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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
Keeping the Long View Is a Spiritual Practice and Our Obligation as American Jews
Congregation Sherith Israel
July 14, 2006
For much of our time in Jerusalem, we stayed with some of our closest friends there, Sami and Nazira, who are Palestinian and live in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina. They have a son the same age as my three year old son Sam who we had not met until now, one of the main reasons we made the trip. Sam and Yousef speak only English and Arabic, respectively, but with a shared love of cars and their natural interest in each other, they formed a friendship with little translation needed.
Our friendship with Sami, Nazira and Yousef is precious to us not only because they are such thoughtful and loving people, but also because of the perspectives we offer each other, as Palestinians and American Jews.
Despite the stresses of living with violence, checkpoints, and the major impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over their lifetimes, Sami and Nazira understand that there is a difference between the Israeli government and its people. And while they have great anger and disappointments in both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, this does not confuse them in relating to us as people. For the last few years, we have received a New Years card from Nazira on Rosh Hashanah. One year, she carefully wrote the card in Hebrew letters, and as I looked at it over and over, I marveled at her ability to cut through the painful conflict in order to show her love for us. Their clarity and acceptance of us is a gift that continues to lift me during times of increased violence such as the past weeks.
Many times during our trip, we took taxis from West, or "Jewish" Jerusalem to Sami and Nazira's home in East Jerusalem. Given the general separation between the Jewish and Arab populations, including which buses serve the different parts of the city, we wondered each time we entered a cab whether the driver would agree to take us to Beit Hanina. In each case, they agreed, and there was not a single cab driver, Arab or Jewish, who did not ask us who we were and how we came to have close Palestinian friends. Our Israeli friends and family had the same desire to know. "Who are they and what are their lives like? What are their living conditions?
What do they think of the 'situation'"? It was clear that there was a measure of relief to be found simply in learning that people on the "other side" are trying to live regular lives.
One of our closest Israeli friends is a teacher and mother of two sons in the army. When I think about what kind of mother I hope to be, I think of her and the beautiful way she supports her sons to be themselves. It is difficult for me to imagine the young man who played with my son so lovingly last Friday afternoon having to return to his post near Gaza, or perhaps now inside Gaza, fulfilling a tactical mission with which he may not agree, trying to protect his family and friends, trying not to do unnecessary harm. My prayers tonight are said with his lovely face in my mind's eye.
What are we to think and do in response to the recent renewal of deadly violence between Israel and its neighbors? One of our roles as American Jews must be to offer perspective toward a long term solution. This includes working to influence public opinion here at home as well as respectfully offering our thinking to the Israeli government through advocacy with our own government and through the Israel-related organizations we choose to support.
But what perspective should we offer? We may all have read enough news articles now to be reminded that in this complex and protracted conflict, there is a seemingly reasonable justification for every action, as well as a seemingly reasonable condemnation. As supporters of Israel, we must stand up for the right of Israel to defend its citizens.
And yet we may see that the escalation of violence in repeated cycles of retaliation has never brought peace to our beloved homeland. The real solution to this conflict will not be a military solution but a political and human one.
As people who care deeply about Israel but who do not live there, we can and must keep our eyes on the long term goal of a real peace as the only dependable security for Israel. Retaining this focus dos not mean we close our eyes to the immediate needs of Israel to defend itself, but that we evaluate new situations and potential responses with that long term goal in mind. While each of us brings our own view, this goal can unite us and help us to negotiate our way through the ever-changing details of the conflict.
Rabbi Hillel taught, "In a place where there are no men, try to be a man." (Avot 2:6) "Man"? he meant, of course, not as opposed to "woman"?, but as opposed to an animal. The great gift and responsibility of human beings is that of using our minds to guide our actions, and not only our instincts. The process of keeping perspective and using our minds in times of crisis may be understood as a spiritual practice, much like meditation. In meditation, one begins with a focus, such as your breath. Soon, our attention wanders, and we bring it back to the object of focus.
If I am focused on the long term goal of peace and security for Israel and its neighbors, I am less vulnerable to being dragged into the undertow of blame and counter-blame that is the basis of so much of what we read, hear and even say ourselves. I can resist the pull either to agree or oppose an argument, and try to actually think. And when I find I have been distracted into arguing, I can return to my focus and try again. I offer this practice as a way to stay connected to the news without becoming victim to every argument, and as a way for us to take responsibility for being true and thoughtful allies to our brothers and sisters in Israel.