Dear Union Community,
Like so many of you, I find myself deeply distressed and shocked by all that is transpiring in Israel and Palestine. As I search for meaningful words to share, I am reminded that Union is a school of theology where we explore deep truths, ask important and hard questions, and grapple with the most profound moral challenges facing our human and planetary life.
As a seminary and an institution of higher learning, it is critical that each of us learn as much as possible about Israel, Palestine, and the region, and the long history of both peaceful co-existence and intractable war and crises that have now brought the region to this point. What is unfolding before us is not new and yet still rife with the harshest instincts of our humanity.
The recent actions of Hamas in Israeli villages bordering Gaza were horrendous beyond words and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. I am praying for the immediate and safe return of all Israeli hostages and grieve those lost in this tragedy launched by the depravity of Hamas on Oct.7th.
What is presently unfolding in Gaza must immediately cease. The people of Gaza have been cut off from food and water, their capacity to escape violence has been severely limited, they are suffering through repeated bombings, are living in fear of a ground invasion, and are daily facing the horror of mounting civilian deaths. I am mourning all lives lost to this present crisis. We cannot turn away from this terrible reality nor accept any justification for the massive human rights crisis that is escalating. Joining with voices for peace around the world, we call for an immediate cease-fire.
At Union, it is important that we affirm Israel’s secure existence as well as Palestine’s right to self-determination. Let us work with resolve for a peaceful future for both peoples.
Let us come together as a community to not only advocate and pray for peace but to support each other during this difficult time. While I recognize that as a community, we may have differing perspectives on Israel and Palestine, I hope we can all agree that we want the violence and suffering to end. Let us be united in our calls and prayers for peace.
We must also be acutely aware of the impact of this crisis on New York City and our nation. There has been a decisive rise in antisemitic incidents in our country since October 7th, where our Jewish siblings have been terrified by threatening messages at protests and rallies, among other hateful incidents. I am also deeply alarmed by rising hate crimes and bias incidents against our Muslim siblings. For all who suffer from this rising hatred, I am heartbroken.
These acts of antisemitic violence and hatred against Muslims must be countered by strong acts of love and support. Please be especially gentle with your friends and family for whom the present moment holds much personal and communal fear and pain. We are all people deserving of safety, care, and dignity. May we be careful not to fall into facile political rhetoric and remain mindful and kind. We must also hold in our hearts and minds the many wars and forms of oppression that rage across our communities, nation and world where who you are is used as a justification for harm, to you, or by you.
Let us work for peace in every way we can, be it sharing meals in each other’s homes, marching in protests, and having the courage for challenging conversations in our own communities. As a seminary, let us honor and mourn the wounded and the dead and offer consolation to everyone who anxiously awaits news of loved ones in Palestine and Israel. As people of faith and conscience, let us continue to strive to create a world of justice, love, and peace for all.
As part of our commitment to continuing these difficult but necessary conversations, in the coming weeks we are planning to facilitate dialogue within the community on this tragic situation.
Please know I am committed to following this path towards peace alongside you.
President Serene Jones
About Union Theological Seminary
Union Theological Seminary (UTS), founded in 1836 in New York City, is a globally recognized seminary and graduate school of theology where faith and scholarship meet to reimagine the work of justice. A beacon for social justice and progressive change, Union Theological Seminary is led by a diverse group of theologians and activist leaders. Drawing on both Christian traditions and the insights of other faiths, the institution is focused on educating leaders who can address critical issues like racial equity, criminal justice reform, income inequality, and protecting the environment. Union is led by Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, the 16th President and the first woman to head the 187-year-old seminary.