I am the product of genetics and environment as are you. I am lucky enough to have grown up Jewish in America with two tremendously supportive parents. I learned from their examples and was taught at a young age that we are all children of G-d and that each woman and man is due respect. One of the early points of reference in my life came when I spent a summer working as an assistant with the maintenance crew led by a black man; John Saunders. He was old, maybe mid-fifties, overweight and not especially quick in comparison with a sixteen year old. But John taught me a lot of important lessons in the way he completed his work and the way he reacted to the people who treated him fairly and those that didn’t. He didn’t ever make a lot of money, but saw to it through faith and hard work that his family did OK and one son became a lawyer and the other a doctor.
More than a dozen years ago I found myself in my synagogue; Kehilat HaNahar; the Little Shul By the River; www.kehilathanahar.org/ in New Hope, PA, having to stand up and take on the role of Social Action Chair, because a dear friend; Jerry Halper, died unexpectedly. I decided that neither the synagogue nor I knew enough or were involved enough with Israel and thus I began a course of study that continues to this very day. I pulled my synagogue and Rabbi Sandy Roth ZT”L along with me by convincing it to sponsor a dialogue between the Israeli Consul General and the Deputy Director of the PLO in March 2000.
I made my first trip to Israel/Palestine in March 2001 as part of the Mid-East Diplomacy Delegation led by Leah Green, who became Director of the Compassionate Listening Project; http://www.compassionatelistening.org/ and met Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, extremists, government officials and victims of the conflict. I can’t say that I always agreed with Leah or saw the ongoing war on the same terms. But I met people who were victimized by a far stronger enemy who held control over much of their lives in the West Bank and was able to create facts on the ground almost at will. My heart went out to these people and I focused a lot of energy on working to defend their human rights. Accordingly, a few of those most outspoken in my community took notice and eventually characterized me as a “self-hating Jew.”
I continued to read and write and reach out to take in and try to understand the full spectrum of knowledge on the Middle East conflict from history to the present and in the process found that there are plenty of victims on both sides, that death continues to haunt this unending tragedy and that there is more than enough well founded anger, fear and provocation and people, organizations and governments that are not interested in promoting peace.
I do not see this as a reason for vengeance, but a call to rationality in the face of a horror that has affected the citizens of Rafah no less than the citizens of S’derot. It is not easy to make peace or even to make room in one’s heart for an enemy that has killed not only ones fellow citizens, but one’s own family. But Yitzhak Frankenthal; http://www.arikpeace.org/eng/ and Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish; http://www.daughtersforlife.com/ are examples of individuals who have lost so much and have yet found it possible to look beyond hatred. I can talk the talk and maybe even walk the walk a lot easier some 5000 miles away from Jerusalem. But it is hard for everyone that is there and for many it is frankly not possible to look out through the lenses of one’s experience and nature and remove the impediments that have been placed in your heart by the actions and reactions of a most hostile other. We are challenged to look across the Wall and consider those who wish us no harm. We are challenged to think about those who simply want a safe and decent life for their children with the freedom to travel and seek education and employment and even entertainment at a place of their own choosing. I realize that none of this is available without a foundation of security. I also realize that peace is not a panacea that erases decades of death and destruction and the pain of losses that can never be replaced.
I am still on my path and must admit that I have a long way to go. But I have met and continue to meet people, Israelis and Palestinians alike who have taken a step or even many steps on a path toward communication, understanding, reconciliation and peace. No one can eliminate all the obstacles along that path. But each of us, in our own time and our own way can stretch beyond all we know to make room for something new and evolutionary. I look forward to meeting you along the way.
The words here represent the beliefs of the author and should not be construed as the policy of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace.