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Rabbi’s Update 10/11/2023


Dear Friends:


We will be one of the co-sponsors for tomorrow night’s “Vigil of Jewish Solidarity and Support for Israel” at Har Shalom. The event will be livestreamed as well and while I understand that there are people in our community who have concerns about driving at night or being in crowded spaces due to COVID concerns, if you can attend in person it is important that you do so. The media, political leaders, and our brothers and sisters in Israel need to know that the American Jewish community cares, and one of the ways that care is measured, rightly or wrongly, is by the numbers of people who show up for events like this.


We are expecting very large numbers and Har Shalom has secured two offsite parking areas with bus transportation, in addition to the Har Shalom lot. The lots at the Mormon Meeting House, 11700 Falls Rd., and the Washington Hebrew Bindeman Center, 11810 Falls Rd., will both be open from 6:30 pm. Har Shalom itself is at 11510 Falls Rd. There will be a heavy police presence at the synagogue as well as both offsite parking locations. Please plan to come early and bring only small bags with you. Registration is NOT required for the event itself but IS required if babysitting is necessary -- see the details at https://www.harshalom.org/israelvigil.


If you absolutely cannot attend in person the event will be streamed at www.harshalom.org/livestream.


I want to share with you a couple of other thoughts.


Israelis across the political spectrum appreciated the moral clarity of Pres. Biden’s speech yesterday afternoon. Israeli pop star Kobi Oz Tweeted that listening to the speech, he felt like a lost child who had finally been found by his father. If you did not see it, or if you would like to see it again, it can be seen here.


Also yesterday afternoon, the JCRC presented a talk by Ambassador Dennis Ross, who served as a top State Department Middle East official during several different American administrations. I did not get the chance to participate due to other obligations but a number of our members who did participate let me know how clear and impressive it was. You can watch a video of his talk here


Israel Radio is reporting that a National Unity Government will be authorized later today or tomorrow with a small War Cabinet in charge of decision making. This almost certainly means that a ground invasion of Gaza is imminent. As the war continues you are no doubt going to hear about disproportionate casualties as the Palestinian death toll climbs. We come from a tradition that teaches us both that every life is precious because every person is created in the image of God; and that self-defense is not only permitted but obligatory. Balancing these two teachings is not simple and I sincerely hope and pray that civilian casualties will be minimized.


However, I want to remind you that “proportionality” in war does not mean “roughly equal numbers of casualties on both sides.” It means that the risk to non-combatants has to be proportional to the military value of the target. Blowing up a civilian apartment building as an act of retaliation or revenge is not permitted, but blowing up a civilian apartment building which is also being used as a military headquarters or with rocket launchers on the roof might be. Is the death of five civilians along with a high level Hamas commander “proportional”? Sadly, the answer is probably yes, because the death of that Hamas commander will probably save many more civilian lives. But what about 50 civilians? Or 500?


When I was in Israel in the summer of 2014 during another Gaza-Israel war, our group met at an Iron Dome missile site in Ashkelon with retired Air Force General Israel Shafir, who was one of the pilots on the raid against the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981. Gen. Shafir explained how a fighter pilot decides whether or not to take out a target. He told us that the IDF attacks military targets exclusively and will call off an attack if the likelihood of many civilian casualties is present. He impressed me with his statement that preservation of human life, Israeli or Palestinian, is a key Jewish value and that failure to attempt to do so undermines the basic reason for Israel to exist -- which is to preserve not only Jewish lives but Jewish culture and values.


I will be taking a few days to recoup after the holidays and will be off Oct. 15 - 18. In view of the situation I had considered not going away but one of the things I have learned in my therapy over the last couple of years is that if I do not take care of myself I cannot take care of anyone else. The week after, I will resume my Thursday night Adult Education classes after minyan. On the second and fourth Thursdays I will once again be doing my series on “Contemporary Jewish Controversies.” For the first and third Thursdays I will be doing a series of three to five session mini-courses so I can cover a variety of subjects of interest to our members. If there is something you would like me to cover and you think it can lend itself to a mini-course of this type, please let me know.


As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoon from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.


As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at rabbi@kehilatshalom.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.


L’shalom,




Rabbi Charles L. Arian












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