Guest essay: Questions that have no answers

By Rabbi Jill Maderer 

“How?” — or Eicha? when translated into Hebrew — begins the anguished text of the Book of Lamentations.

Chanted while seated on the floor, in the dark, Eicha asks the questions for which there are no answers.

Rabbi Jill Maderer, senior rabbi at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, North Broad Street.

Today, we sit with the answerless questions.

How — Eicha

How can it be that human beings brutally massacre civilians and then celebrate their deaths?

How — Eicha

How can it be that human beings abduct the most vulnerable — young children and elderly Holocaust survivors?

Please, God, may the hostages be rescued. Please, God, bring them home.

How — Eicha

How can it be that so many still call Zion a colonization? The Europeans colonized the Americas, and this land, we now call the United States.

Colonizers do not return to a land where their people have lived for thousands of years; colonizers do not find ancient artifacts, with their very language inscribed. How — with history and culture — can the world not be able to see: Both Jews and Arabs are indigenous peoples to the land.

How — Eicha

How can it be that so many refuse to see that Hamas’ crimes of humanity are not strategies for resistance, or for a two-state solution?

Hamas’ atrocities are a repressive terrorist group’s explicit campaign to hunt down and eradicate my people, and to murder all other people who get in its way.

Even its own people.

How can there be so many who choose not to condemn Hamas, who instead choose the antisemitic tropes of victim-blaming the Jews?

How can there be so many who have the capacity to look past the humanity of the Jew?

How — Eicha

We sit with unanswerable questions.

And then, another Hebrew word — like Eicha, with a tweak of its vowels — shows up in the Book of Genesis (in Hebrew: Bereshit).

When God compels Adam and Eve — or perhaps, God is compelling us all — to find our footing, to figure out where we stand, God asks, “Where are you?” In Hebrew: Ayeka.

The unanswerable question becomes the question that must be answered. Our response is our holy purpose.

Upon hearing “Where are you?” — Ayeka — I respond: God, I am here, with my people. Am Yisrael Chai — the Jewish people live.

Upon hearing “Where are you?” — Ayeka — I respond: God, I am in your world, heartsick to know antisemitism is proof in itself that Jews need a safe haven.

Upon hearing “Where are you?” — Ayeka — I respond: God, I am here, refusing to conflate Hamas with the Palestinian people, whose dignity, safety, and aspirations I support.

Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians, all of us, are created in the image of God (B’tzelem Elohim), and I refuse to permit Hamas to lead me to racism, to hate, to turn me into one who dehumanizes the other.

Upon hearing “Where are you?” — Ayeka — I respond: God, I reject the notion that my commitment to the Jewish people’s democratic homeland excludes my commitment to the welfare of others. There is enough passion and compassion in our souls to hold both.

In the words of Israeli Rabbi Sivan Navon-Shoval, in this blessing sent by Rodeph Shalom’s partner congregation in Jerusalem:

Our God and God of our ancestors,

Protect us and our loved ones from torment.

Give our defenders on the front lines and on the home front,

Wisdom, strength, courage, and resourcefulness.

Fortify and guard their hearts and souls, in the face of battles and sights,

That the mind can barely endure.

Please watch over the souls and lives, of those being held hostage.

Minimize their suffering, strengthen and embrace them with Your love and ours.

May they return soon to their loved ones.

God — be revealed in our midst, as a merciful ray of light, hope, and sanctity of life.


11 thoughts on “Guest essay: Questions that have no answers”

  1. Just to be ornery, if the majority of Philadelphians voted for Krasner — twice — how much blame do they share for the ridiculously out-of-control crime in the city?

    1. They did not, Sara. Krasner “won” with 14.8% of all registered voters, because the turnout was only about 22%. The “stay at homes” elected Krasner.

      1. It’s the same difference. They knew by staying home that somebody else would choose their leaders for them, so they in effect made their choice.

  2. I can’t begin to describe the emotions this brought out in me. I don’t want to be afraid to walk down the street. My dad’s family was dragged out if their homes. Almost no one survived. The Muslims I know are kind and loving and peaceful. This hatred is beyond my imagination.

    1. It bothers me even more to see cute little blonde college students spewing antisemitic hate chants and tearing down posters of the kidnapped. Is that with their parents paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for?

  3. How, in the year 2023, can beliefs in such utter made-up bullshit cause people to kill other people? How can we not by now recognize the fact that WE, not some non-existent, all-powerful yet somehow completely impotent being, have control over our own lives? How can kindness and compassion be completely absent in those who believe in god? Humanity has nothing but itself to blame, and no one but us can fix it.

    1. It depends entirely upon which God you believe in. The Christian God does not tell us to go out and kill people just because they don’t believe as we do. In fact, we are told to pray for our enemies, something that I find very difficult in the face of Hamas’ atrocities.

    2. The synagogues anf churches I know preach love. The ones like Westboro Baptist are outliers.
      This reminds me of a debate I had with my nephew, who fell under the spell of atheist Sam Harris, who wrote that organized religion preaches hate, and that YOU are better than THEM.
      I asked my nephew, who had gone to Hebrew school and synagogue, if he had EVER heard that preached?
      He said, no. And I said why would you believe Harris when your own experience shows him to be a liar?

  4. How? Though embedded hate taught since the first day the fundamentalist Muslims take a breath. If you are not a true believer then you are evil and a sign of sin in this subset group of Muslims. The only way for Israel to survive is through strength. Hamas and Iranians who believe in only their way of life are not going away. Praying for Israel’s safety, freedom and liberty.

    1. Not all Muslims are evil. I personally know several who are not. The problem, overseas, is the radicals are in control. As you not, the fundamentalists are the problem, and not just in Islam.

  5. Who can grasp the horror of a Hitler? Or of a Stalin, who starved 20 million of his own people to death to make communism ‘work?’ (Stalin famously said, “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic.”) What is so chilling is not just that Hitler and Stalin did what they did, but that they thought it was right. Free will and a sociopathic personality is a witches’ brew.

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