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

This is a Story to Open Your Hearts. Are you Willing?

Photo Credit: Haviva Ner-David
Photo Credit: Haviva Ner-David

These are very hard times to be an Israeli peace activist, working on the ground for Palestinian-Jewish partnership and mutual understanding.

Not because of internal strife between Palestinian and Jewish Israelis – in fact, membership in the grassroots Palestinian-Jewish partnership organization I am involved with, Standing Together, has almost doubled over the past six months – but because the world seems determined to take sides. Whereas we are determined to find a way to live together in peace.

We refuse to take sides. For us, the only “sides” here are those who see the conflict as a black-and-white all-or-nothing battle to the end, and those who recognize the humanity and suffering of both nations and know that we all must take responsibility for the conflict and its resolution.

It is so hard to watch the world being pulled apart over the conflict going on here on this tiny piece of land, thinking they are helping the side of their choice, when really their insistence on choosing sides undermines all our efforts here on the ground and any chance there is for peace.

Staying busy demonstrating and building Palestinian-Jewish partnership – praying with my feet, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called social justice activism in his time — prevents me from spiraling into a dark hole, because although I am a rabbi, praying with my mouth in a synagogue with a group of Jews is just not doing that for me these days.

Peace work is what I do when I am not doing my other work in the world: which is writing books, articles, and poems; officiating mikveh ceremonies; and companioning people on their spiritual journeys.

One tool I use in my spiritual companioning work is dreamwork. Dreams help me and others listen to our souls, to those voices inside that keep us spiritually grounded. Take for instance this element from a dream I had this week and worked with my dream buddies in my dream group.

In the dream there is a halvah bar with the words “War is Hard” written on the wrapper. When I rip open the wrapper, inside I find the following words: “You think this is hard? It’s going to get much worse. You ‘aint seen nothin’ yet!”

This is a harsh dream with what might seem like one clear message: we are all doomed. And believe me, I can go to that place. That is certainly one of the voices in my head. But in the dreamwork I do, we listen to all voices in the dream. Every element in the dream is there for a reason. So we go back into the dream and speak from the various elements in the dream, not just those that are the loudest or most apparent.

When my dream buddy asked me to speak as the act of ripping the wrapper open, I began to recite a Mary Oliver poem I had been reading aloud to my spiritual companioning clients over the past month to open our sessions. The poem begins with the lines:

This is a story/ to break your heart/Are you willing?

Oliver then goes on to tell us about loons in a nearby lake who are dying one by one from lead poisoning. The poem ends with these lines:

I tell you this/to break your heart/by which I mean only/that it break open/ and never close again/to the rest of the world.

As I continued to speak as this element of the dream, I recalled a tree-planting event I had organized the week before with my local Standing Together chapter to bring together kids from my kibbutz, Hannaton, and the Arab village across the road, Kafr Manda.

Photo credit: Haviva Ner-David

First, we had a meeting in Hannaton for the kids to get to know one another. We played ice-breaker games, but the kids didn’t even need them. Within minutes they were talking and having a good time. Then they went to walk around the kibbutz, play soccer, climb in the park, and generally hang out. They were sad when the kids from Kafr Manda has to go home.

Photo Credit: Tzlil Ben-Akiva
Photo credit: Haviva Ner-David

Two weeks later, we planted trees together in both villages. We painted on stones values that are important to us now in these difficult times and gave the stones as gifts to one another; we heard about environmental activist and “Tree Goddess” Tulsi Gawda who saved her village’s forest by leading others in hugging the trees so the foresters would not chop them down; and we read the following prayer in Hebrew and Arabic:

Photo Credit: Haviva Ner-David

We, neighbors of Kafr Manda and Hannaton, plant these saplings — together and in good neighborliness.

In planting these baby saplings, we partner in shaping the environment of our lives.

We wish these saplings a successful absorption, determined growth, and longevity of years. We wish for ourselves the ability to witness these trees surpass our height, with thick trunks and expansive shade.

Thanks to these saplings, we will remember that big things start with small actions, that small actions of many people can create big changes, and that we have the power to influence our environment and lives with our ideas and dreams.

Thanks to these saplings we will remember that in order to grow and flourish we must plant roots in the ground and connect to the earth which is the basis of our existence — but without fighting over it, because the earth does not belong to us, but to God, Allah, the source of our lives.

We strive to learn to respect the earth, and connect with it, and know how to enjoy the abundance and beauty that nature offers us.

As we plant together now, we continue in the path of our fathers and mothers, who planted trees in whose shade we shelter today, and whose fruits we eat in abundance.

In planting these saplings, we do our part today for ourselves and for our children and grandchildren in the future.

In planting together today we partner with nature and take part in long-term processes of regeneration and growth.

In planting together today, we make a covenant with this place and this land, to protect it together and in partnership for future generations.

Together, we create a pact, a belief in our power to grow positive additions to our surroundings and improve the reality into which we were born.

Amen. Inshallah!

Photo Credit: Neta Granot

After my dream group meeting, I felt moved by recalling this heart-opening event to compose the following poem:

Here is a story to open your heart.
Are you willing?
Two groups of adolescents,
Not an easy age,
Planned to meet.
Because if they had not planned it,
It would never have happened.
One group were Muslim,
Palestinian Israelis,
Who live on one side of the road.
The other group were Jewish,
Also Israelis,
Who live on the other side of the road.
They came together one day,
To play games
And sports,
And laugh,
And climb,
And talk.
To be kids,
Just kids,
And plant trees.
Trees their children can one day
Sit under and share the shade,
And play games,
And sports,
And laugh,
And climb,
And talk.
To be kids,
Just kids.
Perhaps even living together
In one village
With no road in between
They need to cross
To just be kids,
I tell you this,
To open your heart,
Because that is our only hope
In this world of dividers and walls and checkpoints and borders
And closed hearts.
This is our only hope,
I tell you,
In this broken world.

Writing this poem helped me re-center spiritually and hold onto this vision that I know is the only way forward for Israel-Palestine. And so, I share it with you, with the world, in hopes we can all open our hearts to partnership and peace, instead of the self-destructive path in which our leaders have chosen to take us for their own self interests.

Please let us not be duped into closing our hearts. Please let us pray with our feet for the side of humanity.

Photo Credit: Haviva Ner-David
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.