and posts no ambassadors to foreign governments, should not “take sides” in this conflict. Instead, local elected officials can help facilitate dialogue and understanding as many of our neighbors’ experience and process the pain of what is happening on both sides of this conflict.

  4. The fact that the initial proposed resolution had no mention of the Oct. 7 massacre of 1,200 Israelis says a lot. The joyful celebration of murdering children in front of their parents and vice versa, of men and women being murdered and mutilated and raped, was shocking. After pushback, a revised resolution was proposed that barely mentioned the massacre or the hostages. I am certainly not celebrating the deaths of civilians in Gaza, nor are my family and friends in Israel. I am shocked and saddened by the carnage on both sides.

    I have relatives who died in the Holocaust and friends and family who live in Israel. I am not a Bibi Netanyahu supporter. Yet when I see and hear “Zionism = Terrorism” and “from the river to the sea” in chants and on posters in Beacon, I know exactly what that means. I was shocked and saddened at the council meeting, where almost no one expressed any sadness or sorrow about the massacre or the hostages.

    I don’t have any easy answer to this horror, but I know that passing this one-sided resolution would make me feel unwelcome in Beacon. As it is, I feel unsafe wearing anything that might show my Jewish identity. I have never had that feeling in my 68 years anywhere before in the many places I have lived in this country.

    This resolution does nothing and solves nothing, and only would leave many people feeling uneasy. We elect these officials to take care of city business, not to get involved in complex, historical and emotional international affairs. Thank you to the Beacon City Council for doing the right thing.

  5. If the answer is black or white, never ask politicians for their opinion if that opinion might affect their getting elected, but genocide is genocide. As for the Zionists who are running Israel and our nation, we are in trouble. As stated before, Zionism is not a religion, it’s a cult being run by Netanyahu, who has no intention of ever giving any rights to the Palestinians. There will be no two-state solution, the Zionist of Israel never bargained in good faith for it and never will.

    It’s not a “complicated” situation. You have an occupier (Israeli) stealing land, killing any men, women and children they see (even their own), saying it’s Hamas, but then scream and cry saying they are the “victims” when the occupied and oppressed Palestinians who are living in an open-air concentration camp had enough and fight back.

    This screaming that antisemitism is on the rise is total BS. Anyone who graduated from first grade and has any morals knows that saying genocide is genocide is just telling the truth. But the Zionists have bought our politicians and media, so you cannot have that opinion without being called antisemite, racist or a self-hating Jew. Let’s wake up and smell the coffee. Millions of innocent Jews around the world and in the U.S. are being grouped in with this genocidal cult and are paying a price for it. But look around they are out there protesting with Palestinians, Muslims, Catholics and millions of others around the world against this ongoing genocide. On the two truths, there is only one, genocide is genocide.

  6. There is only one truth that I keep hearing from everyone in Beacon, including the Rabbi. We all want:

    1. Humanitarian pause of all military operations in and around Gaza.
    2. All civilians to receive urgent access to medical treatment, food, water and safety.
    3. The immediate release of all political prisoners held hostage.
    4. All militaries in this conflict to abide by international law.
    5. All perpetrators of war crimes and terrorism brought to justice.

    I have 12 elected representative in U.S. government and none of the eight above the City Council are voicing this reasonable shared popular perspective. And then I learn that my Congressman, Rep. Pat Ryan, accepted $25,000 from the Israeli Superpac lobbying against requirements that U.S. military aid be used in accordance with international law. And then I learn that Netanyahu began selling natural-gas rights off the shores of Gaza to U.S. energy corporations after the war began. And so I accept that I do not have the money and influence to bend my politicians’ ears, as well.

    Like the 48 U.S. cities that have passed resolutions calling for a cease-fire, according to Reuters, I ask my City Council representatives to use our collective power to represent our local truth because it is reasonable, it is urgent, and it is not being represented in the levels above. I respect that Brent is vocalizing his truth here and I believe he’s trying to represent the real fears and pain of members within our local Jewish community. But, I hope that he can also be a leader in our larger Beacon community and help us come together around our one truth with love, community, mutual empathy and respect for the pain and fears of all of our neighbors.

    1. Well put. As it seems we are the bottom-feeders whose opinion and desires are not being represented by our elected officials, especially when they are taking bribes from AIPAC.

  7. We never fully understand people’s motives. What is the intention here? And, why are we equivocating dialogue with a cease-fire? I cannot understand this and, as one of our community members stated last night (Feb. 20), at the City Council meeting, “It doesn’t make sense.”

    What I do understand is that our ask for a cease-fire not only supports our community members who are witnessing an erasure of their people, it sends a message to Rep. Pat Ryan — an important message that we must stop the murdering of people in Rafah; and in Gaza. The intention is to stop this genocide and start supporting the healing of so many. I don’t even know what that looks like but I’d love to participate in it. But, first, the murdering has to stop.

    The intention in this letter by Rabbi Brent seems to be to preserve his leadership and his holy land. What is there to talk about? Remind people that you matter? You do matter and so do the thousands and thousands and thousands of people who are dead and the thousands and thousands who are suffering. As do those who have died or are suffering in Israel.

  8. It interests me that a man of God won’t outright call for a cease-fire while representing a community with such strong faith and morals. I’ve heard people state that a ceasefire would compromise their safety, yet fail to care about anyone else’s safety. Another line of nonsense I have heard is: “I want a cease-fire, but the city shouldn’t get involved.”

    Shame on Rabbi Spodek and shame on anyone who is not for a cease-fire and an end to the occupation. To set the record straight, it is an ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Gaza is a small, open-air concentration camp in occupied Palestine.

  9. Thank you, Rabbi Spodek, for attempting to foster dialogue in our community. I hope there are partners willing to have the conversation. [via Instagram]

  10. It is strange that Rabbi Spodek claims we are powerless to affect anything in Israel and Gaza. In fact, our tax dollars provide Israel with its weapons, and the U.S. government could stop this war at any moment. Passing cease-fire resolutions, as Newburgh has done, is a good way to put pressure on elected officials, such as Rep. Pat Ryan and our two senators, to stop this insane slaughter of civilians. [via Facebook]

  11. Some comments prove the whole point of his article. Did those who express outrage at the deaths in Gaza also protest the unprovoked and grotesque mutilation of Israelis on Oct. 7? Or do people only have room in their hearts for the suffering of one side? Perhaps there’s only one truth people can see at one time.

    1. There is outrage and horror at the slaughter of innocents, regardless of where it occurred, but there is no ‘win’ for either side by allowing this slaughter to continue. Regardless of people’s political views, war is always a horror, and, in this particular case, continuation of the war will only serve to inflame hatred between the two. The pursuit of peace has taken a backseat to repression and injustice for far too long, with terror and death the sad outcome.

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