Over Sixty Rabbis Lead Fast for the People of Gaza

July 16, 2009

Rabbi Brian Walt
508.560.0589 (c)




Today, Thursday July 16, over sixty American rabbis, representing all of the liberal streams of American Judaism, will initiate the Jewish Fast for Gaza, a monthly fast that seeks to end the Jewish community’s silence over Israel’s collective punishment in Gaza that has resulted in a humanitarian crisis of overwhelming proportions. They are joined by over five hundred religious leaders and people of faith from across the United States who will participate in the fast.

Why Fast?
In the Book of Leviticus we read, “Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s blood is being spilled” (Leviticus 19:16).

In Jewish tradition a communal fast is held in times of crisis, both as an expression of mourning and a call to repentance. In this spirit, Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza is a collective act of conscience led by rabbis and other Jews but supported by Christians, Muslims, and a wide diversity of other people alarmed by the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Rabbi Brant Rosen, who serves Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, IL and is the co-coordinator of Ta’anit Tzedek, points out that those fasting condemn Hamas’ targeting of Israeli citizens. Nevertheless, he writes, “It is immoral to punish an entire population for the actions of a few. As Jews and as human beings of conscience, we cannot stand idly by.”

Rabbi Margaret Holub, who serves Mendocino Coast Jewish Community and lives in Albion, CA, comments that although there is a stark imbalance between the immense hunger in Gaza and this symbolic act of fasting, it is an important endeavor. She explains, “Fasting, as distinct from rallying or protesting or organizing, is a gesture of abjection. It says that we are horrified by what is happening, and we beg the heavens to make it stop. We know that our sins have helped to bring the nightmare about, but we feel out of control to make it cease.”

The water-only fast will take place every third Thursday of the month, from sunrise to sunset. In addition to signing on to the fast statement, participants have been asked to donate the money they save on food to the Milk for Preschoolers Campaign sponsored by American Near Eastern Refugee Aid, a relief campaign that combats malnutrition among Gazan preschool children.

Ta’anit Tzedek’s Goals
The goals of those who are fasting is fourfold: 1) to call for a lifting of the Israel's blockade; 2) to provide humanitarian and developmental aid to the people of Gaza; 3) to call upon Israel, the US, and the international community to engage in negotiations with Hamas and all relevant Palestinian parties in order to end the blockade; and 4) to encourage the American government to vigorously engage both Israelis and Palestinians toward a just and peaceful settlement of the conflict.

Life in Gaza
Since Hamas’ electoral victory in January 2006, Israel has subjected the Gaza Strip to an increasingly intolerable blockade that restricts Gaza's ability to import food, fuel and other essential materials and to export finished products. As a result, the Gazan economy has completely collapsed. Most of Gaza's industrial plants have been forced to close, further contributing to already high levels of unemployment and poverty and rising levels of childhood malnutrition.

Moreover, the war in December left hundreds of thousands of Gazans without running water. Thousands of Palestinian homes were destroyed or badly damaged, and tens of thousands of people were left homeless.

Although it may have appeared that the American Jewish leadership was unanimous in its support for the war in Gaza half a year ago, some rabbis strongly opposed the military attack on the Gaza Strip. While deeply concerned for the welfare of the Israeli residents in Sderot, they felt that the Israeli government’s actions were disproportionate, immoral, and a violation of international law.

“This is a human rights catastrophe,” comments Rabbi Brian Walt, co-coordinator of Ta’anit Tzedek and former Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights – North America. Asked why he initiated the fast he responds, “I was shocked by the silence of the rabbinic community during the war and I am shocked now by the silence at the blockade, an act of collective punishment of an entire people. The report issued yesterday by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli soldiers, is another in a series of reports on the violations during the war. We support Israel’s right to defend itself but it has no right to attack an entire people and to prevent the passage of food and materials needed to rebuild life in Gaza after the war. How could we as a Jewish community condone – or even support – collective punishment on such a scale? Our fast is a call for the lifting of the blockade and for negotiations with all parties, including Hamas to resolve the crisis.”

Rabbi Walt has been pleased by the response to the support for Ta’anit Tzedek. “It has been incredibly heartening to find so many rabbis willing to participate in this initiative. It takes a lot of courage. I hope that this is one small step in breaking the Jewish community’s silence over what is happening in Gaza.”