I spent ten minutes today speaking with an acquaintance who is Arab and lives in Silwan, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem just south of the Old City. I’ve known him for several years, and we’ve always had a friendly relationship, but I’ve never asked him about his life before. Today I decided to ask how he’s doing. I asked whether he lives in an area where things are really bad, and he told me “everyone lives in an area where it’s really bad.” Then he told me that a couple days ago he drove past the house in Silwan that they demolished this week: “You should have seen what happened – pieces flew everywhere, large chunks of the house, and all of the houses and cars nearby were damaged. It’s never been like that before. I’ve seen houses demolished before, and it was always contained to that house. But this time it was like they didn’t even care what else got damaged. They weren’t even trying to be careful. They didn’t bother cleaning anything up. I don’t know why they did it like that this time.” Thankfully his house is far enough away that it wasn’t affected. (Thankful, really, that I don’t have another person to feel too worried about, at least for today.)
I haven’t told my children that their cousins’ cousin was brutally murdered last week by a knife-wielding terrorist. And I haven’t told them about the five men murdered yesterday in the midst of prayer, one of whom was the son of one of my favorite professors in college. About the mother who had to bury her beautiful daughter and the 24 children from the same street who were orphaned in one terrible moment. I can’t bring myself to share such horrendous, inhuman acts with them.
It’s different than with the rockets last summer. The rockets were terrible, but they felt somehow less personal, the people shooting them (though also horrible and murderous) a tiny bit less cold-blooded. I could talk about nameless, amorphous bad guys with my kids, though it was difficult and scary. But to tell my children about men who violated a house of worship with axes and a meat cleaver and shot people at close range during their silent prayer? About the man who picked up a knife and slashed the throat of an unarmed, kind-hearted young woman? I just can’t shatter their innocence that way. Not when they’re so young.
Nothing can justify such acts. Absolutely nothing.
Yet as much as part of me is being pulled constantly inward toward focusing only on my own Jewish family ever since this new wave of terror began, I have not been able to stop thinking about these powerful words:
This Shabbat’s Torah portion is Hayei Sarah, which begins with Avraham’s purchase of land in Hebron to bury Sarah. In contemporary Israel, it is also a weekend of aggressive, nationalistic pilgrimage for the settler movement, in which hundreds of national-religious Jews converge on the Jewish-Israeli settlement in Hebron to flaunt Jewish national power and domination, and, of course, freedom of movement is further restricted for Palestinians. In partnership with Project Hayei Sarah, an initiative of young Jewish activists keen on generating honest, communal conversations, rooted in Jewish text and tradition, about the situation in Hebron today, Jewschool has published Torah pieces reading Hebron in a different light. For this week’s Throwback Thursday, here is my devar torah from last year, Hebron — City of Refuge, Where Violence Goes to Die. For more Jewschool writing from the past several years about Hebron, click here.
This is a guestpost by Liya Rechtman.
My family’s Passover Seder this year marked two firsts for my boyfriend: his first time meeting my dad and his first time eating homemade gefilte fish. As we read the haggadah around the table, I felt myself tensing up: ‘oh no, what if he gets that passage about Hillel and Shamai and he can’t pronounce the weird Hebrew town names?’ and ‘Worse! What if he winds up with “Tell me morano, my brother” and he has no idea what it’s about?’ When a reading did finally fall on him, and my boyfriend started on with “I am a Jew because…” I sort of giggled, loudly. My mom, tactful as always, told him that perhaps they would let someone else read the passage and come back to him. The first minor, awkward, interfaith hurdle had been managed gracefully by all parties involved.
The Seder moved on that night, and for several months to come the disparity between my Jewish tradition and his ex-Muslim atheism were significant parts of our identity, but not prohibitively so in the context of our relationship. Our faith/non-faith perspectives consistently yielded to thoughtful, extended discussion and debate about God, materialism, and meaning, among other things. That is, until three boys were declared dead in Israel and I stayed up all night crying. More »
Last night, guest blogger Ben Greenfield posted a provocative piece on memory and ritual and how we can and do relate to 9/11 and Tisha B’Av. This is not the first time the blog has addressed that connection. For Throwback Thursday today, we’re re-running zt‘s short post from around Tisha B’Av five years ago, highlighting Irwin Kula’s reading in Eikha (Lamentations) trope of last phone messages from 9/11 victims. Revisit it here. You can read Rabbi Kula’s own explanation of the recording here, including a better link to his actual recorded chanting.
By Ben Greenfield, a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York City.
Its my second 9/11 in two months. Today its the Towers – last month, our Temples. Today, an utter hate explodes into senseless loss – in August, it was “senseless hate” bringing out utter catastrophe. The ninth month’s eleventh day, 9/11, becomes Tisha B’av – the ninth day of the eleventh Hebrew month. Maybe its just an exile Jewish thing. We have two days of everything.
The dark similarities run deep and tragic. Consider how both holidays are constructed around architecture. Yes, the loss is truly about the lives destroyed and political trauma inspired, but in our imagery and imagination, its about two buildings razed to the earth. Beautiful buildings; buildings conceived as a “world center”; buildings whose wreckage casts a shadow over the entire calamity. Indeed, shadows which stretch farther and more permanent, now that the buildings are gone forever.
There was a First Temple and a Second Temple; a Tower 1 and a Tower 2. And now, there are only memories. More »
My two year old is starting preschool tomorrow. In his 27 months of sweet and innocent life, he has spent less than 27 hours apart from me. Tonight I went to our first parents’ meeting with butterflies in my stomach, anxious for both of us about this emotional milestone.
This is how it began: “Hi, I’m Ruchama, the head teacher. The first thing I want to tell you is that my son Moshe, my Moshiko, served in Gaza this summer. On the twenty-second day of the war, he was killed. He would have been 21 this summer.”
Ruchama went on to tell us that this has (understandably) been a very difficult summer for her, and that she was sure it would continue to be a hard year, but that when her son left for the war he left behind an early birthday card in which he urged her to “watch over the children” – our sweet children. And she told us that “ילדים זה שמחה - children are happiness”, and that she hopes and believes caring for our children will make the coming year, with its heartbreaking difficulty, a little bit brighter and more joyful for her.
As she shared her story, Ruchama was not crying. She smiled gently throughout. I pictured her crying so much this past month that she simply had no tears left.
Aside from hers, though, there were very few dry eyes in the room.
I am afraid.
I am afraid of the rockets. I am afraid they will come in the middle of the night and, defying the millions-to-one odds, murder my children in their sleep. When the sirens wail, I race to grab them from their beds and flee toward shelter.
I am afraid to drive through East Jerusalem and the West Bank right now. I have a friend whose car windows were struck last month by rage-filled Palestinian rocks, whose baby was covered in shattered glass, who only by a miracle emerged unharmed. As we drive, I picture my children’s heads smashed by stones, I imagine screaming at them to put their heads between their knees, mentally willing my husband to keep driving, keep driving.
I am afraid of the racism seeping through my fear. As I was picking up my son from school, an Arab woman sat on the steps leading down to the preschool to smoke her cigarette. I wondered if I should be suspicious, if I needed to warn someone. I eyed her bag to see if it might hold a bomb.
When my kids fight with each other, and especially when my eldest intentionally hurts one of his little brothers, my default is sadly to lash out in anger: to yell at him, banish him to his room, force him to stop. It never helps. He is still little enough that I can physically restrain him, though that won’t last long. But my anger has never stopped his anger.
What does help is empathy. When I manage to control my anger long enough to listen to him, understand why he felt wronged, and empathize with him, he softens, as do I. His yells turn to tears. He is able to let go of his anger and resentment, to apologize and forgive, to reconcile.
I have written a lot lately about empathy: that I think it’s critical for Israel’s future that we foster empathy and compassion and devote ourselves to recognizing the humanity of our Palestinian neighbors.
When I say this, it triggers many people’s defense mechanisms: “Do you really think you on the left have a monopoly on empathy? We do have empathy! We, Israel, the Jewish people, are so devoted to empathizing with our enemy, to valuing their lives more than they do themselves, that we risk our own soldiers, at tremendous cost. We can’t stand the loss of innocent life in Gaza! Our hearts ache at the thought of so many children dead. But we simply have no choice. Israel must defend herself. It’s us or them.”
Regardless of whether this is true (and I know at least some of it is), it is not the kind of empathy I’m talking about.
I’ve been searching for ways to describe the difference between the kind of empathy most of us seem to have in this situation, and the kind I feel we so desperately need. The best I can come up with is “intellectual empathy” versus “intimate empathy”.
This is a guest post by Becky Havivi, a Brooklyn-based community-builder and activist. This is not written on behalf of or in the name of If Not Now.
On the Friday night before Tisha B’Av, traditionally the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, 300 American Jews joined together in Washington Square Park to mourn the deaths of over 1500 Palestinians and Israelis in the most recent armed conflict in the region. This was the fourth public event over a period of two weeks organized by If Not Now, a new movement that emerged in response to the latest crisis in Israel/Palestine, the sense of urgency growing as violence escalated, and the sense of disconnection from what mainstream Jewish institutions were expressing.
In this charged moment overflowing with noise, If Not Now has managed to effectively strike the right chord, as evidenced by the large numbers of young Jews that have turned out to actions and events over the last few weeks, in New York City and in cities across the country. If Not Now has successfully given voice and media attention to liberal young American Jews, a constituency who, for the most part, feels alienated by the conversations happening in broader Jewish institutional arenas.
Though I helped plan the program for If Not Now’s Shabbat service and rally, my own involvement in the group was not a no-brainer. As an engaged and connected American Jew I have struggled to find my footing and stake a claim within the broader Israel/Palestine discourse that has felt authentic to the rest of my progressive lefty values. The articles I see posted on my Facebook newsfeed and the arguments that I hear repeatedly spouted on both sides make me want to flee. And for a pretty long time I have done just that. More »
Max Socol is a Jewish educator and political activist in Raleigh, NC.
With so many remembrances of the Freedom Summer published in the Jewish press over the last month, it seems strange to say that something was missed. But it’s true, there is more to this story, as I learned at the 50th Anniversary Conference in Jackson, MS. To my surprise, the event was a “who’s who” of Jewish political activists who have been quietly shunned from our community because of their unorthodox views on the Israel/Palestine conflict.
“Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind. Cultivate that capacity for “negative capability.” We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion, so we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates. We then go around asserting these donned opinions and clinging to them as anchors to our own reality. It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.”
by Danya Lagos
The first two chapters of the Book of Amos warn its reader that the Gaza and Jerusalem of that time might ultimately end up sharing the same shitty, terrible, catastrophic fate under the same sky that they uncomfortably share with each other. Because of certain injustices that have been allowed to continue, or be unatoned for, it is said that fire will be sent down from the sky and destroy them both (Amos 1:7, Amos 2:5). The wording in the original curses is exactly the same for both places – all you need to do is switch the names, and it becomes clear that the standards and are quite parallel: “I will send a fire upon (INSERT HERE) and it shall devour the palaces of (INSERT HERE).” There are other cities also cursed in these chapters for whom the same formula is applied (Damascus, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Basra, etc.), but the point that Amos is making is that when it comes to practical matters of justice and oppression, the Jewish people are not judged any differently or given any lesser punishment for non-compliance than their neighbors. More »
by Leah Solomon
I am so tired of sides. I am so tired of one-sidedness. Of being expected to have empathy only for my own.
There is so much pain today. So much suffering.
More and more of our soliders dying. Teenagers just beginning their lives, who will never grow into the amazing people they would have become. Devoted fathers with children and wives waiting for them at home.
Hundreds of dead in Gaza. Thousands wounded. So many people who have lost their homes and everything they own. Parents who have had to bear the unthinkable task of burying their children. Terrified children who will suffer the rest of their lives without limbs, without parents, in pain. More »
We hope you can join us tomorrow night (Tuesday, July 15) at 7:30pm for a special break-the-fast communal gathering in Harlem at the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque (Malcolm X’s mosque, located near the corner of W 116th St and Lenox Ave.). Especially in light of the tragic violence besetting the Middle East, we want to come together as a community in the spirit of peace and unity.
This event is part of the broader בוחרים בחיים – اختيار الحياة – Choose Life Ramadan-17 b’Tammuz fast to support a message of peace and coexistence.
Everyone is welcome to join in for prayer, food, and reflection. We hope you can join us for what we know will be a meaningful conversation.
If you can make it, please BYOS (bring your own siddur) and bring some nosh along to share.
Tzom Qal and let us pray for peace.
Perhaps file this under “there’s nothing to see here”, but I suspect that David Horovitz, over at The Times of Israel, gets it right when he insists that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments about the game plan for the Palestinians and the occupied territories at his press conference are significant and demand our attention, though they were under-reported by the media. For those of us who always thought that Netanyahu was engaging in Orwellian chicanery when he spoke of a Palestinian state, it is useful for him to be on record in such an unusually candid way, that he does not mean it, and for those who (naively?) took him at his word, it is useful, though depressing, to have that balloon popped. ”Earlier this spring, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon sparked a storm in Israel-US ties when he told a private gathering that the US-Kerry-Allen security proposals weren’t worth the paper they were written on. Netanyahu on Friday said the same, and more, in public.” Kudos to Horowitz for calling our attention to these remarks; shame on other media outlets for overlooking the story. Though they were understandably more focused on the immediate military crisis, perhaps they were also completely out of practice for how to cover a PM press conference since no one can easily remember when Netanyahu last conducted one. Here’s the full story at TOI.
by Leah Solomon
Sat. night, 1:52am: Jerusalem
I was shaking a bit when the siren went off early this evening but I am shaking much more now.
When we heard the siren, we were all standing in our living room just a few feet outside the reinforced safe room. Siren went off, all five of us walked more or less calmly inside, closed the heavy metal shutters. Sat on the floor, heard a quiet, muffled boom. Waited ten minutes per instructions, came out and continued with our evening. The kids seemed a little agitated but mostly fine.
Bedtime was delayed a bit. All asleep by 9:00. Around 12:00, out of the quiet night, I hear my eight year old yelling, confusedly, from his top bunk: “we have to — we have to go to the…” I get out of bed and run to him. He is sitting up with a bloody nose. I reassure him that he doesn’t need to run anywhere, get him more tissues, go back to bed. More »
As increased attention is being paid to the problematic incarceration complex in the United States, especially in light of Michelle Alexander’s sobering book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, policy makers, social service providers, educators, and law enforcement officials are also considering the vertical effects of criminal stigmatization on the children of the incarcerated. Last year, Sesame Street even saw fit to release a segment on its web site about children with incarcerated parents, which aroused ire from some observers appalled that this normalized criminality. Though it is unclear that children of incarcerated parents engage in any higher levels of criminality than their peers, stigmas often cling to such children from the outside. In that context, it is instructive to consider a brief, four-word aside in this week’s Torah portion. In the context of a census taken after two brutal acts of Divine carnage, the Torah matter-of-factly claims (Numbers 26:11), ”And the children of Korach did not die. וּבְנֵי קֹרַח לֹא מֵתוּ. Why didn’t they die, why might that surprise us, and why does the Torah bother to mention it? More »