After weeks of dry weather, as Israel gears up for Shavuot, a few drops of rain fell in Jerusalem. Perhaps the last rain before the long, dry Israeli summer sets in, it felt a little like kindness.
On Shavuot, our story opens with three women. One leaves and then there are only two. Naomi stands childless, penniless, landless and despairing. Ruth, her daughter in law, also has nothing. She is manless, landless, and homeless. Here are two women on the lowest rung of the patriarchy. They are standing on scorched earth. And then, there is a sudden shower:
“Wherever you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die.”
Powerful, simple, poetic: Ruth speaks with compassion. She says, You are not alone. I am with you. It makes water come to your eyes. Nothing builds a relationship faster. Like water on hard earth, she creates hope where there was none. That moment of identification with someone else’s pain transforms Naomi’s bitter narrative. It uplifts all who hear it. In fact, it changes history.
This is what compassion can do. When politicians of all stripes depart from the despairing narrative of “What they did to us,” and speak with compassion to the other, they create a momentary, fleeting, re-framing of the searing heat of bitterness, of the scorched earth of loss. Alone, we are infinitely flammable. Compassion joins people. It’s like a few drops of rain.
In 1997, King Hussein visited the bereaved families of Israeli schoolgirls murdered by a Jordanian soldier. He stood alongside Prime Minister Netanyahu and told the parents, “Your daughter is like my daughter. Your loss is my loss.” Just like when Abu Mazen condemned the kidnapping of Naftali, Efraim and Gilad. Just like when Netanyahu spoke with the parents of Muhammed abu Khudair. Just like in 2010 when Ahmed Tibi condemned the racism of the holocaust. Minister without Portfolio Yossi Peled, himself a Holocaust survivor said, “As a survivor, I say to you that you moved me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Ahmed.”
Like rain on despairing ground.
And before you dismiss these examples as trivial, know that in terms of negotiations, one of the key ways to undermine negotiations is to dismiss the gestures and concessions of the other side.
As Colum McCann said, “Cynicism is easy. An optimist is a braver cynic.”
I think we need more compassion. I keep thinking about the people of Sussya this week and wondering if some compassion will patter on their tin sheds. Not on the Jewish homes, whose owners got the right to build. The sheds of the others, the ones that didn’t. How might a shower of compassion change that story?
As Shavuot heralds the beginning of the dry season, I am already missing the rain. The smell of the air after it’s been washed is like the smell of a blessing. It feels like compassion. There are times I wish it was wetter here.