Haviva Ner-David
post-denominational inter-spiritual rabbi, mikveh specialist, spiritual counselor, author

Hope for Palestinian-Jewish Partnership here is not Lost, I Pray

A joint Arab-Jewish candle memorial for those who died in the explosion of the hospital in Gaza City.
An Arabic-Hebrew memorial for the dead from the hospital bombing in Gaza City

For the first days after our horrific Shabbat-Simchat Torah here in Israel, I could not find my words. Anything I could say about how this waking nightmare has affected me was trivial compared to the pain of the victims and their families.

And I was angry — at Hamas for manifesting humanity’s worst evil into the world while claiming to be acting in the name of Palestinian human rights; at Israel’s destructive government which hundreds of thousands of people like myself have been demonstrating against for the past year (trying to prevent catastrophe, but even we could not have imagined one this horrific) to no avail; and at God, or the Universe, for the state of the world.

I was shattered, my worldview shaken, my hopes for and belief in the possibility of peace crushed. Especially when I heard of some Palestinians celebrating in the streets, some so-called human rights organizations supporting Hamas and calling the attack a justified and even praiseworthy act of resistance, and some Jews calling for revenge.

And knowing this barbaric terror attack would lead to more violence, to the loss of more innocent lives in Gaza, and the lives of soldiers who would be sent into Gaza, added to the heartbreak and feeling of doom.

This all paralyzed me. I was struggling. I still am.

But my spirits were lifted and my faith in the path of partnership and solidarity among Palestinians and Jews in Israel, at least, restored, when I began hearing from my Palestinian-Israeli friends here in the Galilee who were also shocked and dismayed by Hamas’ actions: my Palestinian-Israeli friends who told me if I am ever in danger, their home is my home; who spoke out against Hamas on various public forums; and who condemned Hamas’ actions in our local Standing Together chapter’s WhatsApp group, declaring them disastrous for Palestinians, too.

And while we mourned all the deaths and feared for the lives of all the hostages, we were especially shocked to discover peace activist Hayim Katsman, brother of Noy Katsman, who is in the Standing Together leadership, was among those killed, and Vivian Silver, who has devoted her life to peace work in Israel-Palestine, was among those taken hostage.

Hayim Katsman, z”l. Photo courtesy of Hannah Katsman
Vivian Silver, a peace activist who is being held hostage in Gaza. Photo courtesy of Yonatan Ziegan

These friends and I, and others in our Standing Together chapter, demonstrate weekly against the occupation of the West Bank. Yet, as David Grossman wrote in Haaretz last weekend, there are levels of wrongdoing, and what Hamas did is on a different level than the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

Our group was not the only one banding together. Groups of Palestinian and Jewish Israelis cleaned out bomb shelters and now patrol the streets in Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Haifa to prevent internal violence; Bedouin in the south went out in jeeps to find and save people who were missing; Jews and Palestinians across the country joined forces to help the victims, find housing for survivors in the south and people evacuated on both the southern and northern borders, make food packages for and bring supplies to the soldiers, and created a hotline for anyone experiencing bigotry and any other danger or mental crisis in these challenging times; and Jewish and Palestinian Israeli hospital staff are working side by side to heal the wounded.

Joint vigils were held. I was at one such vigil in the Bedouin town of Beit Zarzir near my kibbutz, Hannaton. And I was at the mourning tent of Awaad Darawashe, a 23-year-old medic at the festival who could have escaped in his ambulance but instead stayed to help others. His uncle is my friend Mouhammed Darawashe, a leader in the Palestinian-Jewish shared-society movement who holds high positions at both the Abraham Initiatives and Givat Haviva, two important institutions in this movement.

Awaad Darwashe, z”l. Photo courtesy of Mouhammed Darawashe

Then Israel began the attack on Gaza. As innocent citizens of Gaza scrambled to find safety, we all expressed our pain and concern.

In a Zoom gathering of our Standing Together Chapter with a social worker, we drew maps of our feelings and then shared in breakout rooms. I was in a virtual room with a young Palestinian-Israeli woman, who drew a picture of stick figures of all sizes trying to flee from rockets. It was her depiction of the current reality in Gaza, which is her inner emotional reality now, too. She became overcome with emotion, could not speak, and a huge wave of sorrow arose from my chest to my throat. I, too, could not speak, but I could cry with her.

Then, as things heated up more in Gaza, my various shared society WhatsApp groups began to heat up, too. And when the hospital in Gaza was bombed, leaving hundreds dead, the groups exploded. After midnight, people were sending messages – some arguing, some expressing sympathy, but the tensions were high either way. Finally, by 2am, the groups quieted down.

By morning, with new evidence (it had been an Islamic Jihad rocket, not an Israeli one, that had fallen on the hospital) and a few hours of sleep, there was a different atmosphere in the groups, with people sending messages reminding ourselves that no matter what happens, it is groups like ours that are the hope for peaceful shared living on this land. Someone posted a photo of candles lit by the Haifa Standing Together chapter in memory of the victims in the hospital. Others posted requests to meet on Zoom to talk more calmly. We organized a listening circle for the coming week and started discussing ways we can make our collective voice heard.

A joint Arab-Jewish candle memorial for those who died in the explosion of the hospital in Gaza City. Photo courtesy of Einat Lichtinger

We may fight like spouses, switching between taking the offensive and becoming defensive, when tensions are high, and lashing out at each other (because like in a loving marriage, our group is our safe space) out of frustration and anger at the current reality and the “leaders” who got us into it. But in the end, we have a shared vision, which we must hold onto, especially in these times.

I am aware of the complicated identity and feelings of dual loyalty Palestinian-Israelis feel. Yet, there is also a feeling of a shared fate for all of us who live here, as complicated as that, too, may be.

When I went to a doctor’s appointment in the nearby Palestinian-Arab town of Shefa-Amer this week, I was the only Jew in the waiting room. An adorable toddler started to play with me, and then I began to speak with his parents. It turns out they live in Kafr Manda, the Palestinian-Israeli village across from my kibbutz and the father teaches computer science in a high school there where I taught spoken English and may go back to doing after the war ends. I took their numbers and said how good it feels to connect during these times. The mother, Rana, turned to me and said, “There is no question. We are all human beings. We are all in this together.”

As my Palestinian friends here cry with me for the devastation of Shabbat, I cry with them for the devastation of Gaza. And together we cry for all the victims, and we embrace one another and cry together, along with God, for the endless loss of human life in the name of this ongoing conflict, and for the state of humanity that has brought us to this reality.

My heart is broken, but at least our solidarity groups of Jews and Palestinians are intact. In fact, over these past two weeks, seventy new members joined our local Standing Together chapter. One could even say, it is thriving.

And overall in the country, while Hamas tried to rally Palestinian Israelis to join in their attack and kill their Jewish neighbors, this did not happen. Bigotry and discrimination against Arabs is on the rise since Hamas’ attack, though. Hopefully, we will be organized and effective enough in addressing and combatting it before it spirals into riots and lynches like we experienced here the past times we were at war with Gaza.

And so, at least for now, my faith in the ability for Palestinians and Jews to live in peace on this land is restored – even if it takes generations to heal from our trauma. Or perhaps these events will be a wake-up call that the only way forward after the hostages are returned and Hamas is dismantled (I pray!) with as little loss of innocent human life as possible and within international laws of war, is to solve this conflict through talk and compromise, not terror and war.

When my local Spirit of the Galilee clergy interfaith group met on Zoom and prayed together for peace, I began to regain my spiritual grounding, and those prayers helped me begin to find my words. I was inspired to write the below interfaith prayer for comfort, connection, hope, and peace.

*Interfaith Prayer for Comfort, Connection, Hope, and Peace

May the One who Blessed those Before Us, bless all those suffering from the devastating atrocities and their aftermath, in our midst. May the souls of those departed because of violence and hate and its reverberations rise and find peace, and may their loved ones find comfort, somehow, some way.

As the Psalmist reminds us: “God is with the broken hearted.”

And may it be your will, Divine Womb, that we are able to bring home those precious humans taken captive or still missing.

As Jeremiah laments:

“A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Please, God, bring your children home!

And please, Source of Life, give us strength to continue loving and building trust and friendship across boundaries and amidst the hate and separation.

As Jesus preached on the Mount: “But I tell you, love your enemies [and those called your enemies*] and pray for those who persecute you, that you may all be children of God, who causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Please, Divine Force Flowing Through All, give us strength to carry on, to cling to hope, to the belief that one day there can be a better world.

As Muhammed declares: “Oh, Allah. You are peace, and from You does peace emanate. And to you shall peace return. Bless us, please, oh God, with peace.”

Amen. Ameen. Inshallah!

*add this or use it as an alternative to the words before it, at your own discretion.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David is a rabbi and writer. She is the rabbinic founder of Shmaya: A Mikveh for Mind, Body, and Soul, the only mikveh in Israel open to all to immerse as they choose. She is the author of two novels, three spiritual journey memoirs, and the first and only children's book on mikveh. Her memoirs include: Dreaming Against the Current: A Rabbi's Soul Journey, Chanah's Voice: A Rabbi Wrestles with Gender, Commandment, and the Women's Rituals of Baking, Bathing, and Brightening, and Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Towards Traditional Rabbinic Ordination, which was a runner up for the National Jewish Book Council Awards. Ordained as both a rabbi and an inter-faith minister, certified as a spiritual companion (with a specialty in dream work), and with a doctorate on mikveh from Bar Ilan University, she offers mikveh guidance and spiritual counseling for individuals and couples, and mikveh workshops and talks for groups. Her debut novel, Hope Valley, is available at: Dreaming Against the Current: A Rabbi's Soul Journey, is available at: Yonah and the Mikveh Fish is available at: Her new and second novel, To Die in Secret, is available at: Getting (and Staying) Married Jewishly: Preparing for your Life Together with Ancient and Modern Wisdom, is slated for publication in 2024. She lives on Kibbutz Hannaton with her husband and seven children.