Home Top Stories Amid the Israel-Hamas war, religious leaders in the U.S. reflect on the power of unity

Amid the Israel-Hamas war, religious leaders in the U.S. reflect on the power of unity

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Amid the Israel-Hamas war, religious leaders in the U.S. reflect on the power of unity

As the death toll from the Israel-Hamas war continues to climb, religious leaders across the U.S. are grappling with their own feelings of pain and frustration. CBS News invited a rabbi, an imam and a reverend to reflect on the power of unity in difficult times.

For New York-based Rabbi Rick Jacobs, joining the tens of thousands of people who gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 14 for the March for Israel rally was a way to show solidarity for Israel and condemn antisemitic incidents in the U.S., which he noted are on the rise since the start of the war last month.

“It is a painful moment, but it is one where we need one another,” Jacobs said. “We stand together, we are one people in our grief, but also one people in our resolve to endure through this and regain our security.”

Rabbi Jacobs at the March for Israel in Washington, D.C.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs at the March for Israel in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14, 2023.

Photo by Sherwyn Santos


Jacobs heads the Union for Reform Judaism, which is the largest Jewish movement in North America. He recently returned from Israel, where he met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and the families of victims of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.

“My heart breaks for my Jewish family, but also my heart breaks for innocent Gazan civilians,” Jacobs said. “Our [Jewish] tradition commands that we affirm that which is holy and good in life, especially at times when we are feeling very broken. That is a part of what religious traditions can do, they can help us pick up and move forward out of unspeakable loss.” 

In the face of an escalating war, Jacobs urges all faith leaders and their communities to come together and find a common ground to stand on. 

“Unity does not represent unanimity to me,” he said. “It is unity among our diversity. The amazing thing about the world God created is that we are all different and yet in our core and our innermost essence we are alike.”

In Dallas, Texas, Imam Dr. Omar Suleiman said he is glued to the news feeling a sense of helplessness and frustration as the death toll of children in Gaza rises each day. 

“I could have easily been one of those kids. Being a Palestinian-American, I think this is probably how a lot of us feel, we realized that it could be us,” Suleiman said. “There is that guilt, it is almost like survivors’ guilt.”

Imam Suleiman
Imam Dr. Omar Suleiman

Suleiman founded the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, a Texas-based Islamic research institution, and is one of America’s most prominent imams. Last month, he spoke at the funeral for the 6-year-old Muslim boy in the Chicago area who police say was fatally stabbed in a targeted hate crime.

“I am trying to give people hope, clarity, and courage, but at the same time trying to be with them in their grief and devastation,” Suleiman described. “Faith is the only thing that can give hope in times like these. So, it is profoundly important for people to lean into something greater and to hope for something greater.” 

Suleiman uses social media to reach millions of followers every day, urging them to the stand up against Islamophobia and for Palestinian rights. 

“This is a moment where we have to speak out,” he said. “There has been genocide in our lifetime, but this is the first time it is playing out on our screen in real time with such rapid pace.” 

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, Suleiman has helped organize multiple pro-Palestinian protests across the country. 

“I have never seen a greater interfaith representation at our Palestinian protests as I have seen right now. It has been deeply comforting and healing,” Suleiman said. “When things like this unfold in front of us, we can choose to be paralyzed by the problem or we can choose to be a part of the solution. Never underestimate the impact you can have, even with your small group of friends.” 

At a recent interfaith panel discussion at New York City’s Carnegie Hall sponsored by The Rabbi Sacks Legacy, a nonprofit organization that shares the teachings of the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Muslim leader Imam Abdullah Antepli encouraged people of all faiths to be united.

“Any believer of any kind, any person who has faith, commitment and conviction — our biggest enemy that causes moral paralysis is despair and hopelessness,” Antepli said at the event on Oct. 31. “We should not give into hopelessness and despair.”

In the past month, Reverend Dr. Mae Elise Cannon has visited dozens of Christian churches nationwide to advocate for a bilateral ceasefire and immediate humanitarian assistance for people in Gaza. 

credit-brian-kammerzelt.jpg
Rev. Cannon

Photo by Brian Kammerzelt


“My faith is really the only thing that keeps me going,” Cannon told CBS News. “From an earthly perspective, there is no hope. And yet because we are people of faith, I fundamentally believe light will overcome the darkness.” 

Cannon leads the Churches for Middle East Peace, a multi-denominational coalition based in Washington, D.C., that promotes peace and justice in the Middle East.

“I think we can come together around our common humanity,” Cannon said. “We can have unity if we can agree that every life should be valued.” 

Watch video below of the The Rabbi Sacks Legacy’s recent interfaith panel on the theme “To Heal a Fractured World”:


The Sacks Conversation 2023 by
The Rabbi Sacks Legacy on
YouTube

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