This week's portion: red heifer
Coming home: a Jewish Renewal erev Shabbat

Missed Encounter

Here's a thing I hadn't mentioned to y'all yet: I was supposed to spend tomorrow and Friday (the Fourth of July, American independence day) in the West Bank, on a Bethlehem Encounter Tour for Rabbinical Students and Jewish Educators. On Monday night the participants gathered at Yakar for a pre-trip briefing session. We had a great evening; I felt sparkly and extra-awake the whole time we were together. Last night I dreamed that I was already on the bus with them to Bethlehem, and I woke today excited, wishing the day of the trip were already here.

But because someone drove a bulldozer into a bus today, smashing several cars and killing three people, the trip has been canceled.

My first sorrow is for the families of those who were killed today. Baruch dayan emet. May the Source of Peace bring peace to all who mourn and comfort to all who are bereaved. But on a personal level, I'm sad and frustrated because this trip was one of the things I most wanted to do while I'm in Israel this summer. (The next trip will be in the fall, when I'm already back home again.)

Encounter is an amazing organization. On Monday night the tour participants studied Encounter's values statement together. Their values include Shema/Listening, Kavod/Dignity, Hokhma/Wisdom, Rachamim/Compassion, Petichat Lev/Openness, B'khol naf'shka/Holism, and Elu v/elu/Multiple voices. Reading about these values, I felt like I was reading an articulation of my own deepest heart. Now I'm feeling loss because I'm missing the chance to spend time with others for whom those are core ideals. And I'm missing the chance to meet people whose experiences and perspectives are likely to be deeply foreign to me, and perhaps to build small personal bridges across a profound political and religious gap.

Our itinerary included a visit to the Hope Flowers School in El-Khader, a bus tour of the Bethlehem area and Separation Barrier, a political presentation designed to be an overview of current issues in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and field visits to meet with folks at Shir'aa: The Laborers Association for Studies and Development and the Al-Rowwad Cultural and Theater Training Center. We were also going to pray three times a day (I was slated to lead ma'ariv tomorrow night), and most of us were going to spend tomorrow night as guests in Palestinian homes. (I meant to bring maple syrup as a hospitality gift, as Ethan often does when he travels; since I left it on our kitchen counter in Lanesboro, I bought a fancy tin of chocolates here instead, which sits forlorn in my pantry now.)

As cool as the formal meetings and presentations sounded, what I was really excited about was spending time with people: both the other rabbinic students and Jewish educators who would have been on the trip, and the Palestinians who were prepared to meet with us and and to share their experiences.The Encounter communication agreement urges us to "listen with resilience, 'hanging in' when we hear something that is hard to hear." That's a really compelling idea for me, and I wanted the chance to enact it in Bethlehem.

There are things I anticipated would be hard about the trip. Hearing perspectives and stories that would be painful for me. Encountering difficult realities. (Like reading Joe Sacco's graphic novel Palestine, which I reviewed some years ago, only -- well, real and 3-D and alive.) There are also things I anticipated would be sweet: really meeting people panim el panim (face-to-face). Hearing Palestinians tell their own stories. Seeing where our common ground might be. And then today happened, and then the trip disappeared -- just like that.

Of course, my disappointment at missing this opportunity for learning and dialogue pales laughably in comparison with the real tragedies of this awful cycle. Injury and death and loss; border closings which result in people being unable to reach their jobs or fields, or get to a hospital in time. These things happen here all the time. In a way, this experience of being thwarted by the realities of mistrust and violence is a piece of what I came all this way to encounter. I'm just sorry my encounter is with a death toll and a canceled adventure, instead of with human beings from whom I could have learned, and with whom I could have shared coffee and conversation.

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