Gaza conflict on the mind of Rockland rabbi

Posted Jan. 12, 2009, at 9:13 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:48 a.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Maine’s Jews are keeping a watchful and concerned eye as the fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza continues unabated.

Rabbi Amita Jarmon of Adas Yoshuron synagogue said the Jewish community keeps in touch with the Gaza crisis through the Internet and in e-mails back and forth. She said the situation is raised in common conversations as well as during religious services.

“We had a potluck Shabbat [Sabbath] in Belfast Friday night and the conversation largely was about the situation there,” Jarmon said Monday. “There was a couple who had just returned from Israel. They were there when it [the fighting] started. This is on our mind, on all our minds. One thousand people have been killed.”

Israeli forces have been striking targets in the Gaza Strip since late last month in response to rocket attacks launched into Israel by Palestinian Hamas militants. A cease-fire between the parties began unraveling in November.

From the moment the previous cease-fire ended and the fighting began, Jarmon and others have called on Maine’s U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to urge the government to do all it can to bring about a cease-fire. She said the Jewish peace group Brit Tzedek V’Shalom, or Covenant of Justice and Peace, has made a similar effort throughout the country.

Israelis and Palestinians connected to the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information also have been pressing for a reconciliation for years. Jarmon said that although extremists in both populations now control the situation, there are moderates who want peace.

“Many organizations have been working together for peace for years,” she said. “It’s not like everybody hates everybody and doesn’t talk to one another.”

Jarmon understands the positions of both populations in what appears to be an endless struggle. She said Jews and Palestinians lived in relative harmony when Arabs dominated Jerusalem and the surrounding lands. Although they did not allow Jews access to their holy sites, the Arabs allowed them to go about their business. It was only when Jews from Europe began settling there in the early 1900s that animosity strengthened. The establishment of a Jewish state after World War II and successive wars and conflicts hardened feelings.

“Today, extremists on both sides control everything. The Jewish extremists and the Muslim extremists are continuing the situation and making it hard on everybody,” she said. “I hope that somehow this fighting is brought to an end. It’s hard to imagine all this death and destruction is going to lead to good. It’s just creating more hate. How much of the suffering is the fault of the Israel occupation or how much is it the fault of Hamas putting its resources into rockets and weapons instead of putting them into life?”

Jarmon feels a strong personal connection to Israel as she lived and studied there for six years after graduating from high school in Massachusetts in the 1980s. She plans to relocate to Jerusalem in March. She said she was somewhat leery about moving to Israel during a time of violence but the ancestral Jewish homeland has an emotional pull that is hard to overcome.

“Jerusalem is a holy city, it’s a magical city. It’s intense for everyone but it just seems like it’s the heart of the world for me. It’s a powerful place to be,” she said.

“Jerusalem connects me to my roots. I feel connected to God and a connection to the land of Israel and it’s not something I can ignore. It’s a place of history where I can practice the tradition of my religion. The rhythm of life is Jewish, the Sabbath is the Sabbath. … There you are a fish in the water; here a Jew is a fish out of the water. In Israel it’s natural to be a Jew. That is what draws me to the place. It’s very alive and intense.”

Jarmon said she hoped to find work with a peace and justice group in Israel. She said she wanted to lend her voice to the cause of peace. She said she also wanted to work in the field of education with American and other students visiting from abroad.

“It’s probably the closest thing I can do to be a rabbi in Israel,” she said. “We live in a unique time in history. It’s peaceful in Maine, and people ask, ‘Why go to a place like that?’ I have to go, I have to go.”

To connect with Brit Tzedek V’Shalom visit btvshalom.org. For up-to-date information on the conflict visit haaretz.com.

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