Ophir Yarden
Interreligious Relations

Of Dreamers and Dancers

Today I woke to two powerful news items and the connection between them has excited me all day.

The first noted that today was the 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech in Washington.  King symbolically spoke in front of the Lincoln Memorial and protested that even 100 years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation African Americans (he called them negroes) had yet to realize the dream of equality.

King’s electrifying oratory (I listened to it again on “youtube”) and his powerful images from the Bible, patriotic songs and the U.S. Declaration of Independence seem as powerful today as they must have been for the 250,000 civil rights activists who joined the “March on Washington” in 1963.

King remonstrated that the dream was not realized even after 100 years. It would take nearly another half century to see the symbolic achievement of the election of a black President in the United States.  And still, aspects of the dream of full equality have yet to be achieved.

The second news item was the report of a group of Israeli soldiers dancing at a Palestinian wedding in Hebron. Initially reported on Channel 2’s news the story was picked up by the “press.”  The eye-catching headline left me wondering if this was more strange or surreal.  I imagined soldiers on a rooftop swaying to the music of a nearby Palestinian wedding.  But no, this was a story of soldiers from the Givati brigade – with full gear including rifles – entering the party venue and dancing with the Palestinians.  The revelry proceeded to the extent that – as can be seen in the screengrab – Palestinian dancers hoisted some of the soldiers on their shoulders and danced with them, united by the Korean PSY’s song “Gangam Style.”

The scene was as strange to some of the Palestinian party-goers as it sounds and looks to the Israeli ears and eyes. In the video one can see Palestinians photographing the spectacle with their cell phones.  Arabic websites and social media distributed the story, and video, widely.


Perhaps I missed a third news item?  Did the Israeli-Palestinian talks yield a spectacular breakthrough that would end our conflict to the satisfaction and delirious joy of Israelis and Palestinians alike? No. It was a mistake, a serious breach of orders and bad judgment on the part of the soldiers.  The army has announced an inquiry and the soldiers may well be disciplined for dancing with Palestinians.

Indeed what the soldiers did may well have been against orders and dangerous, possibly even very dangerous.  None of us would want to have seen a dancing soldier fall victim to an attack or be abducted.

But just for a moment, on this day when the media celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, I – and I hope many other Israelis and Palestinians – saw things not as they are, but as they should be. I have no doubt that Palestinians and Israelis look forward – to paraphrase King – to the day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Palestinians and Israelis, will be able to join hands and sing and dance together.

But for the time being, we remain as dreamers awaiting the days “when our mouths shall be filled with laughter, our tongues, with songs of joy” (Psalm 126). May we not have to wait 100 years.

About the Author
Ophir Yarden directs ADAShA The Jerusalem Center for Interreligious Encounter at the Rossing Center for Education and Dialogue and is a senior lecturer in Jewish and Israel studies at Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center. He is a member of the Executive Board of the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ).