Sermons Year-Round


Transcription: Monday, April 29, 2024: Rabbi Jesse Gallop Sermon for Passover Yizkor Service – Facing the Pain in Society Today, a Response to the Crisis on College Campuses and in Israel.

Too often, we are raised to believe that life has teams and sides, us versus them. But from Jewish tradition, we know that everybody is created B’tzelem Elohim, in the divine image. Even the person who wrongs us is still a human being; they are still somebody’s friend, child or a spouse. No one in this world is truly evil even if we might see them in certain ways.

What is hard to understand is, if no one is truly evil, then what makes people do such horrible things? How can certain groups or people forget to see somebody as human and take away that divine spark in them? This is what we struggle with when it comes to terrorism.

War is ugly but it is one thing when it is one army versus another army, that is why people are in the military. It is not ideal but there are rules of war.

But what makes it okay to go after innocent people? What makes it okay to kidnap people? What makes it okay to say my rights are being infringed so there is no more decency in the world – that I can do whatever I want, and it is justifiable?

Many of us are struggling with these questions as Reform Jews. We can empathize and see how the Palestinian people have been in a horrible position, that they lived in deep poverty, that they didn’t have basic human rights under Hamas, and that Israel blockaded that area, and all this together made it, so it wasn’t possible for them to get basic needs.

I can understand the feeling of anger, of fear, of wanting to change how life is. But it wasn’t the average Palestinian that went out and did the horrible acts on October 7th. It was the terrorists of Hamas, who were using the Palestinian people as pawns, to achieve their political goal of annihilating Israel.

What’s frustrating is politics, on all sides, is now shaping deep huge historical issues of peoplehood, of land, and of determination.

I wish I could say Israel was in the right, they did everything great, that they are really thinking about God and doing the right thing. Since the terrorists came into Israel, the idea of – I can live with rockets, I can live with bombings every now and then, but you came into my home and stole my children changed life for Israelis.

When we are hurt and angry we emphatically try to defend ourselves.  Israel did what it needed to do to defend itself.

We are now at a place where what were stated as the goals of the war, by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to eradicate Hamas and to bring back all the hostages, cannot be totally fulfilled. We are in a quagmire. There’s been destruction, there has been a weakening of Hamas, there has been an awakening in the world.

The world was looking the other way and saying – this is just what Hamas does, it is not a big deal. It has awakened the world to the real big issues that Israel is facing. And yet it has also awakened Israel to the problems and hazards within itself.

There is a coalition government in Israel that needs to stay together – that has a far-right agenda. So even today when there might be the possibility of return of hostages, members of the war government and the right-wing government propose to topple this government if it is enacted.

Our children have never experienced an Israel that struggled. Our children were told if you just go on Birthright, you will figure out your Jewish identity and be happy. They were told Israel is the savior of American Judaism.  Now it is as if they are figuring out that their parents aren’t perfect.

As you grow into adolescents, you realize your parents are not godlike and many become angry.  I think this is what is happening with our college age students, who were told Israel is the center of Jewish life and the center of Jewish culture. They were told if you didn’t connect with services on Friday night or youth group, go to Israel and you will understand why you are Jewish. Guess what? They went for 10 days on Birthright. When I was a student, we would go for 2-4 months and study and build relationships but now they go only for ten days and are shown a simplistic view of what Israel is.

Now they feel lied to, what they were told doesn’t make sense – Maybe Israel is persecuting people? Maybe Israel isn’t as good as they thought?

Families and lovers of Israel say – What are you talking about? How could you not be there for Israel? Look at what happened in the Holocaust! Look at what they are saying in the streets! It’s not about Israel! They are going to eradicate Jews!  This is a fair statement to say to our children, especially when the protests went from human rights to anti-Zionism hate.

It’s a much different message from – Innocent people need to get food and not die to Eradicate Israel, all Zionists are enemies, the Jewish people and the Jewish homeland are bad things for the world. This is the state that we exist in today and its heartbreaking.

We want a perfect world. If we look back from today at the chag we are celebrating, it wasn’t rainbows and sunshine. The Hebrews leaving Egypt had faced a war to get their freedom from slavery. They were being chased by Pharaoh’s army. They had to overcome fear to go to the Sinai. Once they got there, guess what, they were lost.

You want to know what’s worse than fighting? Feeling lost. Having no direction, it is scary to live in gray. I’m asking you on this holiday to live in gray, to live in the unknown, because that’s where God resides.

God is in the discomfort. God is in that hardship that we have to face ourselves and imperfections in the world. And it is only then that we can really begin to find solutions. It is only sitting in that discomfort that we can hear the other voices that we disagree with and not think that we have the answer.

What has been breaking my heart lately is getting phone calls saying: If we just did X, Y, or Z or This should be handled this way or that way – it would be resolved. There’s a lot of smart people in the world. There are not easy solutions.

When we wrestle with our problems, we realize this world is not supposed to be perfect. And how true as you are here today to observe Yizkor and loss.

Loss is one of the hardest, the holiest things we experience. Only in loss do we realize how much we truly love someone. Even with our best friends, our spouses, our children, there are moments we argue and say hurtful things. It is human to have frustration. But once we lose loved ones, we realize every moment, even the hard moments, were sacred and special.

Loss teaches how to be mensches in a hard world. And that’s what needed now. So please don’t fight hate with hate. That doesn’t make our world a better place. Hating the people who hate us just makes more hate. Don’t be naïve and say here is an olive branch, that’s a different religion, that says give the cheek, turn the head, give the other cheek, that’s not ours.

What we say is that we wrestle with God. We sit in discomfort. We face holiness. Living a life with purpose is hard. Living a life with meaning is difficult. And yet, making that journey is why we wake up each morning.

Israel needs us to sit with Israel. The Palestinian people need us to sit with the Palestinian people. And our college students need us to be with them right now too.

It is important that we don’t just talk about it amongst our friends. It’s important that we don’t just complain about it but how do we go and make a difference.

What’s interesting is that this has taken off at the end of the academic school year. In three weeks, this is going to be a moot point because everybody goes back to their lives off campus, but our children who went through it are going to be damaged. Their university is supposed to be their safe space and it’s not anymore.

It is up to us to work with Hillels, to work with children in our synagogues and their families. To find out ways that we can really support and give voice and it is important that we continue to give voice to our community – to say this is not acceptable, this is not okay.

Let’s talk together, hold hands, be present. Even if we can’t solve it, we can raise the dialogue, we can rise up as humans, we can hold ourselves to a higher standard than – they are just bad, and we have to eradicate them.  That simplicity takes away why God created us. It takes away the Exodus story. When the angels were about to cheer that the walls of the water crushed Pharaoh’s army, the midrash says God turned to the angels and said “Those are my children too.”

I would like to conclude with the words of the Adon Olam, Adonai Li V’lo Ira, meaning God is with me, and I shall not fear!

Chag Sameach.


Video add:

October 2023: Rabbi Jesse Sermon after the October 7th attack

Friday, November 11 2022: Cantor Glassman … in observance of Kristallnacht
Friday, November 4 2022:
Rabbi Jesse and Cantor Glassman’s Installation
Friday, August 12 2022:
Rabbi Jesse Gallop … in honor of Tu B’Av (the Jewish Day of Love)
Friday, July 8 2022:
Rabbi Jesse Gallop Sermon

Friday, July 1st, was the first Shabbat service led by Rabbi Jesse Gallop and Cantor Rita Glassman, together.
Friday, July 1 2022: First Shabbat Service led by Rabbi Jesse Gallop and Cantor Rita Glassman
Friday, July 1 2022: First Sermon given by Cantor Rita Glassman