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Can we hear each other?

Israelis and Palestinians deny the other's foundational story, which makes dialogue difficult, but it is essential to reaching any resolution (Tisha B'Av)
Lifta. (Refaela Barkay)

How does she sit alone? The city that teemed with people has become like a widow…(Lamentations 1:1)

This Sunday, Jews observe Tisha B’Av. We fast and sit on the floor, mourning the destruction of Jerusalem and the holy Temple.

We read the book of Lamentations, and recite a prayer describing Jerusalem as “mourning, destroyed, scorned, and desolate.”

We recall the tragic events that led to our exile from this land, at the hands of the Babylonians 2,500 years ago, and again at the hands of the Romans 2,000 years ago.

Over all those years, we never forgot this land, and we never gave up on our hope of return.

* * *

As water reflects a face to a face, thus is one person’s heart to another. (Proverbs 27:19)

Our story is reflected in, and intertwined with, that of another people.

There is another nation that laments towns and villages destroyed and bereft of their inhabitants, another people displaced from their homes in this land to internal exile and a global diaspora. There are families who walked out of their houses 71 years ago, locked the door behind them, and still carry the key, waiting to return.

On Tisha B’Av, perhaps we can try to hear each other’s stories?

I am asking only that we offer each other a compassionate ear.

Can we hear the story of the grandmother in America, who never forgot her childhood home, a little stone house among olive trees in Palestine, who wanted to walk once more down the ruined streets of her village before she died?

Can we try to understand the pain of losing homes, villages, a homeland? Without ideology, without discussing whose fault it was or whether there was any alternative. Can we leave aside for just a few moments our pain today at the loss of another young life, our fears of terrorism and of what return might mean in practice? Can we simply listen to the Palestinian story of losing homes and dreaming of return? A story that echoes our own?

* * *

Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our houses to foreigners. (Lamentations 5:2)

before the stone house fell

mortar blasted loose
rocks carted away for new purposes, or smashed
the land declared clean, empty

(From “Fifty Years On/Stones in an Unfinished Wall” by Lisa Suhair Majaj. First published in Ripe Guava: Voices of Women of Color, Fall 1999-Spring 2000.)

…as babes and infants expire in the city squares. To their mothers they say, where are grain and wine, as they faint like a casualty in the town squares, as they pour out their souls in their mothers’ bosoms. (Lamentations 2:11-12)

among those forced out
was a mother with two babies

one named Yasmine
and another
whose name no one remembers
her life so short
even its echo
is forgotten

the nameless child died on the march

it was a time of panic
no one could save a small girl

and so her face crumpled
lost beneath the weight of earth

I know only that she loved the moon
that lying ill on her mother’s lap
she cried inconsolably
wanted to hold it in her hands

a child
she didn’t know Palestine
would soon shine

                unreachable

      as the moon

(From “Fifty Years On / Stones in an Unfinished Wall” by Lisa Suhair Majaj)

* * *

Israelis have gone to great efforts to deny and conceal and erase the Nakba.

Palestinians, on the other hand, often perceive Jews as foreign colonialists with no historic connection to the land.

By denying each other’s foundational stories, we have erected a tremendous barrier to dialogue. Dialogue will be difficult, negotiations will be difficult, I’m not writing this because I have any brilliant ultimate solution to offer. But in order to try to reach any resolution, we need to be able to talk to each other.

Talking starts with listening. And what better day than Tisha B’Av to recognize that our two peoples are telling the same tragic story?

With wishes for a meaningful fast and Eid Mubarak.

About the Author
Ilana Sober Elzufon is a Yoetzet Halacha in Yerushalayim, and a writer and editor for Nishmat's Yoatzot Halacha websites (yoatzot.org) and for Deracheha (womenandmitzvot.org).
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