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What would you say?

Imagine a group of seven women gathered around two café tables pushed together, enjoying the sunshine and each other, feeling blessed by our friendship, aware that these connections and lighthearted get-togethers sustain us in profound ways.

We are mature women who are lively thinkers living active lives. We have adult children, and most of us are grandmothers, although none of us feels old enough to be called Safta. We all live in Tel Aviv, but we’ve come from Europe and different places around North America. An amalgam of Anglos plus others willing to put up with our language.

I brought up my distress about a recent extremist settler attack on activists. The black hoods, the weapons, the brutality. And then someone referred to the Palestinians as “the enemy.”

And another women said, “They’re not the enemy!”

Came the answer, with emphasis, “Yes they are!”

And a third woman said, “We should take care of our own first.”

Then a fourth woman tried to warm the chill that came over us with words about how we should be balanced and “not always bend over backwards for the Palestinians.”

So my question is: what should I have said?

Let’s be clear: I know nothing I could say would change anyone’s mind. And that’s not even my goal anymore. But by remaining silent, wasn’t I allowing a harm to take place? A harm to a just, inclusive society. A harm by allowing a position I consider dangerous to go unchallenged. A harm by not voicing my support for the point of view that holds that Palestinians are not the enemy.

At the time, I was aware of how much I didn’t want to jeopardize my relationship to the group. Looking back, I can forgive myself. I’m human, a social being who needs connection. And these are relationships I value deeply.

I imagine that this is the way many Jewish college kids feel on US campuses — that they risk social isolation.

But I’m disappointed in myself for not expressing positions I hold dear. I feel that my silence in the face of such remarks implies my agreement.

There was a time when I was much, much younger when I might have stopped socializing with people whose positions violated my notions of right and wrong. I had the idea that a person’s moral fiber was revealed through their politics. But after I realized that I had made caring friendships with some very nice people who held different positions from mine, I saw this rule didn’t work– and was priggish to boot!

I learned to steer clear of topics that ignited antagonism, and the West Bank was definitely one of those. But playing it safe doesn’t feel right anymore.

The women who spoke angrily about Palestinians are daughters of Survivors. It makes emotional sense that they would react to potential danger more acutely. I’ll bet they could teach me a lot about danger and trauma. And maybe after Colleyville, I should listen up.

Or, maybe I should start expressing myself more forcefully. To hold the line for democratic values.

Tell me, are there things to say that wouldn’t be alienating? Or inflame a friendly chat into an argument. That wouldn’t risk breaking bonds of attachment. But which would allow me to be true to myself, and to the notions that guide and inspire me?

What would you have said?

About the Author
Nancy Cahners was the Design Director of MIT Technology Review, until one day, the entire staff was fired. Poof! Gone. After a stint at Harvard Divinity School and Medical School, she became a Healthcare Chaplain and Medical Ethicist. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, The Jewish Advocate and has been broadcast on NPR’s Morning Stories and Morning Edition and TLV1’s WhyWhyWhy. She lives in Neve Tzedek where she takes the same Ulpan course over and over again, and steals posters. She also helps her daughter’s family keep up with their laundry.
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