On Tuesday, I went with my wife Dana to one of the actions calling for an end to the violence in Gaza organized by “If Not Now,” a Jewish group here in NYC. I wanted to thank them, and also encourage everyone I know, Jews and non-Jews alike, to participate in their events if you’re in one of the cities where this movement is happening.
This particular event was one of those creative Jewish reinterpretations of something — in this case, Tisha B’Av, a day in the Jewish calendar set aside to grieve past tragic events that have befallen the Jewish people. There was also much to grieve regarding Gaza — by then, over 1,800 Palestinians had been killed, and Israelis live with daily fear from the ongoing bombardments and their own casualties.
In addition to some readings, we read aloud, together, the names of people, some Israelis but overwhelmingly Palestinians civilians, who had been killed in Gaza since the previous Friday.
When reading the names, which generally includes the place where they were killed, and sometimes their age of death, there are things that I couldn’t help noticing. The name of an adult woman, then the names of her children who died with her. A pair of two year olds with the same last name (twins). Five people with the same last name and the same place of death — a family. That happened repeatedly while reading the names: three, four, even nine people from a single family killed together.
Many of us are aware of the sheer number of people being killed (as of the day I’m writing this, it’s now over 1,900) but we shy away from looking at lists of individual names, or looking at pictures of each of them. But by reading the names, this situation becomes more real and demands further action from us.
It’s important not to just read the names and immerse ourselves in righteous anger, but to notice that we are grieving, and to think about how to proceed. We cannot, even in our justifiable grief, just demand retribution — although I guess you could, but then you would will have to go later and read more names, then more and still more. That’s not the way for me. Instead I’m focused on getting to the roots of violence and despair that are at the base of this, and support for the families experiencing the long-term effects of war.
As part of the event, we turned to a stranger to talk for a couple minutes. I talked to a woman named Rachel, and we talked about what had brought us there. I told her that I was grieving the deaths in Gaza, but also my brother, whose yahrzeit (the anniversary of his death) was in a few days, and he had also been killed in an armed conflict. My brother Eddie was killed by the Red Army Faction in 1985 while serving in the US Army, in an attack targeting the US Airbase at Rhein Main. So along with the many civilians killed in this event, my thoughts are with the families of all combatants killed as well — which we also read at the event, names drawn from this site that the IDF keeps of solders killed in this conflict.
Afterwards, Dana and I agreed that we had to find something to do. Speaking the names out loud with that group of people forced me out of despair and into action. We decided to start by supporting organizations that address the overlying political issue but also the need for humanitarian aid. We picked two groups:
- Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization firmly aligned with respect for human rights for all parties — they’re initiating dialog and action where needed and pushing larger institutions to intervene in meaningful ways in the conflict. (We had already participated in an online action they did to remember people killed in Gaza, the picture I show here).
- Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), which provides direct assistance to people in Gaza. They also share first-hand information about what is happening to people in Gaza.
It’s sad to read the names. You might mispronounce them, you might cry. Take someone with you — it’s a little overwhelming.
There’s a principle in physics called the observation effect — the sheer act of observing a phenomenon changes it. Well, there is the life-version of that as well. The act of observing war or violence changes it, probably because it changes us from spectators into actors.
Go be with people and read the names, and then see what you can figure out in terms of action for a long-term sustainable peace in Gaza. If you need more ideas for things you can do, let me know and we’ll think together.
To get you ready, here’s a clip of If Not Now in action: