I was brought up in political extremism. I was 11 years old before I understood that the Kahane Chai flag was, in fact, not the Israeli flag. While questioning, activism and study were encouraged, dissonance and alternate philosophies were met with anger and exasperation. I learned to keep quiet.
When I moved to Israel at age 30, I actively pursued my own truth and quite purposely lived in a mixed Arab/Israeli neighborhood to earn my own experience. I waited in line and voted in presidential elections side by side with Arab Israeli citizens. We took our children to the same local park and shopped in the same local market. Although my experience supported some of the ethos from my upbringing, living side-by-side also highlighted that there were many more similarities between us than differences. Ultimately, we couldn’t afford to purchase a home in that (rather exclusive) neighborhood and relocated to an affordable Kurdish/Moroccan Jewish neighborhood which would provide us with the first home of our own.
My first year in Israel furnished me with a myriad of experiences which all contributed to one overwhelming factor: I simply no longer subscribed to extremism. That said, I learned more and more that the overwhelming majority of the Anglo Jerusalemites who surrounded me certainly did.
After a six year love-hate relationship with Jerusalem, we left the city in search of a heterogeneous, affordable community…not an easy challenge to meet. We ended up in a lovely small moshav whose population shared our interest in a mixed religious/secular community. Since we’re secular, I’m often asked why a mixed environment is sacred to me. There are several contributing factors, but lying at the heart of it is that those who are enthusiastic about living amongst families different from themselves obviously hold little interest in extremism. Those unthreatened by opposite opinions are attractive to us.
In our new surroundings, I became infinitely more familiar with a growing left-wing Anglo community — one I was entirely unaware of up until that point. My eyes opened to new opinions, alternate ways of viewing the conflict, and proposed solutions that held both merit and historical accuracy. It filled me with a sense of pride that my local community held juxtaposed opinions, debated them respectfully and generated intellectual curiosity and appreciation of one another’s viewpoints.
Sadly, however, the greater world around us grows more and more extreme in every measure: politically, religiously, financially and socially. The gaps between the sides of each and every conflict widens.
Recently, as part of a professional assignment, I was tasked with ghost authoring a book chapter which included a list of eminent Arab Israeli citizens, illustrating their professional and recognized accomplishments. The outline I received from the researcher detailed a list of six such people, but as I wrote each of their biographies, I was struck with their insignificance in sharp contrast to the heights achieved by their Jewish Israeli counterparts in the same chapter. Both conflict-avoidant and highly professional, instead of returning to my client and challenging their researcher’s list, I approached someone in my local community who is well-known for adamant left-wing views and support of Palestinian rights. My thought process led me to believe that he was a proper resource for the following question:
Are the people on this list “small potatoes” because, given the current political and social environment, Arab Israelis are simply unable to reach the same heights as Jewish Israelis? Or, do I simply have the wrong researcher on the case; there are incredible examples of such people, and further research of my own will lead me to the right list?
Unfortunately, the question was outright rebuffed. The resource I had turned to, an educated, well-respected member of my community, dismissed my question outright as naive, claiming that any such list was a fig-leaf and did not deserve attention. He went on to explain that I must have been selected for such an assignment due to my political leanings and outright ignorance in such matters. He put forth that he would not assist and very plainly turned on his heels and walked away from me, mid-conversation.
Perhaps my question was ignorant. Perhaps my professional assignment was propaganda. I returned home, stunned at being dismissed in this manner, and pondered. Even if his answer was spot-on, I’ll never know, as his extremism overshadowed any information I sought and turned me off the pursuit of the truth.
Extremism, on both sides of so many pressing, relevant issues today simply provokes. It fails to convince, convert or bolster anyone’s repertoire of information. I mourn this failure.
On the eve of Yom Kippur, I implore all of us to open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to alternate ways of living, thinking and responding.
Tolerance is our only chance at survival.