Israel, Peoplehood

If We Want Peace, It’s Time to Stop Marching and to Start Healing.

I will not attend the “March for Israel” on November 14, and I did not attend the “March for Palestine” on November 4.

I am an American Jew who has no place at either march because the organizers of such events are rooted principally in there being “our side” and “their side,” with passing nods to the suffering of innocents, focused more on one side finding “victory,” and determined to ensure that “our” version of the past and present is the only “history” or “context” that matters. Even the necessary attention on countering antisemitism or freeing the hostages held by Hamas will sadly be lost in the context of a “March for Israel.”

Perhaps more directly and honestly than ever, we must ask “for which Israel and which Palestine?” What do the Israel and Palestine the marchers are “for” look like?  Who will lead them?

Many of us have been asking these questions for decades, but it is time we stop just asking them and instead move toward bringing about the answers more concretely.  Not through the standard approaches of marches, of conferences, of policy papers, of lobbying.  We need to lift up and work from our pain and trauma, and from that work, find new visions and ways forward, some means for which I suggest below.

I of course understand the impetus to come together as a community in this scary and wrenching moment. Community is one way to respond to fear, but only so long as the community’s leaders are interested in and able to help us move through that fear. What we need is a communal call for healing and for change that brings about new directions, neither of which are present in the current dynamics.

Instead, we have the thinking and organizing that leads us back to the same marches and the same chants and the same fears, crisis after crisis, decade after decade.  Our mainstream community organizations have failed us by centering our fears, on our “enemies,” and our historical rights, just as the leaders and governments in the region have failed Israelis and Palestinians.

It’s time to find new ways forward – for ourselves and for the people and the region we care about so deeply. Like many American Jews, especially those younger than me according to the polling, I am alienated from the mainstream community because it has never really allowed for a broader and more nuanced discussion on Israel/Palestine, an issue I have written about for years.  Deeply connected to Judaism and the Jewish people, I am just as deeply dis-connected from the community and its long-held stances on Israel/Palestine, mainly that deep criticism of the Occupation, Gaza blockade, and other policies was somehow not allowed and would lead to more harm to Israel and our communities.

The sad and plain truth is that Israel and our communities are being harmed despite the billions of dollars spent by our community to bolster our views, our security, and our “education.” We are facing real anti-Semitic threats, ignorance among many non-Jews (and some Jews as well), and we need new methods and answers.

So, I’m tired of arguing, of going around circles, of arranging for dueling speakers, statements, or websites. I’m tired of secret meetings with synagogue and community leaders who agree but won’t speak publicly.  I’m tired of being told we just need to get through the next crisis, or once that crisis is over, that we just need to be patient because there isn’t a crisis just now, so why push for change?

I’m not tired so much because the mainstream community has adopted different views of what Israel should do or become. I’m tired because the mainstream community approach is leaving all of us in fear and failing to address the key to unlocking change: creating and holding space that allows us to work through our pain and trauma in order to find new ways forward. I see the occasional nod on social media or in statements that we acknowledge the existence of pain and trauma. That is, of course, the first step. But we must not just nod and then go back to our old and familiar ways; we must prioritize the work.

My plea is that there never be such marches again, and we use the time, money, and energy that gets poured into these collective efforts at reinforcing fear and division and channel them to begin a process of collective connection to the pain and trauma we not only feel as a result of October 7 and the assault on Gaza, but the decades of pain and trauma that we as Jews continue to feel and experience. That we build our own versions in the United States of what organizations like Standing Together are doing in Israel: honestly coming together across communal divides to realize we have no choice but one that lifts up all.

Sound naïve and hopelessly idealistic? I would ask anyone to tell me which approach is actually more hopeless: to work towards creating new spaces like this or to repeat and rehash the same tired lines and same destructive ideas that have led us to where we are right now.  Tuesday’s march will change nothing, no matter how momentarily satisfying it may be to gather together in the face of real threats.

As anyone who has gone through the difficult process of connecting with and working through personal pain and trauma, you only see the path to true change, to ideas and actions you would never have been able to perceive, once you begin and then sustain the work.

Without the work, the path to deeper change and transformation is not just blocked, it can be imperceptible. And now more than ever, we need to conjure new ways forward that we do not yet perceive because our previous efforts, from all sides, have failed us.

I have attended many marches and rallies over the last two decades, usually feeling uncomfortable with, outraged by, or opposed to the things I may be hearing from the stage or among fellow marchers.  Two years ago, I went to a Palestine Solidarity rally during the 2021 Gaza crisis specifically to interview people for Jewschool, and I found that behind the “Free Palestine from the River to the Sea” and “Israel is a Racist State” chants and signs were many nuanced views and complex histories. These marchers had a desire for connection and change but were instead channeling it into rage and fear through chants and signs and speeches that were viewed with fear and dread from those who saw or read about them from afar.

The same will no doubt be true Tuesday. I am sure nearly every attendee will have a complex and challenging story and connection to the conflict, to antisemitism, to being an American Jew. Even if it’s no connection at all and just a set of questions and confusion. And yet we will have that turned into simplistic, and no doubt at times jingoistic, chants and signs, and then that is what we will carry home for “action.”

Enough. We have the resources and means to do it differently, to set a different tone, to create real space, to take a new course. This could include:

  • Putting much more funding into Resetting the Table, which brings trained facilitators into communities to engage in “courageous communication.”
  • Develop home-grown versions of programs like RTT, which my own synagogue has done. This has been so meaningful for those of us who have gone through it that we continue to organize on our own, and it has been a true salve during the crisis, even as – perhaps especially because – we hold different perspectives and emotions.
  • Hire trained healers who work with individual or groups of people to navigate trauma, pain, and fear. Make this a specific and purposeful part of Jewish community life and organizations, and seek to co-create with healers.
  • Open safe space for community members, especially teens, college students, and young professionals without direction or “context.” Let them guide the discussions on their own to find new space and then chart their own ways ahead, with no expectations at all, especially of “action.”
  • Adapt websites and programs to acknowledge other positions and viewpoints, rather than dismiss or respond to them. Encourage questions and discomfort rather than force-feed answers.
  • Challenge ourselves as individuals to consume and post articles and content that make us question our assumptions and generally uncomfortable. Not angry or afraid, but uncomfortable. I have failed in this myself and commit to doing it more.

Finally, and perhaps most of all, center and lift up organizations in Israel such as Standing Together that also focus on creating new visions and nuanced approaches across divides, with honest acknowledgment of pain and clear and fearless plans.

I understand the need to march and come together, and I genuinely hope it is helpful for those who attend. But let’s use the calls for change and peace to actually find a new way ahead, one that is rooted in the hard work of dealing with our pain and trauma, so that future generations know less of it.

One thought on “If We Want Peace, It’s Time to Stop Marching and to Start Healing.

  1. “I was spending my time in the doldrums
    I was caught in a cauldron of hate
    I felt persecuted and paralyzed
    I thought that everything else would just wait

    While you are wasting your time on your enemies
    Engulfed in a fever of spite
    Beyond your tunnel vision reality fades
    Like shadows into the night

    To martyr yourself to caution
    Is not going to help at all
    ‘Cause there’ll be no safety in numbers
    When the right one walks out of the door

    Can you see your days blighted by darkness?
    Is it true you beat your fists on the floor?
    Stuck in a world of isolation
    While the ivy grows over the door

    So I open my door to my enemies
    And I ask could we wipe the slate clean?
    But they tell me to please go f*ck myself
    You know you just can’t win”

    I know I just posted the lyrics of a Pink Floyd song, but think about this, isn’t this how we are all feeling? To Quote the Song Eve Of Destruction, “Hate Your Next Door Niaghbor, but don’t forget to say grace,” this is a brutal horrid situation we are in and I as a German-British American and you as a Jewish American, we have got to raise ourselves about this Sodom Spiritually.

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