Attendees sing and put their arms around each other during a community gathering at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco on Oct. 8, 2023, the day after the Hamas massacre in Israel. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Attendees sing and put their arms around each other during a community gathering at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco on Oct. 8, 2023, the day after the Hamas massacre in Israel. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Sherith Israel series will assess Israel’s future as initial shock over Oct. 7 wanes

Updated Feb. 12 at 2:20 p.m.

As the Israel-Hamas war approaches the four-month mark, Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco will host an online speaker series designed to challenge how Jews think about the region’s future.

“On Oct. 7, everything changed,” Senior Rabbi Jessica Graf said Thursday. “And yet some things didn’t change. The government is the same. The issues of democracy are the same and need to be addressed.”

Since the Hamas massacre, Graf said, Sherith’s leaders have worked hard to “create a safe space” that helps congregants work through their pain and fear. The Reform congregation has not released public statements about the war, but Graf said she’s made Sherith’s position known.

“From the very beginning, I was clear with people that we were going to set boundaries. We support Israel’s right to exist and right to safety,” she said. “And we are compassionate about the suffering of civilians and want civilians everywhere to be safe.”

Rabbi Jill Jacobs
Rabbi Jill Jacobs (Photo/Courtesy)

But it’s time to push the envelope, Graf said. The online series “In Focus: Israel and Gaza,” will feature speakers who will “open the dialogue” about the present and future of both places.

“I think they are going to say things that will really challenge people,” she said.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO of U.S-based T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, will start the series on Thursday, Feb. 8. T’ruah’s progressive agenda includes Palestinian rights and a call to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.

In December, Jacobs wrote an op-ed, “The pro-Israel case for a negotiated end to the war in Gaza,” for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. She acknowledged that calls for a cease-fire have become “toxic” because the loudest voices aren’t Israel supporters.

But she added, “Those of us who care about the long-term flourishing of Israel must ask whether those conducting this war have a strategy and whether the price of victory — whatever ‘victory’ may mean — will be too high.”

Peter Beinart
Peter Beinart (Photo/Courtesy)

Peter Beinart, a left-wing commentator, editor-at-large for Jewish Currents and a professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York, will speak Feb. 29.

In a Jan. 7 op-ed in the New York Times, Beinart wrote about the displacement and potential departure of Gazans. “Some might dismiss this talk of population transfer as wartime bluster. But on the ground, it is already well underway: Gaza is becoming uninhabitable,” he wrote.

Back in 2010, Beinart wrote in the New York Review of Books that young Jews felt emotionally distant from Israel, compared with previous generations. Graf has seen that playing out since the start of the war.

“It turned out there was a lot of truth about what he said,” Graf noted.

Graf hopes the new series rekindles a dialogue that couldn’t happen in the early months of the war.

“We are not trying to convince anyone of anything but really be open-minded … about where Israel is headed,” Graf said.

The story was updated Feb. 12 to reflect Sherith Israel’s revised speaker lineup: 

7-8 p.m. Feb. 8, Rabbi Jill Jacobs. Recording is available here.
7-8 p.m. Feb. 29, Peter Beinart.
10:30-11:30 a.m. March 17, Avital Leibovich, director of American Jewish Committee’s Jerusalem office.
7-8 p.m. March 21, Marco Sermoneta, consul general of Israel to the Pacific Northwest.
The online series is free, but registration is required.

Natalie Weinstein
Natalie Weinstein

Natalie Weinstein is J.'s senior editor. She previously worked as a senior editor at CNET News and, in the 1990s, as a reporter and editor at J., which was then called the Jewish Bulletin.