It was a hot day and as I approached my local bus-stop, I noticed that there was only one person there. That is not a good sign. It might mean a long wait.
The other person there was a Haredi woman, who was reading Tehilim. To my surprise, she looked up and greeted me. After just a few seconds, she asked me, “What is that blue arm-band?”
“It is to show I belong to Women Wage Peace,” I answered proudly.
“What is that?” she asked and before I had time to answer, she added, “You know, there are so many types of peace. There is inner peace and peace within the family and political peace.”
“I know,” I answered. “You are right. And Women Wage Peace is definitely interested in all of those types of peace. But our motto is, ‘We will not rest until there is a peace agreement.’ We are women from all sectors of Israeli society, Jewish and non-Jewish, focused on peace for the State of Israel. We truly believe it is possible and we also believe that it will come from the women.”
She was genuinely interested. “Yes. It is true that redemption from Egypt came because of the women. Women could bring peace, ” she responded. “But wasn’t there an incident in Beit El today? How can you talk about peace when they want to kill us?”
Without hesitating a moment, I answered her. “The moment you say ‘they,’ we have a problem. I don’t work with people who want to kill me. I work with those who share my desire for peace. There is no more a ‘they’ regarding the Arab population than there is regarding the Jews.”
To my surprise, she took my words seriously. “That was a generalization. I shouldn’t generalize. There is no ‘they,'” she repeated, more to herself than to me.
And to my further surprise, the bus arrived just then. She boarded it still saying to herself, “It’s not good to generalize. I mustn’t generalize.”
This conversation happened a few days ago, but the message is really for today, for Tisha B’Av. Baseless hatred, which brought about the destruction of the Second Temple, is all about generalising and extending what might be a legitimate grievance against an individual into fear and hatred directed against an entire group.
We need to turn our fears and our enmities into “baseless love.” However, in order to do that, we may need to reassess they way we think about the past. Tisha B’Av is a healthy way of remembering because we do not focus on our enemies but turn inwards and assess our own role in our misfortunes. Nor do we focus on the pas; we look at repairing the present and creating a different future. We transform our negative memory into positive hope.
In just a few days, the Elijah Interfaith Institute will be opening its summer school to think about the role Memory plays in the religious life. Details can be found at http://summerschool.elijah-interfaith.org.
We all need to understand more about the connection between our past and our future and we all need to learn how to overcome those memories that breed hatred instead of love.