When Hamas invaded Israel on October 7, its immediate victims were the 1,400 people it killed and the more than 220 others it kidnapped and is holding hostage.
Like a stone dropped into a poison lake, the massacre had other rings of victims; family and friends, Israeli society, and trust in Israeli institutions. Beyind that, the poison went on to tear at political affiliations and self-understandings, and to demolish established interfaith and multicultural friendships.
Some people decided to fight back.
Ridgewood has a long-established clergy council. Most of its members are various kinds of Christians, but it also includes a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Jew. And the Muslim, Imam Mahmoud Hamza, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Society of Ridgewood, and the Jew, Rabbi Dr. David J. Fine, who leads Temple Israel and JCC in town, are not only neighbors but actual, for-real friends. “We live just a block apart, and it’s a small block,” Rabbi Fine said. “We pass each other on the street all the time. I’ve been in his house, and he’s been in mine. He’s been in the synagogue multiple times.
On October 7, and again a week later, when his landlord murdered 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoum and badly injured his mother because they were Muslim, “we reached out to each other,” Rabbi Fine said.
“We felt that it was important for us to us to connect with each other and to set a tone for the community in terms of how we approach the conflict.
“We recognize that there are deep emotions involved, and that we disagree on many things. But we felt a need to make the point that we’re still friends.
“We’re not fighting each other here.”
The two friends, with the help of a small group of like-minded colleagues, worked on a joint statement, and on Friday, November 3, they read it at a press conference. They were surrounded by other clergy members, local politicians, and the mayor, Paul Vagianos. At one point, many of them, standing in a loose semicircle, held hands.
The statement is carefully written.
“We wanted to say something of substance,” Rabbi Fine said. “We didn’t want platitudes.”
The statement includes “a strong condemnation of terrorism and empathy for the loss of innocent lives on both sides, he continued. “We say that there’s a right to self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians, which means that both recognize each other’s right to exist. And self-determination is a very substantive point. We also call for a respect for human rights for all and an end to violence.”
It makes clear “that there is absolutely no tolerance for any acts of Islamophobia or antisemitism or even disrespect for people with divergent views here in the United States.” It calls for the return of common decency.
There are issues that the statement does not address — it is mum on the specifics of the fighting in Gaza as it tries to establish itself as apart from politics in a highly politicized world — but it is strongly against tribalism. It is unequivocally against bigotry.
In the end, it’s a plea for community.
“We urge our fellow citizens to remember that what unites us is far greater than what divides us and that we agree on far more than we disagree,” the statement reads.