As a way to bring home the tragic violence gripping Israel right now, I’d like to share 4 brief portraits.
One friend, a Conservative rabbi inJerusalem, wrote of a pervasive feeling of dread and issued a plea to his colleagues to hear words of support from the American Jewish community.
Last week, over coffee inNorthamptonwith an Israeli and Palestinian representative of Combatants for Peace, our conversation sputtered as both were constantly checking their smartphones for news, lamenting that it was hard to know what was true and what was not.
Another friend, an American-born rabbi living inJerusalem, wrote on Facebook about his family’s long-term housekeeper who lives in nearby Jabel el-Mukabber, who was afraid not of Jewish Israelis, but her own Arab neighbors. She was afraid that a neighbor might stab her, branding her a “collaborator” for working for Jewish Israelis. She was also afraid of the pressures on her teenage children to commit acts of violence, egged on by talk on the street of Jews taking over the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and by posts on social media instructing people how to kill Jews.
Finally, a friend who lives in theGalileeposted pictures of Jews, Arabs and Bedouins gathering in a village to call for an end to the attacks.
This is a frightening time for Israelis. During such a time, I try to respond in a few different ways. The first is simply to share my concern and love for people I know in Israel– family, friends and colleagues, most of them Jewish and Israeli, as well as some new Palestinian friends who are deeply disturbed by these events. Secondly, I seek to understand the events, comparing information from a number of different news outlets. It is hard not to cling to some kind of political interpretation – we all have our lenses – but I find that it serves me better to see how things develop rather than jump to conclusions. In the midst of a crisis, I believe it is more important to separate truth from fiction and to support gestures of healing and reconciliation.
From the information I have gathered over the past several days, a few features of these events seem noteworthy to me. As has been widely reported, the stabbings are not being promoted by a particular movement or organization. Rather, the incitement has been spreading through social media and word of mouth, and not through any official Palestinian entity or political party. Additionally, the attackers have mostly been teenagers, residents of East Jerusalem, both male and female and not necessarily religious. Finally, observers have noted that political leaders on both sides have employed rhetoric directed more at fanning the flames of enmity rather than restoring calm. Ha’aretz documented how some prominent Israeli Arab political leaders, speaking at a rally of 20,000 in the city of Sakhnin, promoted the inflammatory and unsubstantiated claim that Jewish leaders are angling for control over the Al-Aqsa Mosque. At the same time, Ha’aretz excoriated Prime Minister Netanyahu for indulging in his own brand of incitement by ascribing ISIS affiliations to the Knesset’s Joint Arab List, despite the absence of ISIS flags at any of the rallies or marches organized by Arab political parties or citizens.
I do not know what any of this means for the long term. I am, however, disappointed that those in positions of political leadership are incapable or unwilling to rise to anything approaching a “Mandela moment,” wherein they tap into the yearnings of the people, appeal to reason, and pledge to move forward. Speaking of both Israelis and Palestinians, the Israeli journalist Ari Shavit wrote in Ha’aretz, “In three or four moves of true leadership, the bloody vortex can still be stopped.” So, we all wonder, why don’t the leaders lead? Indeed, based on what I have read, even in recent days, the overwhelming majority of Israelis and Palestinians crave such visionary and principled leadership, preferring negotiation and democracy over armed struggle as the means to secure their future.
In an exchange over email, a dear friend who has lived inJerusalemwith her family for 25 years said, “I can always count on you for hope and optimism.” As at other times she’s said this to me, I felt at once flattered and defensive. Defensive because I am aware that being an American outsider looking in at Israel without having had to live there day to day, pay taxes, and raise my children to serve in the army, my opinion lacks a certain amount of weight. On the other hand, I think my friend, for all of her legitimate and well earned skepticism, knows that my hopefulness flows from my deep love for the Jewish people, my belief in the moral and universal vision that Israel represents and can become, and my commitment to move beyond political correctness so as to be informed by the new reality as it emerges day to day.
All of which is to say that while we are profoundly disturbed and disillusioned by the violence of recent weeks, we are permitted, or even compelled to hope. It seems that my Israeli friends want our hope, and want us to share it with them, however flimsy it may appear to us. Because short of moving to Israel, making aliyah, and engaging in the daily contributions and sacrifices of living there (a prospect that has always had its pull on me), our hope and solidarity is perhaps the best we can offer.
If you have even casual friends who are Israeli, reach out to them wherever they are, and let them know you’re thinking of them during this difficult time. If you don’t have a personal connection, find an organization that you like and make a modest contribution so that you feel some investment in the lives of people who deserve a future of peaceful coexistence. If you have the means, consider making a trip to Israel – not just as a substitute for another vacation, but as an opportunity to learn, meet people, become inspired, and return with a desire to be involved in the universal striving for Shalom. If the cost is beyond reach right now, please speak to me about subsidies that may be available through Jewish organizations. And if these events seem far removed from you, now is the time to develop a closer relationship to the Jewish people, to the people and State of Israel, and to Palestinians. Learn what you can by following Ha’aretz, the Forward, Tablet, the Jerusalem Post, or the Times of Israel online; search for blogs, articles and books you may find interesting or enlightening. If all this is new for you, I would be happy to speak with you and brainstorm if you don’t know where to start. But most of all, inform yourself, because by learning, we become connected, and once connected, we feel compelled to act.
As we do every Shabbat as a community, please join me in praying and working for peace, for all who live in the Holy Land.
Rabbi Justin David