LOS ANGELES – Fridays are usually a time of celebration in Beth Shir Shalom, when Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels hosts the Sabbath with his Santa Monica congregation. But last week his sermon took on a somber tone because of events in the Middle East.
By the time a ceasefire was declared between Israel and Hamas on Friday, after 11 days of fighting, at least 230 Palestinians and 12 Israelis had been killed.
As he prepared for the services, Comess-Daniels – known in the community as Rabbi Neil – wanted to make sure he found the right words. He chose a statement from the book of Psalms: “We pray for the welfare, the peace of Jerusalem. May those who love you be at peace, ”he read aloud.
Rabbi Neil pointed out that Israel, Gaza, Jews and Palestinians all love the city of Jerusalem.
“People from all different walks of life, people from all different walks of life, certainly Muslims and Jews are lovers of Jerusalem and pray for its well-being,” he said.
Rabbi Neil, who has worked at Beth Shir Shalom for nearly three decades, works with interfaith groups in California and Israel. He said declarations of peace are needed as tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have spilled over into the streets of Los Angeles.
A man was arrested on Sunday for his role in an attack on customers outside a restaurant in Los Angeles. Witnesses said the man was shouting anti-Semitic phrases at dinner parties and that the Los Angeles Police Department is investigating whether or not the incident was a hate crime.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti spoke at an interfaith press conference and posted on Twitter: “As a city, we condemn the anti-Semitic attack that took place last night. Jewish Angelenos, like all residents, should always feel safe in our city.
Rabbi Neil condemns all violence and anti-Semitism on the streets of Los Angeles.
“We have to assume that people who act this way are acting out of an ignorant notion of who we are. I’m not saying ignorant in a derogatory way, I mean, in fact, they really don’t know and are filled with visions filled with hate, ”he said.
While any violence on the local streets is cause for concern, Rabbi Neil said he was focusing on the events between Israel and Hamas. He reflected on the pain and destruction suffered by the Jewish people in the past and the destruction inflicted on the people of Gaza.
“We know what not to do for us. How dare we do it to someone else and that’s what’s happening in this cataclysm, “he said.” We cannot blame the other side for forcing our hand. “
In recent weeks, there has been a surge of support for Palestinians across the country and in Los Angeles. The protests have been mostly peaceful, but Dov Waxman, a professor of Israeli studies at UCLA and an expert on Israeli-Palestinian relations, said he was not surprised that clashes occurred.
“I think it is completely reasonable and legitimate to protest and for people to make their point known and there is nothing wrong with that. If you want to protest Israeli policies and Israel’s actions, you shouldn’t be targeting Jews. They do not represent the State of Israel, ”Waxman said.
He added that pushing against de facto US foreign policy can be productive, but the current climate can lead to altercations.
“It’s healthy to debate American policy, but I think the danger is that this polarization creates tension in the United States, especially between American Jews and American Palestinians. We are also seeing these tensions manifest on college campuses. I am worried about the temperature of the debate, ”he said.
Rabbi Neil has watched these conflicts erupt for many years, with periods of calm interspersed with periods of violence. It is a model that he hopes will end.
“Violence will always be in us, like a choice. But we don’t have to choose it. We need to understand that there are other ways for us to prevent others from being violent against us and from being violent against them, ”he said.