Yesterday, there was a lively discussion at our local clergy association, of which I am a long time member. The prayer before our partaking of the lunch did not specifically refer to the Israel/Hamas war, and this fact was criticized. Recently, the town had a vigil to pray about that situation, and the first thing on our agenda was to review what we thought of that event. Basically, it was good as far as it went, but now what? Are we back to business as usual?
Our Jewish rabbi friends shared that when they hear nothing about it from non-Jews, they think at worse, anti-Semitism, and at best, mere apathy or inconsideration. Basically, they are in pain and grieving, and need to be treated as such. They feel like Jews are the “canary in the mine,” so to speak, so feel urgent about their perils being noticed for the good of everyone, not just themselves.
It is my experience that people generally do not know what to do or how to act around someone who is grieving. I have learned that the tendency to avoid the difficult topic is itself to be avoided. All that is needed is for you to express your care. Even a lame, “I don’t know what to say,” is better than nothing, and is appreciated as an acknowledgement. In the meeting when I said, “I feel for you,” that was overwhelmingly and gratefully received as enough. A warm hug afterwards helped further.
I understand why we don’t say anything in these circumstances, and it is neither animosity, lack of care, nor apathy. I think we humbly feel out of our depth, and at a loss to contribute anything helpful in such a complex and difficult situation. There is nothing most of us can do, besides empathize with the innocent on both sides. Furthermore, we can reach out and say so, which will make those close to the catastrophe feel supported and less vulnerable.
But we also can pray, and please don’t discount the real value of this, although treating those in our midst who are especially devastated with sincere compassion cannot be overlooked. I believe both individual and collective prayer is powerful. It is able to solve problems nothing else can.
This we must take up. This is a war between civilization and barbarism, and the higher thought must govern the lower. The whole world must be freed from the insidious imposition of unworthy tendencies. I believe progress is a law that can certainly be fulfilled, but each and every one of us must do our part in tipping the scale in the right direction.