Among our Shabbat guests this past Friday night, were two teenagers – a brother and a sister. Their parents are in the States for a while and when I asked them how they settle conflict when their parents aren’t home, the older one said, “I take the high road.” The younger one disagreed, and laughed it off. They saw things differently, as all siblings do.
Our dinner conversation soon turned to the Israel – Gaza War that is now in its second devastating week. Another dinner guest, having overheard the earlier exchange, summed up the conversation by saying, the battle between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, is like the battle between two siblings when their parents aren’t home. The sentiment was articulated last week by Jodi Rudoren, the Editor-in-Chief of The Forward Magazine. She wrote in an email (May 14, 2021) about what was at the core of this conflict and the only way to move it forward. She writes:
What I can say confidently is that no resolution to this conflict will come from looking backwards. The clashing narratives cannot be reconciled, and they are so embedded in each side’s identity, that debating them is futile. It does not, actually, help to examine what specifically started this conflagration, or the one before or the one before that, because it does, in so many ways, end up at “Abraham had two sons: there was Isaac, and there was Ishmael.” If there is any hope of ending the conflict in my daughter’s lifetime…it requires Palestinians and Israeli Jews to either acknowledge each other’s versions of history without trying to determine which is more legitimate, or to just ignore them. The only possible peace agreement is one that looks forward.
Living in Jerusalem right now, I am deeply concerned about the brewing violence in our mixed Jewish-Arab cities, (which, as it turns out, comprises most of Israel’s urban life). I also know that turning toward each other is so much more important than turning away. I am reminded of the two cherubs that were placed atop the inner sanctum in the Ancient Temple in Jerusalem. The Talmud relates that when the people in the Land brought harmony (literally “did the will of God”) the cherubs faced each other and when they disagreed and brought rupture, they faced away from each other (Baba Metzia, 99a.) While the Talmud speaks of the Jewish community, at this time, it’s helpful to extend and apply the metaphor to all people who inhabit this Land.
This gentle move of turning toward is what we need most right now. We need that movement in our homes when our own children are fighting and have different versions of what happened that caused them injury or pain. We need to encourage them to continue turning toward the other and building their relationship so that it can sustain the blows of inevitable conflict that surfaces in family life.
And here in Jerusalem and throughout Israel, turning toward our neighbors, the silent majority who are against violence and are searching for peace, turning toward not against is the only way forward.
There is a new App called 100 yozmot tovot, or 100 Good Initiatives, that aggregates all of the efforts in Israel to promote dialogue and to build relationships between Israeli Jews and Arabs. I encourage you and all of us to sign up for one. While most of the App shares programs that are in Hebrew and Arabic, there are a few in English, with Facebook pages you can follow and discussions you can both listen to and contribute to as well.
Praying for more peaceful days ahead,