Harriet Gimpel

On Complexity and Simplicity

Something about this war thrusts me into the arms of conflict with my identity. Like an adolescent putting together the pieces, knowing my identity as an individual is largely defined by my Jewish identity, my Israeli identity, my identity as a woman, my role in the lives of others, my American identity, my professional identity, and a long list of other identities and their components, I am trying to pull apart the threads of identities that are part of mine so I can weave them back together into me.

My Jewish identity and Israeli identity are intertwined. Many a childhood discussion with my dad about the former revolved around contradictory messages in Jewish sources and traditional and sacred texts, as I personalized my Jewish identity.

The richness of a tradition is partially in its diversity and in the tension that builds into it, begging people to grapple with it. The people find common grounds and build narratives, like political platforms broad enough for their tentacles widely extended in every direction. Sometimes this works for long periods. The margins remain like inanimate fringe on a shawl. At other times, a thread is snared, and the fabric gathers around another thread, pulling the margins towards the center.

As a young adult, having to answer to my dad’s questions about what drew me to live in Israel, I clung to a slogan about quality of life, then. My Israeli identity was grounded in pride in the accomplishments of the State of Israel. This was inextricable from appreciating Israel as a response to antisemitism and knowing the Jewish people needed a national homeland, acknowledging a need for self-determination. I did not understand this to be at the expense of the rights of the Palestinian people. It did mean the right to defend ourselves if attacked by our Arab neighbors. This meant a great pride in the IDF, as the force to defend and protect me, a Jewish state (with equal rights for all citizens regardless of their religion) and its army to confront any who should seek to annihilate the Jewish people.

From the common grounds and evolving narratives, the paradox rises above all logic where snared threads tighten into a knot. My Jewish identity, the one by birthright that I rolled like cookie dough on a smooth surface, cutting and adjusting to tell the story that I want to adopt, hardens. Rationalizing the counterintuitive encounter of ideas, “Seek peace and pursue it [Psalms 34:15]” while venerating our militancy is a national pastime in Israel.  Mix that with extremist right-wing, religious political parties promoting legislation to enable their constituents to sit and study Torah at the expense of the state, on my tax shekel, while they politically promote militancy and protect their constituents from service in the defense forces. Complexity.

When it comes to simplicity, I would like to see the day after this war. Now. I would like to see the Israeli hostages in Gaza released immediately. #BringThemHome. I want my peace and security and want Palestinians to have the same. I envision a lengthy process. Very lengthy. It is clear to me that external forces will be required to impose the arrangement and enforce it. I understand the frightening implications for the fabric of Israeli society, and skeptically hope that the next government of Israel will enable healing and suture frayed edges where the fabric has separated, and the scission has grown deeper. I hope Israelis and Palestinians will accept an arrangement serving shared best interests, the best interests of humanity. I hope for building mutual trust. I have patience. I understand our different national narratives will stay intact, but I hope for a reality where the parallel narratives will have a curtain ring to link the fabric of each with their distinctness, lining one another, letting them flow in their duality. Simplicity.

Harriet Gimpel 4/2/24

About the Author
Born and raised in Philadelphia, earned a B.A. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University in 1980, followed by an M.A. in Political Science from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Harriet has worked in the non-profit world throughout her career. She is a freelance translator and editor, writes poetry in Hebrew and essays in English, and continues to work for NGOs committed to human rights and democracy.
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