A call to prayer and fasting over fallen peace talks

The talks between Israelis and Palestinians are finally on ice — and the silence is deafening. For the American-Jewish community, motivation for seriously discussing the peace process seems to have been quashed along with the latest round of talks themselves, if it hadn’t been already.

I understand silence. For anyone who loves Israel and cares at all about peace, the picture is truly depressing. And perhaps we really don’t know what to say. We’re used to rational debate, to solutions, to criticisms, to convincing each other. Maybe for some of us, there just doesn’t seem to be much point in any of that, especially now that even Secretary of State John Kerry is hitting the “pause” button.

But in the long term, there are great dangers that lurk in this silence:

1. It allows the emotions we don’t want to deal with to fester.

2. It leaves others with the impression we don’t care.

3. It can exacerbate our own sense of hopelessness and may draw us into greater apathy.

4. It reinforces the divisions within the broader Jewish and pro-Israel community.

Can we avoid the dangers of silence and not be left in a state of constant argument? Can we give voice to our emotions in a safe, unified way, one that can have a net positive effect on both the messages we send one another and project to the world?

We can — and must — do all these things. And we can do so the same way Jews have for centuries: through prayer.

In this and the previous week, the Jewish calendar includes three optional fast days, known collectively as “BaHaB.” (This is an acronym for Beis, Hei, Beis — Thursday, Monday, Thursday.) These rarely observed fasts were traditionally used to guard against the kind of frivolous spirit that can take hold if we focus excessively on celebratory aspects of a long holiday such as Passover. 

For the first time this year, in light of the sobering consequences of peace negotiation failures, I decided to observe the fasts of BaHaB on May 5 and May 8 and plan to do so again on May 12.

I am calling on the greater Jewish community to join me on the final day of BaHaB, to fast and pray together, to cry out collectively in the name of peace in the Holy Land. All are invited to evening services to share words of inspiration and search their souls through liturgy, reflection and (for those that are able and willing) literal and metaphysical hunger.

Our tradition demands we pray for peace every day, multiple times a day. If we cannot see how peace can be practically achieved, it only becomes more necessary to keep our hearts open to at least the ideal of peace, whenever and however it comes.

Let us open our hearts — and our tear ducts — together. We may not have solutions right now, but we can demonstrate to each other and to the world that praying for peace, crying for peace, is who we still are.

Michael Feldman is a Los Angeles cantor and lawyer specializing in legally or religiously based conflict resolution, problem solving and communications.  For more information, visit facebook.com/prayforIPpeace or email the author at mjfmediation@gmail.com.