To Save One Life

Rebecca Berlin Field
4 min readDec 18, 2023

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“Whosoever destroys one soul, it is as though he had destroyed the entire world. And whosoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved the entire world.” — the Talmud

I am not the most observant Jewish person… in fact my family rarely finishes the second half of the Seder…and I am more of a “Shabbat at my favorite Mexican restaurant” Jew rather than a regular synagogue-goer. I am, however, strongly connected to the Jewish people, by both obligation and by pride. I believe that we are bound by responsibility and that we are driven to act out against oppression because we are a people of compassion. And not just compassion, but we are a people whose experiences have been shaped by both bystanders and upstanders. There are those that are fighters, and there are those who let things happen. We know the long-lasting affects of each. I have a theory that the Jews that survived genocide and pogroms…blood libel and expulsion were the most creative and the most irreverent and defiant…and because of these crazy-ass survivor-ancestors, we have all inherited bad-assery as a dominant gene.

But also generational trauma connects survivors. We have been victims so many times, that we can’t fathom ourselves as anything but. And we are frozen, watching our brothers, sisters, cousins, children decimate the lives of people. We are watching souls dying over and over and over again. We are destroying the world. Let me repeat

“Whosoever destroys one soul, it is as though he had destroyed the entire world. And whosoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved the entire world.” — the Talmud

Read it again. Its not a multiple choice question- you don’t get to choose which life you want to save. You don’t get to save just the people who love you. You have to save the people who hate you too. This is heartbreaking work but our relationship with God cannot always just be joyful. We have to act in ways that are scary and that make us feel uncomfortable and angry. We have been asked to prove our belief in justice over and over again but this time justice bends away from fellow Jews. Now we are being asked to prove our commitment to life as we are witnessing evil spouting from other Jewish people. It is much easier to try to explain away actions of others than to condemn our own. We are inundated with video and still photos, PROOF, of Jewish people killing, shaming, erasing and denying the dignity and basic rights of other humans. And the spiritual leaders of the Jewish people? many are silent.

They call for peace without justice, which is no peace at all…and these calls are whispers, afraid that raising their voices will antagonize their congregations. The state of Israel is well past “defending themselves”. It is clear that those of us that have remained quiet are also witnessing starvation, torture, humiliation, and lots and lots of death at the hands of the Israeli government…fellow Jews.

No political entity is worth our abandonment of basic humanity. There are people whom I love and respect and have spent my whole life admiring, who are supporting a state with blind devotion rather than speaking out against atrocities. Its created huge fissures in the foundation of our people. We are thoughtful, imaginative, passionate people but we are not exceptional, nor are the victims of Israel’s brutality less human than we are. We define ourselves as oppressed people and suddenly we have more in common with the oppressors. We don’t get to sit this one out.

You are called by God to defend life at all costs. You don’t get a reprieve from this difficult work. As more and more people die, we are not only abandoning humanity, but we are ensuring a dangerous future for generations of Jewish people to come. By being bystanders, we are radicalizing young people to continue the violence and to fight for destruction of Israel long after this genocide is over. There is no response or action that we could take that would silence the hate that Jews are receiving right now. We might as well fight for life.

It is our responsibility as the Jewish people, to reaffirm our dedication to human life by doing everything in our power to end this; to save the world a million times over. We have never been bystanders.

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