From grief to collective action for ceasefire

Jay Bergen (left) and Deb Bergen joined Jewish Voices for Peace on October 18 to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. — Jay Bergen

On Wednesday, October 18th, we, a mother and an adult child, joined hundreds of others at a small Episcopal church across the street from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. The sanctuary was packed beyond capacity with members of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a national movement of Jewish people that supports the liberation of Palestine. The crowd gathered Jews from across the country, along with a small number of Christian allies and the two of us Mennonites, to call for a ceasefire.

For the past month, our hearts have run over with grief and anger. As we write this, bombs continue to fall on the people of Gaza, flattening neighborhoods, massacring whole families, and destroying schools, hospitals, and places of worship. We have grieved with our Jewish and Palestinian friends, and we have grieved our own complicity as Christians and as U.S. citizens.

Grief is a potent feeling. It can be weaponized in the service of militarism, whether in the current genocidal bombing of Gaza, or after September 11th. It can lay heavy on us, stifling our voices. In these moments, we struggle to speak the truth, to practice what Audre Lorde famously called “the transformation of silence into language and action.”

One antidote to silence is collective action. In large actions like this, organizers often use affinity groups of 10-20 people, each one sending a representative to a central spokescouncil to relay questions and information. This allows participants to have the benefits of a smaller, trusted community within a much larger and more powerful action. After reviewing the plan for the day and practicing some songs, the crowd spilled out into the sunny churchyard.

A couple hours later, the two of us and the rest of our affinity group made our way to the rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building. As twenty rabbis took the center of the rotunda, four hundred Jews and allies streamed in, singing songs in Hebrew and chanting, “Ceasefire now!”

We sang and wept as we listened to the rabbis read testimony from people in Gaza. Slowly the police began to arrest us, and our voices continued to echo through the halls, encouraging each other. 

As U.S. Christians, we feel an obligation to take collective action opposing Christian Zionism, a movement that Jonathan Brenneman Nahar, a Palestinian Mennonite, defines as “Jews taking control over the biblical land of Israel [which] will bring about Jesus’ second coming and the end of the world, when Christians will reach salvation and non-Christians — including Muslims and Jews — will be annihilated.” There are more Christian Zionists in the U.S. than there are Jewish people of any ideological persuasion. 

As Mennonites with a family legacy of complicity in European antisemitism, we felt a responsibility to take collective action at the invitation and under the leadership of our Jewish siblings, particularly JVP members and rabbis who are close friends of Jay. We must say with our mouths and with our bodies: “Never again.”

UCC pastor Margaret Ernst (another friend of Jay’s) writes, “As Christians, we must stand alongside both Jews and Palestinians in mourning lost lives. We must recognize our own historic responsibility for all of this horror. True repair of the past means demanding a true just peace.”

As followers of the Prince of Peace, we feel called to be active peacemakers. We seek to transform our silent grieving into collective action, for a ceasefire in Gaza, an end to apartheid and occupation, and freedom for all Palestinians. We let our grief lead us to action for a just and lasting peace.

Jay Bergen

Jay Bergen is the pastor at Germantown Mennonite Church (Pa.) in Philadelphia, and a volunteer organizer with the Coalition to Read More

Deb Bergen

In "retirement," Deb Bergen draws on her own learning as a child psychiatrist in 6 countries and learning from her Read More

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