Last week was a somber and distressing week for the Jewish people. As Jews around the world grappled with the profound question of how such unspeakable atrocities could have befallen our community on the solemn occasion of Tisha B’Av, we also mourned another significant event, which some have referred to as “Shisha B’Av”; for, on the 6th of Av, our cherished Jewish homeland experienced a severe blow to its democracy, which forms a fundamental aspect of our nation’s identity.
As it says in Lamentations, “Jerusalem has greatly sinned, therefore she has become a mockery. All who admired her despise her, for they have seen her disgraced, and she can only sigh and shrink back…[G-d] has brought low in dishonour the kingdom and its leaders…Gone is the joy in our hearts; our dancing has turned into mourning. The crown has fallen from our head; woe to us that we have sinned. Because of this, our hearts are sick. Because of these our eyes are dimmed.” (Lam. 1:8; 2:2; 5:15-17).
What is this averah – this great sin that has sent many of us into mourning? This averah is threefold: first, the proposal and passing of a judicial reform that blatantly disregards the core principle in democracy of checks and balances of power; second, the harsh and destructive schism amongst the people of Israel that transcends political party lines; and third, the darkening of our Jewish imperative to be an or l’goyim (a light unto the nations), to act in a way that sets an example for others to bring about a better world (tikkun olam).
As rabbis and cantors of the Progressive Jewish Movement in Australia, Asia, and New Zealand, we cannot “stand idly by the blood of our neighbour” (Lev. 19:16). We cannot be silent while we watch our beautiful, beloved Israel being stripped of the values we hold dear. We cannot stand idly by watching Israeli society being torn apart. We, also, cannot give up hope that our Jewish homeland can find a way through these current challenges.
We urge leaders in Israel to listen to the voices of all the people and find a way forward to address the problems while preserving our sacred democratic values.
We urge Jews in Australia to write letters to the Zionist Federation of Australia and the Israeli Ambassador to Australia – our voice to Israeli government – sharing the detrimental impact of the current and proposed Judicial reforms on Israel and Jews throughout the world, for Israel’s actions reflect upon all of us.
We urge Jews everywhere not to give up and turn their backs on Israel. Israel needs us more than ever. Speak out and don’t shy away from affirming our love for Israel. Tochecha – rebuke – is a Divinely acceptable model of love. We speak out because we care. We speak out because we love Israel. We speak out because we want an Israel that offers its citizens the freedom to challenge a legal ruling or parliamentary bill and to be heard based on reasonableness.
We want an Israel that maintains a system of checks and balances to preserve a balance of power.
We want an Israel that continues to uphold an unbiased choice of those who sit on the Supreme Court.
We want an Israel that supports the rights of all its citizens, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religious practice, or ethnicity. And if they don’t, we want to be able to take them to court, knowing they will receive an unbiased hearing.
We want an Israel we can be proud of. We want an Israel to call our home.
In the final words of Lamentations,
אֵלֶ֙יךָ וְֽנָשׁ֔וּבָה חַדֵּ֥שׁ יָמֵ֖ינוּ כְּקֶֽדֶם הֲשִׁיבֵ֨נוּ יְהֹוָ֤ה
“Take us back, Oh G-d, to Yourself, and let us come back. Renew our days of old.” (Lam. 5:21)
We pray that all Jews can come together in prayer and unity, seeking strength and hope amidst these trying times, as we reaffirm our love of Israel and our commitment to uphold the values that define us as a resilient and compassionate community. May we find solace in our shared heritage and work towards a brighter future for Israel and the Jewish people.