Rebecca Schisler
Rebecca Schisler

Engaging the ‘Other’ for the Sake of Truth

I woke up this morning to notes from family and friends in the states asking if I’m okay. I’m okay, but it’s been a heavy and heartbreaking week. Today the sun is shining. Jerusalem is buzzing with a sense of normalcy despite it all. Two days ago, I heard three big booms and air raid sirens while riding my bike, while folks in my neighborhood ran into bomb shelters. Last night, I had a dream that I was sitting at a table with a bunch of dear leftist activist friends, attempting to share the trouble I have with leftist media’s conflation of Israel’s presence here with European colonialism. It’s not the same story, and the conflation is harmful and inaccurate. State-sanctioned violence against Palestinians here is immoral and abhorrent. And the Jews belong here, too.

As usual, I find myself in the unpopular position of striving to understand multiple perspectives, sifting through the cacophony of contradicting ‘facts’ and histories, manipulative media, and one-sidedness on all sides. But I’m no longer trying to please everyone who may read what I write, and I’m grateful to not spend my days in an echo chamber. My experience this morning of waking up to news of hundreds of rockets falling on Israel from Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza who desire the death of all Jews – and then seeing tons of social media posts from leftist friends in the states who condemn Israel, but mention nothing of the profound vulnerability and terror that people here are experiencing right now – is exhausting. And the right wing trope where Israel is a beacon of light who can do no wrong is infuriating and simply inaccurate.

Left-leaning folks: Please check your sources before re-posting and be aware of the manipulation of media on all sides. The evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and IDF’s violence at the Mosque compound are horrific, AND the multi-generational immensity of this conflict is the opposite of simple. Please understand that Hamas is a terrorist organization who wants Jews to die and Israel to be wiped off the face of the earth, and all of this is extremely scary for Jews, who are a tiny minority in a world rife with anti-antisemitism.

Folks on the right – It’s time to lay down the unquestionable support of everything Israel does and take an critical look at what’s happening here. The current government is corrupt. The Sheikh Jarrah evictions are immoral and cannot be condoned. Extreme police violence at the mosque compound is a devastating travesty and desecration of a site that is deeply sacred to both Jews and Muslims, whether or not there was provocation. Israel has more power and thus more responsibility to deescalate violence. Yes, I understand that Israel is a tiny country in a sea of other countries who are often hostile and existentially threatening. I know all the arguments and can argue myself into eternity. But winning arguments is not the way to peace. Neither side will ever win.

Our unwillingness to question our own stories and engage the ‘other’ has got to stop. I’ve seen the phrase “bothsideism” floating around, which I assume has to do with chalking everything up to moral relatively, and thus condoning violence – and what I’m advocating for is actually the opposite. I’m advocating for the pursuit of truth through engaging those with different views in order to understand more about their reality and see their humanity, thereby learning more about ourselves and the situation as a whole, so that we can actually address it more effectively, and please God, more compassionately. Because violence will never bring peace. Not within our own selves, not in our relationships, not in our communities, and not between nations. What we see when we look deeply enough is that there is no “other,” because the destinies of Israelis and Palestinians on this land are bound up together.

I love this holy land, and my heart breaks for her. May those on both sides who have been injured or lost loved ones over this last month  be comforted in the shelter of divine mercy. May this moment not create more division in our hearts, families, and communities. May it instead be a wake up call for us to come together in our humanity and leverage our powers to deescalate violence and oppression immediately. May we hold sacred a vision of a future worth fighting for, where no one’s liberation must come at the expense of another’s. May we eradicate political greed, hatred, terror, and extremism from our midst. May we have the courage and humility to learn from one another, and the restraint to speak words we’ll stand by.

About the Author
Rebecca is a writer, experiential educator, and Jewish meditation teacher. She recently co-authored a new curriculum integrating social/emotional learning and skills for constructive conflict for high schools with Pardes Institute, and teaches meditation with Or HaLev. A rabbinical student at ALEPH Ordination Programs, Rebecca is passionate about integrating ancestral wisdom traditions with innovative approaches to individual and collective liberation.
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