I am sick over this whole situation. I am going to start this post by sharing with you a life changing experience that I have had. I will then share my opinions and feelings about the hatred towards the Jews and the problems of Israel. I welcome your feedback. Please know, they are my feelings, not meant to offend.
In 1989 I was fortunate enough to travel to Israel on an Ulpan trip for two months with about 150 kids from around Los Angeles area– I was 15. We toured all over the country. Among other programs, we worked on a kibbutz, floated in the Dead Sea, prayed at the Wailing Wall, we sobbed at ‘Yad VaShem,’ all the while we took conversational Hebrew and Israeli history classes. One of the programs was about the Intifada– the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. It was a panel discussion with three presenters, a right wing Pro-Israel/Pro-Settlements man, a more moderate man– a rabbi, who was in favor of the “Two State” solution, and a Palestinian woman who came to discuss her family’s life situation.
During the talk we listened to the speakers and there was time for questions and comments after each presentation. But when the Palestinian woman spoke, the crowd was rude to her– they cracked jokes, laughed, and talked over her. She struggled to have her voice heard. I was sitting in the audience embarrassed to be among these people and desperate to understand her side. At one point, I was so upset that I could sit no longer. I stood up in front of everyone– with tears in my throat and hands shaking– I said with the firmest loudest voice I could muster through my tears, ” I understand our (the Jewish) need for a homeland given the Holocaust, but we cannot kick people out of their homes!”
Silence fell over the room and I sat down, still shaking, tears streaming. The Palestinian woman was able to finish her speech in peace, and the program was over. Afterward, we all began to disperse and get ready to leave the building and board the buses for whatever was next on our busy schedule. I felt a tap on my shoulder and I turned around. It was the Palestinian woman. She said, “YOU– You I must give a hug.” At that moment we embraced and cried.
The word Israel means, one who has come through a challenging experience with love still in their heart. It comes up in the bible when Jacob wrestles with the angel. Even though I know many people do not share my view and I run the risk of being called “naive” and alienating people I love, I am going to speak here– my truth. I have spent the better part of my life pondering this, and the more I read, the more I feel that I have ideas that can help. This is a simple version of why I think this terrible situation is happening:
We laid claim on the land of Israel — taking back what we hoped would be our rightful homeland. We were persecuted beyond our worst nightmare in Europe, we were scared and needed a safe place. (As a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors I understand this more than most people.) However, other people lived there too. We kicked people out of their homes and continue to settle in places where other people live and have lived. We have people behind barbed wire with watchtowers. We have killed many innocent civilians including CHILDREN. (You don’t have to tell me about all the painstaking effort the Israeli army has taken to avoid the killings, because– as a rabbi dear to me, Noa Kushner says– I know.)
I know the history, I know how we came to this land grab– desperation, years and years of mutual violence between the Jews/Israelis and the Arabs/Palestinians, societal inequality, and total mistrust. Take a look at our trajectory in Israel now– LOOK AT WHERE WE ARE HEADED. We are keeping people behind barbed wire and walls and treating them all like second class citizens. This is creating prison for Israelis and Palestinians. Is claiming a homeland more important than living as one with our neighbors? (Think Shema– our prayer for Oneness.) Is institutionalized racism ever ok? As a Jew and a human being I do hold us to a higher standard than this. I am disappointed in the settlements particularly.
I think the lesson we need to learn here– whether we like it or not– is that we need to share this land. And not just Gaza and the West Bank. We need to share the big kahuna– Jerusalem. Since the bible this land has always been a diverse place. (Think back to Hagar.) Sharing it will result in restored holiness. Ask yourself, is this the type of “Jewish State” you believe in? Is a military state a holy land? Until our laws reflect the most core and basic teachings from God we have been given, to love kindness, to help one another, to hear that we are all one, we will not have the results we ultimately want.
So, what to do? How do we share with people who hate us? Good question. I’m not sure, I could be wrong, but I do have some ideas.
Here are my ideas— for what they are worth:
My vision is for us Jews to shift our focus (from the Kotel and Gaza and the West Bank) onto a new project. Let’s build a new temple in Jerusalem. One where Jews, Muslims and Christians could pray together at times and separately at times. There would be a large communal sanctuary– worship environment– and separate prayer spaces for each religion. Each would have extensive libraries. There would be halal-kosher vegetarian food grown on the premises. There would be skylights. But most of all it would be a place created where we pray with and for each other AND a place for festivals that celebrate our diversity through holidays, art, music, food, philosophy, dance, and more. This could be a place where we all can share our teachings and give of ourselves spiritually in order to soften the lines between us. (I want to be one of the artists that would make this space comfortable for people with differing beliefs.) Perhaps we can call it “The Jerusalem Spiritual Community Center.”
Eventually I would like to see Jerusalem become an Independent State. One that is run by leaders from the 3 major religions and have a mediator like the Dalai Lama. I would like to see the rest of the land be diverse and not partitioned– not unlike living in San Francisco or New York City. We could still have the Jewish Quarter, the Arab Shuk—but we just live together. Just people.
With the help of the Arab/Palestinian people who voted against Hamas and the Israeli/Jewish people who are against the settlements– we can come together, organize a new era and bring this land to justice.
Since I was 15 until now, my feelings have not changed. I prayed for lasting peace then, and I pray for it now. We missed the mark on this holy land and on Yom Kippur we have some serious collective soul searching to do. Let’s make it a true holy land. Let’s SHARE. Think of a new unified country– think “PALESRAEL.” Think compromise. Think of each other.
Warmly and with Unconditional Love,
PS: The way to defeat an enemy is to become their friend.