A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

Get daily updates delivered right to your inbox

Open letter to Jewish organizations in St. Louis and the surrounding area

To the Jewish organizations that raised us:

We walked your halls in preschool, learned Hebrew in your classrooms, became b’nai mitzvah in your sanctuaries, and led your youth group boards. We were your campers and later, your counselors. We prayed with you, celebrated holidays with you, ate kugel and played gaga with you. You taught us how to live Jewish lives, and for that we are endlessly thankful. We hold those wonderful memories and lessons of Torah in our hearts as we write this letter.

But we also feel misled by you. We went to Yom Ha’azmaut celebrations year after year without ever hearing the word “Nakba.” We said “next year in Jerusalem” without learning that the United States did not at the time recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. We sang Herzl’s famous quote Im tirtzu ain zo agadah in many a song session, without also learning that he framed the Zionist project as “something colonial” (source: “The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl”). The image of Hamas using citizens as human shields in 2009 was burned into our brains, without any acknowledgement that the U.N. Human Rights Council also found Israel guilty of war crimes during the same time period (United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict, online at https://bit.ly/3t4AGk0).

At the present moment however, our feelings of grief and fear and rage go beyond geo-political minutiae. We are concerned with the state of Judaism itself within the communities that raised us and beyond. As people who are so grateful to be influenced by these Jewish organizations, we have been sincerely disheartened by the ways that many of our home institutions have taken such narrow-minded, life-denying stances.

We mourn the murder of 1,200 Israelis by Hamas and call for hostages to be released, and we are also devastated by these facts:

• At least 15,200 Palestinians have been killed since Oct. 7, 70% of them women and children. (Associated Press, https://bit.ly/3t0vsG1. Author’s note: the total death toll has increased by over 4,000 since we first published the open letter on Nov. 17, 2023.) The numbers in this version of the letter reflect the state of the war on Dec. 4, 2023.)

• Around 80%, of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have had to flee their homes. (Reuters, https://bit.ly/3uR7Nbo)

• At least 10,000 Palestinians with Israeli work permits were recently returned to their families in Gaza. Many report being beaten, tortured and left without food and water. (http://archive.today/JNWqu) 

• Within the West Bank, Jewish settlers are increasingly emboldened to commit violence against Palestinians, in an attempt to drive them out of their homes. (Vox article, https://bit.ly/3GuAAVS)

• And the violence by Israel onto the Palestinian people is not new, but rather is a continuation of 75 years of violence that has robbed countless Palestinian people of their lives and the lives of their family members, as well as their familial homes, the land they tended to for generations, and so much more.

These facts stand in direct conflict with our Jewish values – the values you taught us. We believe that everyone was created B’Tselem Elohim and should be treated as such. We believe that “When strangers reside with you in your land, you shall not wrong them” (Exodus 23:9). We believe that only “If you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever” (Jeremiah 7:6-7). We agree with Rabbi Hillel, that the entire Torah can be summed up as this: that which is hateful to you do not do to another. And, as many in the Jewish community call out “Never Again” to attempt to justify Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attack, we too call out “Never Again” and call on our communities to extend that cry to the lives of Palestinians, as well.

Since Oct. 7, we have been putting the Jewish values you taught us growing up into practice, only to find that those who taught those values to us were no longer fighting alongside us. We are heartbroken to think that the institutions that raised us are failing to act on these Jewish values that we hold so dear. We have seen so many of those close to us have their hearts harden during this time, just as Pharaoh’s did when we were slaves. In order to move the soul of our community in a direction of peace, we ask the following:

• We ask that our Jewish clergy, teachers, leaders, and community members publicly voice support for a ceasefire.

• We ask that our communities put pressure on elected officials to support a ceasefire and send aid to Palestinians, through phone calls, email or direct action.

• We ask that future statements, programming, or other teachings about Israel and Palestine contain diverse perspectives, including Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and the diaspora, and are made with a good faith effort to avoid cherry picking facts.

Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof! May we all live lives according to our Jewish values, especially when it is most difficult to do so.

To view the list of 75-plus signatories, or to sign on to the letter, visit https://linktr.ee/stljews4ceasefire.

More to Discover