Steven Moskowitz

Jerusalem Dreams

Several weeks ago, I was riding through the rural roads of Pennsylvania, outside of Penn State, when I confronted a sign planted on a front lawn, “If the Zionists stole your land, you too would be fighting them.” And I thought to myself and screamed under my breath, “You have to be kidding. Even here!”

I am presently in Jerusalem studying at the Shalom Hartman Institute. Before attending the conference’s first lecture, I went for a run along a beautiful walking path that follows an old train route. The path begins in the city’s German Colony and snakes downhill through the Arab village of Beit Safafa toward Teddy Stadium and the zoo. This Arab village holds a special place in my heart. When I lived here in 1987, I taught English to a few of its high school students.

Prior to the 1967 Six Day War the village was divided in half. One half stood within Israel’s territory. The other in Jordan’s. It now sits within a unified Jerusalem. I often see its residents walking along this same path and I secretly hope that I might recognize one of my former students with whom I lost touch decades ago. I want to ask them how their views have changed.

I wonder if they would continue to affirm a desire to remain citizens of the Jewish state if a nearby Palestinian state is established. I would continue, “Do you feel the Zionists stole your land?” I don’t know what their answer might be. I do remember how they once navigated their dual identities of Palestinian and Israeli. It was at times an uncomfortable dance. I do not recall them thinking their neighbors were thieves or embracing the violence terrorists employ.

I feel as if I travel back in time when I visit Jerusalem. It is the Jerusalem of my youth not today’s city, which is overwhelmingly ultra-Orthodox and during other summers filled with tourists. Many of my Israeli friends are abandoning Jerusalem for Tel Aviv’s suburbs. My memories are from nearly 40 years ago. They predate the first Intifada and most certainly the second. They are before everything changed on October 7th.

Do I continue to live in the past?

This is now Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel. It is not the Israel of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. Rabin’s words of “Enough of blood and tears” are forgotten. Every day there are reports of more soldiers killed and injured. Most Israelis do not voice concern about the deaths of countless Gazans or the destruction unleashed on Palestinian homes. Israelis rightly want their fellow citizens to be able to return to their homes in the South and the North. They rightly want the hostages freed. Israelis feel abandoned by their leaders.

I want to ask my former students how they feel that many of their fellow Israelis see them as a threat. How do these Arabs navigate their loyalties to their fellow Palestinians with their commitments as Israeli citizens? I do not imagine the intervening years have made holding fast to these dual identities any easier. I imagine the war in Gaza is equally painful for them, although for different reasons.

Am I living within past memories that no longer hold true? Were they ever true?

Is everyone likewise trapped by such memories? Are Jews and Arabs held prisoner by their attachments to past injustices and former humiliations? Do ancient prophetic dictates hold more sway over political decisions than modern sensibilities?

I walk the streets in which my ancestors roamed. I sense Isaiah’s presence. David’s city stands within reach.

And for a brief moment the conflict seems more distant than it did on that Pennsylvania road. And yet I remain keenly aware that the war continues in Gaza and that increased fighting might be nearing in the North.

It is a strange thing. Here the conflict does not seem as present as it did there. Dreams appear nearer. Jerusalem’s air plays tricks on the soul.

I wonder if I am dreaming yesterday’s dreams. Past and present commingle on these streets.

Yitzhak Rabin, the former soldier and general who turned reluctant statesman, once said, “Enough of blood and tears. Enough.” I can see him turning towards Palestinian leaders. He continues, “We have no desire for revenge. We harbor no hatred towards you. We, like you, are people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, to live side by side with you in dignity, in empathy, as human beings.”

Beit Safafa is now behind me as I struggle up the hill.

I pick up the pace.

I run alone.

About the Author
Rabbi Steven Moskowitz is the rabbi of Congregation L'Dor V'Dor, a community serving Long Island's North Shore. He began his rabbinical career in 1991 at the 92nd Street Y in New York. He travels every summer to Jerusalem to learn at the Shalom Hartman Institute where he is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow. Rabbi Moskowitz is married to Rabbi Susie Moskowitz and is the father of Shira and Ari.
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