A Jewish group by the name "If Not Now, When?" organized a protest against the violence in Gaza on Thursday in which participants said a mourner's kaddish, or prayer, in front of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
Participants gathered to urge the Conference to take a stand against Israel's assault on Gaza, drawing inspiration from the teaching of a Jewish teacher Hillel the Elder. Beneath the YouTube video of its demonstration, the group wrote:
"We believe it is up to our generation to respond to Hillel's 3 Questions: If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?"
— IfNotNow (@IfNotNowOrg) July 25, 2014
The group also delivered a letter to Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, in which it urged him to help "stop the war in Gaza" and ensure "freedom and dignity for all."
Read the full letter below:
Dear Mr. Hoenlein,
We are here today to demand that the Conference of Presidents join our call to stop the war on Gaza, end the occupation, and forge a path forward for freedom and dignity for all people in Israel and Palestine.
Hillel, the Jewish sage of the 1st century, posed three questions that ring out across millennia. If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when? We come together to reckon with Hillel’s challenge. We are witnessing Israel’s third military operation in the Gaza strip in the past six years and are alarmed and horrified by the death and destruction being committed in our name. This is a moment of truth for the Jewish community, a moment that demands action.
If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us?
Though we interpret our Judaism in diverse ways, we are all Jews. For all of us, our tradition obligates us to a particular commitment, born of shared texts and a shared history, to the notion that all people are created equal, and that all people deserve freedom and the opportunity to forge their own future. Our own history of oppression has taught us that our freedom cannot be achieved absent the freedom of our neighbor.
If we are only for ourselves, who are we?
As we were dehumanized by the oppression we faced, we are now dehumanized by the oppression we are inflicting. The military campaign of recent weeks offers a brutal reminder that Jewish liberation cannot and will not be complete so long as Palestinians are not also free.
So long as the Jewish people are caught in an endless cycle of violence, we are not safe. So long as the Jewish people occupy and rule over another by the force of military might and the power of the gun, we are not fully human. So long as families in Sderot and Tel Aviv run to bomb shelters, we are not free. So long as Israelis demonstrating for peace are attacked by mobs, claiming to share our tradition, but chanting “death to Arabs, death to leftists” we have not achieved dignity. So long as young Israeli men and women are sent into battle every two years, to kill and be killed, we are not liberated.
We grieve for the death and destruction in Gaza. Over 730 Palestinians, and 35 Israelis, to date.
As we grieve, we are outraged. Outraged that so many speak of Palestinians as if their lives were worth less than our own, outraged at the justifications offered for the killing of so many. And we are outraged at all those who have missed opportunities to stop this nightmare, and have resigned themselves, and their country, and their people, to perpetual occupation and violence.
If not now, when?
We reject the view that “we have no choice,” that this violence is necessary and inevitable. We act because too many in our community endorse this dangerous view in our name. In a moment that necessitates courage and foresight, too many abdicate responsibility.
We come together to say -- enough. Too many lives have been lost.
Today, we visit the office of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which claims to represent us. It does not. We will recite the mourner’s kaddish for those who have died over the last weeks, we will consecrate their memory by reading their names, and we will call on the representatives of our community to join us as we demand an end the war on Gaza, an end to occupation, and freedom and dignity for all people of the region.
Join with us. Stop the war on Gaza. End the Occupation. Freedom and Dignity for all.
If not now, when?