The Jewish community has survived for so long and through so many horrors in no small part because we know, from our history and in our bones, that kol yisrael arevim zeh le zeh - all of Israel is responsible for one another.
At the same time, however, Jewish tradition also reminds us that we aren't responsible only for each other.
One of the Torah's first moral teachings is that all human beings are created in the image of God. The meaning is clear: All people are intrinsically worthy of respect and dignity. Thus, whenever we diminish the humanity of another, we tarnish the image of God in our world.
Torah regularly calls on us to care for the "other" because we know from our own experience what it means to be the "other." And on Yom Kippur, the words of Isaiah will remind us of the fast we're meant to seek: "Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?"
It's never easy to "undo heavy burdens" for others. It's only human to consider our own needs - particularly if the burdens in question are laid upon an enemy with whom we've been locked in violence for decades.
But that's what we, the rabbis of Ta'anit Tzedek - Jewish Fast for Gaza - are asking our fellow Jews to do. We have turned to our community to say: The yoke on Gaza - the Israeli blockade - must be broken. We have thus called for a monthly communal fast to break the silence of the Jewish community on Gaza, to call upon Israel to lift the blockade and to vigorously pursue peace with all relevant Palestinian parties.
INDEED, ISRAEL'S blockade of Gaza has led to widespread suffering in the Gaza Strip, including the increasing malnutrition of children, denial of medical care and of basic goods and services. Numerous human rights groups have found that 60 percent of Gazans don't have continuous access to water; homes and hospitals alike face near-daily power outages, often for 10 hours at a time (while 10% of Gazans have no electricity whatsoever); and because Israel hasn't allowed the electric and water treatment systems to import many spare parts or enough fuel for two years, tens of millions of gallons of untreated human waste is being dumped daily into the sea - threatening the health of Israelis as well.
As Jews and rabbis who care deeply about the Jewish tradition of human decency, we feel a special responsibility to speak out against a policy that leads to suffering on this scale. We're committed to breaking the silence in the Jewish community surrounding the blockade, and we are joining together with those who have been working tirelessly to end it.
It has been suggested in the pages of this paper ("Counterpoint: American rabbis fast for Gaza" by David Forman, August 27) that our concern for the suffering in Gaza indicates that we're unconcerned about Israeli suffering, particularly in the South, where hundreds of rockets have fallen. We were called anti-Israel, "borderline anti-Semitic"; we've even been accused of standing by when Jewish blood is spilled. Overall, it was claimed that we can't love Israel if we seek justice for the Palestinians.
LET US be clear: We oppose this Israeli policy, not the State of Israel. But we reject this "either-or," zero-sum view of the conflict. We believe that the denial of food and other basic necessities is not only an affront to our moral teachings, but only serves to further anger and alienate the Palestinian people, adding to a cycle of hatred that further endangers the lives of Israelis.
But beyond accusations of Jew-hatred, it was also suggested that we don't know the whole truth about the blockade.
In fact, we've examined many sources, including the reports of such important Israeli human rights organizations as B'Tselem, Gisha and Physicians for Human Rights. Eight such organizations recently produced a video decrying the blockade, "Lift the Closure, Give Life a Chance." We're happy not only to learn from but also to partner with these prominent Israeli organizations, and were honored when the Association for Civil Rights in Israel chose to endorse Ta'anit Tzedek.
Those who disagree with the findings of these internationally-respected Israeli organizations should argue the substance of those findings rather than question the loyalties of those who question Israeli policy.
We started the project with just a minyan of rabbis; today we're pleased that more than 70 rabbis are involved. We know that there are many more rabbis who support the cause but fear that going public could put their jobs in jeopardy.
We'll continue to break the silence and insist that the suffering caused by the blockade be addressed in our community - not by name-calling, but by a serious discussion of the facts and the moral implications for us as Jews.
This is the season when Jews search their souls and engage in a heshbon nefesh (moral reckoning). Ta'anit Tzedek calls on our community, and all people, to do a moral reckoning about Israel's blockade of Gaza until it is finally lifted.
The writers are the founders and directors of Ta'anit Tzedek - Jewish Fast for Gaza. www.fastforgaza.net