Jeremy Burton

Finding Hope Amidst Crisis

As a wave of terrorism – daily attacks including vicious stabbings of Jews – flows over their nation, I went to Israel this past weekend on a CJP Boston solidarity mission. What I heard there is concern about a deeper crisis. But I also came away with the hope that there is a path to a better future.

We met the family of 76-year old Brookline, MA, native Richard Lakin, who was fighting for his life. Lakin made aliyah 30 years ago. He was a volunteer tutor at the Hand in Hand Arab-Jewish co-existence school in Jerusalem, and when the school was burned last year he became active in Tag Meir, a group exposing and counteracting religiously motivated Jewish violence. Two weeks ago, this former Freedom Rider was viciously assaulted in a horrific bus attack in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood of Jerusalem. After the attack, when the U.N. Secretary General asked Lakin’s granddaughter what his message to the world would be right now if he were able to speak, she responded: “There are options; hatred is not one of them.” Lakin died on Tuesday, October 27th.

We also met the parents of a thirteen-year old boy who was brutally stabbed while riding his bike in the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood of Jerusalem.  Jewish and Arab doctors at Hadassah Mount Scopus – working side by side – saved his life after profound blood loss. These doctors also saved the life of his attacker. What message do these healers have for the world? “Medicine can be a bridge to peace.” The young victim was released on October 27th and he continues his recovery at home.

In Boston’s sister community, Haifa, we saw university students, traditional Muslims and secular IDF veterans alike, studying together on a day when they and the nation had marked Yitzhak Rabin’s 20th yahrzeit (the date of his assassination on the Gregorian calendar comes next week on November 4th).

Through a Boston-Haifa partnership program we met young mothers – Christian, Muslim, and Jewish, native born and immigrants – learning parenting skills together while caring for their children and for each other. Across Haifa and all over the country we saw signs in store fronts and homes that expressed the sentiment: “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.”

Again and again the people are expressing a powerful commitment to focus on what unites them and transcending that which divides them.

But we also heard other voices. As Israel marked this anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish zealot who opposed any steps toward peace we repeatedly heard from people yearning for courageous leadership amongst those in high office today.

One Israeli analyst characterized the government’s response to the stabbing violence as the necessary firm hand of authority, but lacking the wise hand of vision. Another lamented all of the missed opportunities that result from a lack of a willingness to engage in imaginative diplomacy. One Israeli reminded me of the words of Rabin: “We must fight terrorism as if there is no peace process and we must pursue peace as if there is no terrorism.”

The Palestinian leadership has also failed. They have continued to reject a history of Jewish presence in the land and they have continued to incite violence, as when President Abbas praised those who spilled blood in the streets – tactics which do not give Israelis any hope that, should they take the necessary risks to end the conflict, a lasting peace is possible.  The Palestinian leadership has also failed to offer Palestinians a realistic path to statehood or a narrative that embraces Palestinian statehood coexisting with Israel.

The people I talked to told me that Israelis and Palestinians suffer from a lack of visionary leadership. They see the men in office today as merely managing the moment, but lacking the courage to take the bold steps needed for a better future.

But I return home with my faith in these people intact. My faith comes from those who march against hate, who refuse to be enemies, who keep working for co-existence, and who continue to show remarkable courage.  I believe they will continue to work to create a national movement for a better future built on the belief in co-existence that they fight for every day; that their unyielding belief in the human dignity of both peoples can lead to change; and that they can find the audacity to demand leaders who do envision a better future and have the courage to pursue it.

I believe in the people I meet whenever I travel here. They are ha’tikvah – the hope for Israel’s future – Jewish, secure and democratic, co-existing with a Palestinian people with a state of their own in a shared homeland.

About the Author
Jeremy Burton is the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC), defining and advancing the values, interests and priorities of the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston in the public square. He has been published widely, including in the New York Jewish Week, the Jewish Forward, Zeek, Sh’ma, and the Washington Post: On Faith. The JTA included him in their 2010 “Twitter 100” list of the most influential Jewish voices on Twitter.
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