Our Prayers Must Be Joined by Demands

This is the first in a series of essays by feminists responding to the escalating violence in Israel and Palestine.

I am writing this on Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day. For many Jews this is a day to celebrate the return to Jerusalem and its holy sites, including the Kotel, the Western Wall, in 1967. 

But this day has also long been a flashpoint for conflict and violence, with Jewish extremists marching through East Jerusalem and the Muslim Quarter, threatening and intimidating Palestinian residents. 

This year, we’ve been especially concerned in the lead up to Yom Yerushalayim as Lehava, a group of extremists that now has the backing of Jewish supremacists recently elected to the Knesset, has inflamed tensions by marching through Palestinian neighborhoods chanting Death to Arabs and assaulting residents. The closing of Damascus Gate plaza during Ramadan and the Tik Tok trend of Palestinians assaulting religious Jews have only added fuel to the fire. 

In the midst of all of this, this week brought to a head a multi-year effort by settlers to evict Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in an effort to assert Jewish dominance in East Jerusalem. This has led to nightly protests and police crackdowns in which hundreds of Palestinians have been injured. 

And then the violence spread to Al-Aqsa Mosque as well. 

Now Hamas and other terrorist organizations are targeting Israeli civilians, firing rockets toward communities in the south and near Jerusalem. Many of our family and friends in Jerusalem are spending the night in bomb shelters. Israel immediately retaliated in Gaza, where reports indicate that at least 20 people were killed, including several Palestinian children. 

The toll is already devastating, and the situation remains extremely volatile. 

In anguish, we pray and call for immediate de-escalation and cessation of violence before more blood spills. 

But let’s be clear: our most fervent prayers are not enough. We must address the root causes of this conflict, decrying extremism, hatred and dehumanization wherever it appears. We must urge Israel to end the unjust and un-Jewish policies that have brought 54 years of degradation, humiliation and hardship to millions of Palestinians and which threaten the democratic fiber of Israel itself. As American Jews, we must demand that our community stop funding, platforming and mainstreaming Jewish extremist groups, like the ones working to expel Palestinians from East Jerusalem today. And we must continue to amplify the voices of the many Israelis and Palestinians who are working together toward a just and shared future, in which every person is able to live in dignity and without fear. 

My dear friend, Rabbi Tamar Elad Appelbaum, founder of ZION in Jerusalem, has a vision of what Yom Yerushalayim could mean for us: it could inspire us to live in this country together. In holiness. Following God in justice and mercy. Even this year, in the midst of the rising tension, Rabbi Tamar gathered Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Old City to pray together for the realization of Yerushalayim shel maalah—the Jerusalem of our dreams. A place that shines with the holy light of love and justice. 

I hope you’ll join me in lifting up that vision today with the Prayer of the Mothers for Life and Peace, which Rabbi Tamar co-wrote with Sheikha Ibtisam Maḥameed below. As we hold heavy but still hopeful hearts, let us remember that violence is not inevitable. There is always another way. 

מלך חפץ בחיים 

הרופא לשבורי לב ומחבש לעצבותם 

שמע נא תפילת אמהות 

שאתה לא בראתנו על מנת שנהרוג זה בזה 

ולא על מנת שנחיה בפחד, כעס ושנאה בעולמך 

אלא על מנת שנדע לתת רשות זה לזה לקיים את שמך 

שם חיים, שם שלום בעולם 

صلاة مشتركة 

اله الحياة 

الذي يُشفي القلوب الحزينة والمتألمة 

استمع لو سمحت الى صلاة الأمهات 

لأنك لم تخلقنا لكي نقتل بعضنا بعضاً 

وليس لكي نعيش بحالة من الخوف, الغضب والكراهية في عالمك هذا 

بل لكي نسمح لبعضنا البعض أن نذكر أسمك 

اسم الحياة, اسم السلام في العالم 

God of Life 

Who heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds 

May it be your will to hear the prayer of mothers 

For you did not create us to kill each other 

Nor to live in fear, anger or hatred in your world 

But rather you have created us so we can grant permission to one another to sanctify 

Your name of Life, your name of Peace in this world. 

על אלה אני בוכיה עיני עיני יורדה מים 

על ילדים בוכים מפחד בלילות 

על הורים אוחזים עולליהם וייאוש ואפלה בלבם 

על שער אשר נסגר ומי יקום ויפתחהו טרם פנה יום 

على جميع هؤلاء أنا أبكي دوماً 

أبكي خوفاً على الأطفال في الليالي 

يحمل الآباء أطفالهم الصغار واليأس والظلام في قلوبهم 

على البوابة التي أغلقت والتي لا نعرف من سوف يقوم بفتحها 

For these things I weep, my eye, my eye runs down with water 

For our children crying at nights, 

For parents holding their children with despair and darkness in their hearts 

For a gate that is closing and who will open it while day has not yet dawned. 

ובדמעות ובתפלות שאני מתפללת כל הזמן 

ובדמעות כל הנשים שכואבות את הכאב החזק בזמן הקשה הזה 

הריני מרימה את ידיי למעלה אנא ממך אדוני רחם עלינו 

שמע קולנו ה׳ אלהינו בימי הרעה האלה שלא נתייאש 

ונראה חיים זה בזה 

ונרחם זה על זה 

ונצטער זה על זה 

ונקווה לזה לזה 

وبالدموع والصلوات التي أصليها طيلة الوقت 

وبدموع النساء اللواتي يشعرن بهذا الألم القوي في هذه الأوقات العصيبة 

أنا أرفع يدي اليك يا ربي أن ترحمنا 

لنعيش مع بعضنا البعض 

ونشفق على بعضنا البعض 

ونواسي بعضنا البعض 

ونأمل الخير لبعضنا البعض 

And with my tears and prayers which I pray 

And with the tears of all women who deeply feel the pain of these difficult days 

I raise my hands to you please God have mercy on us 

Hear our voice that we shall not despair 

That we shall see life in each other, 

That we shall have mercy for each other, 

That we shall have pity on each other, 

That we shall hope for each other.