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

Learning from the ‘stranger’ in our midst this Sukkot

Photo credit Haviva Ner-David. The sign reads, "Call the Police and Tell Them a Jew was Shot."
Call the Police and Tell them a Jew was Shot. Photo credit Haviva Ner-David

While Jewish towns and cities filled with sukkah huts this week, Arab towns and cities filled with mourning tents.

Monday, I visited the mourning tent of Nura Dlaika in Basmat Taboun, fifteen minutes from my home in Hannaton. Her two sons, Walid, 15, and Adam, 17, were shot to death sitting on their porch last week, along with their aunt and two cousins. This happened in daylight, five minutes from the restaurant where my son was working.

Visiting the mourning tent with other Jews, Muslims, and Christians from the area. Nura is on the right in black. Photo by Haviva Ner-David.

Thursday, I was at a solidarity demonstration in the Arab city of Shefa-Amer, ten minutes from my home, and just minutes from one of my doctors, where Salaam Hajag was shot to death the day before, caught in crossfire; her sister is in the hospital in critical condition. Salaam was supporting her two elderly parents. After the funeral, I will go to her mourning tent as well.

Recently this has become part of my regular life here in the Galilee:  protests and mourning tents.

In June, I was at the funerals of five victims in Yafia, next to Nazareth, twenty minutes from my home. I’ve taught conversational English in a high school there. At the funeral, I saw former students in tears, one who had been in school with one of the young men who was killed.

In May, I was at the funeral of Muhammed Zaarura in the Arab village of Kafr Manda, across the road from Hannaton. I teach conversational English there. Some of my students are in the same grade as Muhammed’s sister, hospitalized at a mental ward after her brother’s death. For every death there are the wounded — sometimes very seriously– and still others psychologically traumatized.

Should I think twice about teaching there again? I am afraid. But why is my blood any redder than the blood of these teenagers? They live in the village in fear every minute of the day; the least I can do is go there a few hours a week and teach.

And the horror did not begin this year. Last, year, I was in the Bedouin village of Bir al Maxsur — across the valley from Hannaton — at the mourning tent of Amar Hajira, killed in crossfire, too, while he was playing in a playground with his aunt and cousins. He was four years old.

Amar’s father and sister holding photos of Amar at the March of the Dead in Tel Aviv. Photo credit: Sokina Taoon

Badiya Hanifas was at the demonstration Thursday in Shefa-Amer, a feminist activist whose daughter Johara was blown up in her car last year. She was 28 years old, a feminist activist like her mother, and spoke out against the violence in the Arab sector before she herself became a victim of it. No one has been arrested for the crime. I was at her mourning tent, too.

Screen shot of YouTube video of ynet interview with Johara before she was killed. She is saying that when a person lives without a feeling of security, it is difficult for them to progress in life.

Johara’s mother Badiye speaks at demonstrations demanding justice for her daughter and the other victims of all this violence. She addressed the police at the demonstration Thursday, begging them to do their job.

For the violence has gotten much worse. Before this government, the statistics were at least improving. The number of victims this year is four times the number last year, and we are only in October. People are being murdered in the villages, towns, and cities around me almost every day. And the government is standing by and doing nothing.

Some say they are in fact inciting the violence. Or, at the very least, happy to let it continue. They even cut funding to programs in the Arab sector aimed at keeping youth off the streets. As social activist Ghadir Hani said at the Saturday night demonstration this past week in Kiryat Tivon – the adjoining Jewish town to Basmat Taboun – they are happy to see Arabs killing Arabs. Fewer Arabs to worry about.

This may seem a harsh accusation, but it is more than likely, disgracefully. There is a reason why Itamar Ben-Gvir’s chosen title is Minister of National Security, and not minister of internal security. Because for him, national means Jewish not Israeli. A sign at the demonstration Thursday read: “Call the Police and Tell Them a Jew was Shot.”

Photo credit Haviva Ner-David. The sign reads, “Call the Police and Tell Them a Jew was Shot.”

Imagine if bullets were flying like this in Beer Sheva, Raanana, or Sfat; the government would not be standing by. And, in fact, our military and police do not stand by when there is even a perceived threat from a Palestinian in the West Bank, or, for example, a mentally challenged Arabic speaker in Jerusalem.

Why would someone like Ben-Gvir want more Palestinians (on both sides of the Green Line) dead? To preserve the Jewish character of this country. But what kind of “Jewish character” is he trying to preserve? A Jewish supremacist character, and one that is about Jewish bodies not Jewish values.

It says 36 times in the Torah to protect the “ger” — often translated as the “stranger” — in your midst. Granted, the Palestinians in this country are no strangers to this land. They were born here, generations back, and have as much claim to this place as Jews. But they are a minority here. Rather than protect them, however, this Jewish supremacist government is letting them die, one by one.

I am ashamed to be a Jew in this country this Sukkoth, going into Simchat Torah, when we rejoice in the Torah. How can we sit smugly in our sukkot when the “gerim” in our midst are crying in their mourning tents? How can we dance with the Torah scroll when our government that claims to be safeguarding Judaism and a Jewish State does not abide by the commandment stated most often in that scroll?

After the demonstration Thursday, I went to a doctor’s appointment in Shefa-Amer. Waze took me a shorter way via an impossibly steep downhill. I pulled over to the side and got out of my car. A man, a local from Shefa-Amer, got out of his car to ask if I needed help. I told him I was terrified to drive down the steep incline. Without hesitating, he drove me and my car down and walked back up to his car while I drove off to the doctor, as if this was the most natural thing for him to do.

I went to fill my doctor’s prescription, still dressed in the shirt I had worn to the demonstration, from a protest after the five men in Yafia were killed. It reads: “A massacre in Yafia is my problem, too!”

The pharmacist, dressed in gym clothing, was locking the door as I approached. She, who has been working in this pharmacy since I moved to the Galilee fifteen years ago, is usually dressed elegantly. “What do you need, Habiba?” she asked. I told her I needed ear drops but did not want to make her late for her exercise class.

“Don’t worry about me, Habiba,” she said, unlocking the door. “I’ll get you what you need.” Despite my resistance, she went back inside the store, turned on the cash register, and sold me my drops. When I tried to hurry her along to her class, she insisted on explaining to me how to use the drops before letting me take them.

This is what treating your neighbor as you would like to be treated — another key biblical commandment — is all about. In fact, we are also told to love the “ger” like yourself. We have a lot to learn from the “stranger in our midst”.

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.
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