Holding Multiple Truths Simultaneously

I feel like we are all in a boxing ring.  You are either on one side or the other and each is so wrapped up in themselves they can no longer see the other.  As an Orthodox observant Jew who believes completely both in the Mitzvot between us and G-d as well as those that dictate our actions and interactions with each other, I feel at a loss as too many have chosen one side or the other in this existential boxing ring and I am in the middle.  For those of us who are trying to reconcile what is going on and not retreat to the respective corners in considering the pain, the agony, the conflicts, the vitriol thrown our way and so much else in our world today, holding multiples truths simultaneously is exhausting and sometimes a very lonely place to be.  We are getting pummeled from both sides and trying to not lose our own core identity and beliefs.

Here are just a few of these truths that I am holding simultaneously in my hands, stretching them as far as they will go.

Truth #1:  I stand with Israel.  I love Israel and want so much better for Israel.  I do not agree with everything coming from the government and have had very real concerns for some time, certainly before October 7 and amplified now by more and more people retreating to the boxing ring opposite corners. Treatment of Palestinian villages, behavior of some settlers, recent movement to the right in the government which does not benefit so many groups are just some of the severe problems that trouble me.  In normalizing the conversation, I should point out that  I love the USA and want better for this country as well.  There are fundamental values that we share – Israel and the USA – my two homes —  and unfortunately, for a multitude of reasons, I think we have lost our way in both countries, one fighting a war on the ground and both fighting wars of words and intolerance, in addition to lack of equitable treatment of so many, all very real and damaging.

Truth #2: Abiding by the words of Torah, I do believe that we should not oppress “the other” and I cry for all innocent victims of terrorism and power-hungry despots in the Middle East, in Ukraine and throughout the world.  We are taught to provide for the widow, the orphan, the indigent and basically show concern for all of our own brethren and by extension for all of humanity as we are all children of Adam and Eve and part of this large family.  Within the complexities of the situation in Israel, I know that too many innocent civilians are dying and hurt on both sides of the Palestinian/Israel divide and cry for all of these individuals who are losing their lives and for all of us who are losing so much along the way.  This is further complicated by the use of educational materials and indoctrination to hate and kill Jews and destroy Israel which is part of the context and narrative of lives of many Palestinians.

Truth #3:  I do not accept terrorism as an option to justify actions of destruction. Hamas’ Charter and their own words daily in interviews at this time make very clear their desire to destroy all of Israel.  Israelis are suffering, Palestinians are suffering … we are all suffering and not only that, we are turning against each other, which is most likely one of their goals. In this, clarity is being lost to being “woke,” especially amongst our young people.  As Hamas uses their own citizens as human shields and Israel tries to behave according to the Laws of War at great collective cost, again, this is not a tenable situation.

Truth #4:  Responsible entities wait until they have the facts before reporting.  The recent Gazan hospital media fiasco is clearly Exhibit A.  Despite many reports from experts, tapes of Hamas leaders claiming it was not Israel, a retraction from the New York Times, and video confirmation, the myth initially pedaled by Hamas news sources is still accepted by too many people.  Israel is often, if not virtually always, at a media disadvantage as Israeli media will hold back and not respond to situations on the ground until they have some reliable data on hand.  Hamas on the other hand, according to its own words, wants to inflame, blame, and again, destroy all of Israel through any means possible.  All of us need to check where we receive our news from and be responsible in consuming what is put out in the public domain.

Truth #5: We must acknowledge each other and the complexities that exist in our world that impact upon us.  Everyone has their stories and their historical baggage.  No matter what one’s story is, and even if, especially when, it is difficult to do so, we have to listen with compassion and concern to the story of “the other.”  When we can no longer talk with each other and see each other as fellow human beings, this is when we lose our sense of humanity.  All three religious monotheistic groupings have strong roots and history in this land, while we must remember that the indigenous people are the Jewish nation. How do we negotiate this?

Truth #6: Trust me, NO ONE wants a world without Israel.  People may think they do but look at the many accomplishments of Israel with all of its challenges.  Think of what research has been done, medical findings made, high tech progress and so much.  By the way, so much of this has been accomplished with joint efforts of Jews, Muslim, Christians, Druze, Palestinians, and so many others from various nationalities and religious groupings, all of whom call this land home.  This is a democracy and simultaneously a Jewish State.  This dual identity comes with inconsistencies, tensions and angst while alongside incredible progress and accomplishments which have  benefitted so many.  Israel DOES NOT talk about obliterating ANY of these groupings.  They sit in the Knesset, are on regional councils, and attend the Universities, learning how to better our world.

In holding all of these truths and their inherent layers, we must remember to be wary of conflating different elements and allowing  intersectionality to run amuck.  Boxing rings are really artificial as they do not allow for the many different components of who we are as people.  Each of us is a complicated Venn Diagram with many intersecting circles;  Israel is as well.  Black and white positions reflect a misunderstanding of the complexities.

Here is the greatest and saddest irony about how this war began.  People in the Kibbutzim who were murdered were peace makers, who were working with Palestinians in Gaza to circumvent the difficulties and limitations placed by Hamas.  They lived there by choice and had many wonderful relationships with Palestinians, as do many such initiatives in Israel/Palestine, including the Yad b’Yad schools, the Galilee Circus, sports leagues, the work at Givat Haviva, cooperative cities, environmental sustainability  initiatives, and so much more.  But Hamas, blinded by their singular stated cause in their own words “to destroy all of Israel” does not see that.  Instead, they pilfer supplies from the Palestinians to build their underground world, and yes, this is all well documented.

So, what do we do!  The challenge here is to hold ground, to continue trying to bring groups together and to not let go of these goals that are rooted in our Jewish teachings.  Only then, will we have any chance of continuing to have the strength and fortitude to hold multiple truths simultaneously.

About the Author
Dr. Saundra Sterling Epstein (Sunnie) earned her B.A., M.S. and Ed.D at the University of Pennsylvania. Sunnie directs BeYachad , bringing Jewish living and learning together and has been teaching texts, reaching and inspiring students and looking at challenging issues in the world in which we live and how to bring these three together for decades. She has published widely in a variety of venues on a variety of topics, including Women in Faith, Inclusion of LGBTQ Members in our Communities of Faith, Environmental Sustainability, Prayer, G-d Talk, the importance of Interfaith and Intrafaith Dialogue, Israeli-Palestinian Relations Beyond the Conflict, and so many others. Sunnie presently is Director of the Welcoming Shuls and Communities Project of ESHEL, the National LGBT Inclusion Consortium for the Orthodox Jewish Community, gives shiyurim in various communities, serves on the leadership team a Multi-Faith Coalition and continues to develop creative ways of teaching texts. Her book, Life Journeys: Stepping Back and Moving Forward was published in February 2017 and is available through