Day 23 of the Omer


DAY 23: EVENING PRAYER


Afternoon's flat hot white
gives way to the electric green
of minarets against evening's blur.

Old city divides: here
crosses, there metal crescents.
Judaism's in the paving stones.

I press against the wall
to let the Land Rover pass,
the bike, the men with sidecurls.

I wish these dusty Coke bottles
were inscribed in two languages.
Harmony's a long way off.

Taste and see:
our story crackles
like pastry drenched with honey.

Torah is a fresh fig
ready to be parted and savored.
There's enough to share.

Long after every border blows away
like chalk dust on the wind
her waters will endure.

 


 

Today is the 23rd day of the Omer, making three weeks and two days of the Omer. This is the 23rd day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

Today's poem was sparked by one of Luisa A. Igloria's prompts from last year - the one from April 22, which suggested stanzas, moving through space, synonyms for light, the words "metal," "electric," and "blur," the present tense, references to two sweets, and a reference to a commercial from my childhood. (Can you find the reference to the commercial?)

In the kabbalistic paradigm, today is the day of gevurah she'b'netzach, the day of boundaries or borders or strength within the week of endurance. As I worked with Luisa's prompt, I found myself thinking about Jerusalem, and borders, and what endures.


Peace Parsha at APN - If this is so, then why am I?

Peace-parsha-feature-1-logoEarlier this fall I was honored by the invitation to offer some words of Torah as part of the Peace Parsha series at Americans for Peace Now.

You can read my commentary on parashat Toldot at APN: If this is so, then why am I? I'm also archiving it below.


"The children struggled in her womb, and she said, 'If this is so, then why am I?'" -- Genesis 25:22

We read in this week's Torah portion that even in the womb, Rebecca's children Jacob and Esau quarreled. And their perennial struggle brought her to an existential outcry: if this is so, then why am I? If this is the only possibility for my sons, she seems to be saying, then my motherhood -- even my whole existence -- feels called into question. If fighting is all there is, then what's the point?

I suspect that many of us who care deeply about Israel and Palestine have those moments of heartfelt crying-out. If this is so, then why am I? If struggle and violence are inevitable, "then why am I" giving my heart and soul to working toward peace?

Continue reading "Peace Parsha at APN - If this is so, then why am I?" »


There has to be another way

Today's news out of Jerusalem rends my heart.

The mere fact of being alive being means that each of us will experience suffering: sickness, pain, grief. These come with being human. Being human means we experience love and joy and connection, and it means we also experience sorrow and loss. Sometimes I struggle mightily against that truth, but deep down I recognize that it's part of the way the world works. Human lives contain enough pain just by virtue of being human lives. Why do we add to that pain with hatred and killing?

I woke this morning to news of killings in a Jerusalem synagogue. My social internet this morning is full of images of bloodsoaked prayerbooks, tallitot, and tefillin -- unspeakably horrifying for those of us who pray with these same garments, these beloved words. The images evoke the Jewish community's worst fears and most deeply-entrenched memories of trauma. We can't help imagining our own morning prayer shattered, our own loved ones attacked in these ways.

My social internet is also full of people responding to this tragedy in the ways that we always do,1 which heightens my grief with a sense that our conversations are futile. We're not getting at what really matters: when are human beings going to stop killing each other? What kind of spiritual and emotional evolutionary leap would it take, and how many more parents and children and spouses and siblings are going to have their lives shattered by trauma before we get there?

Slaughtering people at prayer is one of the most despicable acts I can think of. That's true whether the slaughter is committed by a Jew against Palestinians, or a Palestinian against Jews. And now I read that Netanyahu has vowed to "respond with a heavy hand," and that Hamas praises the attack (though Abbas has condemned it), and my heart cries out for God's sake, stop! Where can the spiral of violence and retribution take us but more violence and retribution? There has to be another way.

We need a larger framework of conflict transformation. We need to find a way to lift ourselves up, out of the positions we already hold and the things we've already tried. We need to seek to see the situation from a God's-eye view in order to create a path toward a different future. The Sfat Emet teaches that from where God sits (as it were) there are no binaries, no us/them, just goodness and oneness and love. As human beings we all have to find a way to see each other through God's eyes.

The worse things get, the harder it becomes to imagine anything other than continuing hatred and bloodshed. We have to imagine something other than continuing hatred and bloodshed. Please, God. Help us write a different ending to this story. And bring Your comfort and peace to those who mourn.

 

Mourner's Kaddish

I pray to You God,
that the power residing in Your Great Name
be increased and made sacred
in this world which God created freely
in order to preside in it,
and grow its freeing power
and bring about the messianic era.
May this happen during our lifetime
and during the lifetime of all of us
living now, the house of Israel.
May this happen soon, without delay
and by saying AMEN we express our agreement and hope, AMEN.

Continue reading "There has to be another way" »


Baseless hatred: still here

This is a time of unusually polarized and polarizing discourse in the Jewish community. The situation in Israel and in Gaza is devastating. And so is the way I've seen people reacting to different beliefs and opinions regarding that devastation: who's at fault, which atrocities are "worse," whose suffering merits our attention. As though compassion were a zero-sum game. As though anyone "deserves" fear, destruction, and loss. As though feeling empathy for the Other weren't at the very heart of Torah.

Just last week I received an email from someone who sought to put me in cherem, excommunication, because this person perceives that my writings about how I hope peace and justice will come to Israel and Palestine are a threat to Jewish unity. One of my dear colleagues has received death threats directed at them and their children. Another colleague was the victim of a spoof press release, filled with hateful rhetoric, which purported to be from him and featured his full name and contact information.

Everyone I know who writes about the Middle East expects to receive hate mail. Often that hate mail is laced with profanity. Often it draws analogies to Nazis, insisting that one who holds the "wrong opinion" about Israel and Palestine is no better than a kapo, one who collaborates with the destruction of our people. This is hate mail written by Jews, to Jews. When we are feeling strong we shrug it off, try to laugh, say ruefully that it's the price one pays for having an opinion. But in truth, receiving this vitriol hurts.

What is the matter with people? This is a real question. What is wrong with us, that anyone imagines that these are appropriate ways to treat others? Harassment is never called-for. Neither is name-calling. And surely it should go without saying that no one should ever make death threats, or spread libelous allegations which could be damaging to someone's livelihood. This is not the way that human beings should treat each other. Ever. No matter how substantively we disagree, about anything.

The sages of the Talmud, I suspect, might agree:

Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three things which prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, bloodshed.

But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, mitzvot, and the practice of charity? Because therein prevailed baseless hatred. This teaches us that baseless hatred is considered of equal gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together.

(Yoma 9b)

Baseless hatred, say our sages, is of equal gravity with the three worst sins in the Jewish lexicon. Because our community was unable to overcome its internal divisions; because of unkindness and inability to bend -- say our sages -- the second Temple fell. Tonight at sundown we will gather in fasting and prayer and lamentation, remembering that destruction, mourning every grief and brokenness we know. Have we learned anything about kindness and compassion in the last two thousand years?

 


How news and social media can hurt us

Crying_computer_userLately I've been talking with rabbinic colleagues about how best to minister to our congregants who are struggling with the news out of Israel/Palestine. We're hearing from people who are unable to fall asleep because they can't stop thinking about the images of destruction and grief, or who wake up and immediately start agonizing about the conflict or worrying about loved ones.

For some, the realities of what's happening there provoke a crisis of faith. For others, those realities provoke profound anxiety. How can we best care for people who are struggling in these ways? The question feels especially relevant to me because not only am I tasked with extending pastoral care to people who are struggling, but because I myself am also struggling to maintain my emotional and spiritual equilibrium in the face of the violence, destruction, and fear.

Maybe the first thing we can do is honor the reality of the struggle. A colleague just pointed me to something I found really interesting -- research showing that media exposure to trauma can create trauma in those who are watching, even from afar.

Tens of thousands of individuals directly witnessed 9/11, but millions more viewed the attacks and their aftermath via the media. In our three-year study following 9/11, my colleagues and I found that people who watched more than one hour of daily 9/11-related TV in the week following the attacks experienced increases in post-traumatic stress (PTS) symptoms (e.g., flashbacks, feeling on edge and hyper vigilant, and avoidance of trauma reminders) and physical ailments over the next three years.

The previous conventional wisdom had been that indirect media-based exposure to trauma is "not clinically relevant." But these researchers found otherwise. The article continues:

The relevance of indirect media exposure became apparent again after last April’s Boston marathon. In the days following the marathon bombings, my University of California, Irvine colleagues and I decided to replicate our 9/11 study and examine the impact of media exposure to the Boston Marathon bombings. We sought to look at all types of media: how much TV people watched, their exposure to disaster-related radio, print, and online news, and their use of social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Vimeo in the week following the bombings. We were especially interested in responses to social media coverage. Unlike traditional media that warn us about the gruesome nature of an image before showing it to us, social media typically display such images without warning.

Here's the conclusion to which I really want to draw your attention:

People who consumed lots of bombing-related media in the week after the bombings were six times more likely to report high acute stress than those who were at the Boston Marathon.

Let me be clear -- I am not suggesting that those of us who are following stories out of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza from afar are experiencing more trauma than those who are there. I recognize that from afar we can only barely begin to grasp the terror and the trauma. My child is safely watching cartoons; other peoples' children have been terrorized and killed. There is no comparison. What I am suggesting is that the media we consume has an impact in all four worlds: spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and even physical.

Continue reading "How news and social media can hurt us" »


Fasting today with Jews and Muslims for peace

10504985_10154414238775171_7317168910845165076_oI don't usually fast on the 17th of Tamuz.

For that matter, I didn't even take on the practice of fasting for Tisha b'Av until a few years ago. (See This year's wrestle with Tisha b'Av, 2011.) I didn't grow up observing the minor fasts, and I've never taken them on as a practice.

Instead I've tended toward finding other ways of understanding 17th Tammuz. Instead of focusing on the breach of Jerusalem's walls 2,600 years ago, I ponder breaches in the emotional walls which keep us safe, or the internal and interpersonal walls which need to come down in order for genuine connections to form.

But this year there is so much trauma and tragedy in Israel and Palestine, so much grief and destruction and fear happening right now, that I am fasting today and I am dedicating my fast to peace, compassion and kindness in that beloved corner of our world where so many people are suffering.

This was not my idea. Across Israel and Palestine, groups of Jews and Muslims are consciously choosing to fast on this day in solidarity with one another as what was initially called a Hunger Strike Against Violence, and has become part of an initiative called בוחרים בחיים / اختيار الحياة / Choose Life. The idea came from Eliaz Cohen, an Israeli Jew who lives in Gush Etzion, and Ali Abu Awwad, a Palestinian Muslim who lives in Beit Ummar, north of Khalil (Hebron). Cohen is a poet and a self-identified second-generation "settler kid" who supports the idea of one homeland for two peoples. Abu Awwad is founder of Al Tariq (The Way), which teaches Palestinians principles of nonviolent resistance.

(For more, see the front-page story in yesterday's Times of Israel, Aided by calendar, Jews and Arabs Unite in Joint Fast: West Bank activists organize Choose Life, a shared initiative to combat political violence and promote coexistence.)

Continue reading "Fasting today with Jews and Muslims for peace" »


A prayer in remembrance - now in Hebrew

Not long ago I posted a prayer co-written with Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb in remembrance of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Sha'ar, Eyal Yifrah, and Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir. (It's here: A prayer in remembrance.)

Rabbi Lila Veissid, who serves Kibbutz Ha-Ma'apil in central Israel,  has translated that prayer into Hebrew. With her gracious permission, her translation is reprinted here.

 

תפילת זיכרון


מאת הרבה רחל ברנבלט
והרבה לין גוטליב

 

יהי רצון שזכרם של בנינו
שנהרגו בשל שנאה חסרת פשר
יהיה לברכה.

יהי רצון שרוחם תעלה
ותתנחם בחיבוקה החם
והאימהי של אלוהים.

יהי רצון שילדינו היקרים יהיו בטוחים מכל צרה.
יהי רצון שכל הילדים יהיו ילדינו.
יהי רצון שנגן על כל ההורים מן השכול.

יהי רצון שלבבנו ולבבם של בני עמנו
יירפא במהרה בימינו
מפצעי העבר וההווה.

יהי רצון שכל הורה אבֵל ימצא ניחומים.
יהי רצון שנזכה לראות את היום
שבו לא יהיו עוד הורים אבֵלים


 

(You can read the prayer in English at the original post: A prayer in remembrance, July 3 2014.)


Poetry and prayer are all I've got

I have been watching the news (and reading blog posts and tweets and Facebook updates) out of Israel and the Palestinian territories with a sense of unbearable heartbreak. It brings me to the brink of something like a panic attack: my chest tightening, my throat choked with tears, the embodied feeling that the grief will wash me away altogether. And I am aware that those who live there are experiencing something far more powerful.

The only thing which brings any comfort is poetry and prayer. Bethlehem Blogger posted A prayer in times of violence, which though it is explicitly Christian speaks to me nonetheless. Wendell Berry's poem The peace of wild things speaks right to my heart. I daven the oseh shalom blessing -- "may the One Who makes peace in the high heavens make peace also for us" -- with particular fervor.

If there are prayers or poems which bring you comfort at times like these, please feel free to share them in the comments so that other readers (and I) can benefit from them.

I wrote a prayer in 2012 called Prayer for the Children of Abraham / Ibrahim, which begins:


For every aspiring ballerina huddled
scared in a basement bomb shelter

    For every toddler in his mother's arms
    behind rubble of concrete and rebar

For every child who's learned to distinguish
"our" bombs from "their" bombs by sound...

 

I hate that it is once again resonant. I yearn for the day when this prayer will look outdated and ridiculous -- when the children of our children, running across this prayer in some shred of their grandparents' generation, will say "I can't believe that war went on for so long." Please, God, may the day come speedily and soon.


Descent for the sake of ascent: the fast of 17 Tamuz

EJmR3188046On Tuesday, July 15, many Jews will observe Tzom Tamuz, "the fast of Tamuz" -- one of Judaism's minor fast days, commemorating the breach of Jerusalem's city walls which led (three weeks later) to the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E.

I say "many Jews" because I know that the minor fasts are not universally observed, especially in liberal Jewish communities. The notion of commemorating the first chink in Jerusalem's armor almost two thousand years ago may seem strange to us.

But I think there's value in observing 17 Tamuz, and being conscious of the Three Weeks which link it with Tisha b'Av, even if you do not fast, and even if you aren't certain you actually want to mourn the fall of a Temple you can barely imagine.

There is a deep wisdom in the way the Jewish calendar unfolds. Our festivals and fast days are waypoints along the journey we travel each year. 17 Tamuz marks the beginning of the descent toward Tisha b'Av. At Tisha b'Av, we mark the beginning of the ascent toward the Days of Awe.

In Hasidic tradition there's the idea that often in order to rise, one first has to fall. Yeridah tzorech aliyah: one has to go down in order to be able to go up. Descent for the sake of ascent. This drama plays itself out in a variety of places in Torah -- for instance, in the Joseph story, in which "descent for the sake of ascent" is a recurring motif. The downs are necessary precursors to the ups.

For Lurianic kabbalists, the whole of creation was a shattering which it is our unique privilege to be able to rebuild. If there had never been a rupture, then there couldn't be a healing.

EMy+barn+This drama plays itself out on the stage of every human life. We fall down, we get up again. And while our modern sensibilities may be offended by the notion that tragedy or trauma is necessary in order for growth or forward motion to appear, I believe that there are gifts to be found when circumstances have laid us low. As the 17th-century Japanese poet Mizuta Masahide wrote, "My barn having burned down, I found I could see the moon."

17 Tammuz, the Three Weeks which follow it, and Tisha b'Av which comes at the end of those weeks, are a time for us to delve together into descent. It's not only "my barn" which has burned down -- it's our barn, the place which was spiritual home for all of us together. It's not only my life which sometimes contains brokenness or sorrow -- it's all of our lives. We're in this together.

It can be tempting to want to paper over the places that hurt. To look on the bright side, to put on a happy face, to focus on the positive. I do these things all of the time. But 17 Tammuz and the weeks which follow are an opportunity to let ourselves experience moments of descent, together.

17 Tamuz is a day to consider: when and how do your "walls," the boundaries of your emotional and spiritual integrity, feel breached? What is it like to feel that something painful has come through your defenses? When and how do we come to feel that the integrity of our community has been shattered? What issues, subjects, or sore spots make us feel defenseless and alone?

The tradition says that 17 Tammuz is the anniversary of the day when Moshe came down the mountain, saw the people worshipping the golden calf, and in heartbroken fury shattered the first set of stone tablets containing God's words. What are the idols our communities have fallen into holding sacred? Can we allow ourselves to grieve the ways in which our communities are not yet what we most yearn for them to be?

The point of 17 Tammuz and the Three Weeks and Tisha b'Av isn't wallowing in anger and sorrow. It's allowing ourselves to recognize the things that hurt, the places where we are broken, so that together we can emerge from those places humbled and energized to begin the climb toward the spiritual heights of the High Holidays. Descent for the sake of ascent. If we're willing and able to go down together, we build bonds of community which will lift us to greater heights when it's time to climb up.

All of the things I've just written are, I think, true every year as we reach this moment in our seasonal-liturgical cycle. Here is something which is unique to this year:

This year the 17th of Tammuz falls during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when our Muslim cousins are fasting from dawn to nightfall every day. (This "minor fast" in our tradition is observed in the same way -- morning to night, not 25 hours like Yom Kippur.) And this year, 17 Tammuz arises amidst tremendous bloodshed and suffering in Israel and Palestine -- the murders of the three Israeli teens Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Sha'ar, and Eyal Yifrah; the murder of Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, apparently burned alive; Hamas firing rockets into Israel (see A view from Jerusalem - Israel at war); Israel bombarding Gaza in return (see You can never be emotionally ready).

Eliaz Cohen, a poet who lives in the settlement of Gush Etzion, has suggested that in the midst of so much sorrow and violence in Israel and Palestine, Jews and Muslims can choose to consciously fast on this day in solidarity with one another, as a "Hunger Strike Against Violence." You can learn more at Fasting Together, Jews and Muslims Choose Life (FB, mostly in Hebrew) 0r War Looming: Make Fasts of 17 Tammuz and Ramadan Hunger Strikes Against Violence (English). Some of us who are the talmidim (students) of Reb Zalman are taking on this joint fast in his memory, knowing that he wept for both the children of Abraham and the children of Ibrahim.

Whether or not you fast from food and drink on 17 Tammuz, I ask my Jewish and Israeli readers to please consider fasting from negative assumptions about our Muslim cousins and Palestinian neighbors; whether or not you are observing the Ramadan fast from food, I ask my Muslim and Palestinian readers to please consider fasting from negative assumptions about your Jewish cousins and Israeli neighbors in turn. May this minor fast day, and the following Three Weeks of opening ourselves to grief, bring us together in our low places so that together we may begin the work of building a better world.


A prayer in remembrance


by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb


May the memories of our boys
killed in senseless hatred
be for a blessing.

May their spirits be lifted up
and comforted in the close embrace
of God's motherly presence.

May our precious children be safe from harm.
May all the children be our children.
May we protect all parents from mourning.

May our hearts and the hearts of our people
be healed quickly in our day
from the wounds of the past and present.

May every grieving parent find comfort.
May we live to see the day
when no parent has to grieve.




We'll read this prayer at my congregation on Shabbat morning before mourner's kaddish. If it speaks to you, you are welcome to share it with your community, though please take care to keep authors' names attached. May the families of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Sha'ar, Eyal Yifrah, and Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir be comforted.

 

Edited to add: this post has also been shared at Kol ALEPH, the blog of ALEPH: the Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

Edited to add: Rabbi Lila Veissid has graciously translated this prayer into Hebrew; you can read it here.


Praying for the three abducted Israeli teens

10489719_10152492667044450_7658300711942126798_nYou've probably read by now about the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped while hitchhiking home from their yeshiva in the West Bank. (If not, here's a recent article from TIME: Israel holds breath over three teens kidnapped onWest Bank.)

CNN reports that Israel has detained 150 Palestinians in an effort to find the boys. The Guardian reports that Israel has sealed off most entrances to Hebron (see Israeli forces tighten grip on West Bank in search for three abducted teenagers.)

Netanyahu blames Hamas for the kidnapping; according to the Guardian, Hamas leadership has "furiously denied Netanyahu's allegations." (Meanwhile, in Ha'aretz, Abbas condemns kidnapping.)

The three missing teens are in my thoughts and in my prayers, as are their parents. As a mother, I can only begin to imagine the horror of knowing that one's child has been abducted and is in danger.

I recently retweeted, from the Women of the Wall Facebook page, part of the status update:

We continue to pray for safe and quick return of the kidnapped teens, along with all of Israel and the Jewish world. On our minds all day long as we go about our lives waiting for news.

I think back to my post from a few days ago about what it's like for me to be holding sick loved ones in prayer as I go about my ordinary life, and it seems to me that this is parallel. All of us who hold these teens in our prayers are experiencing this kind of bifurcated reality.

I pray that the boys are safe and will be returned to their families. And I pray for hope and change across that wounded land. My heart breaks for every child, and every parent, who suffers.

Continue reading "Praying for the three abducted Israeli teens" »


On the Presbyterian conversation about divestment from Caterpillar et al.

27939I've seen some concern lately in the Jewish community about the conversation which some of our Christian cousins -- specifically the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA) -- are having about divestment and Israel. I think it's possible that some of the concern comes from lack of clarity about what the Presbyterians are actually discussing.

The Presbyterian church is not talking about divesting from Israel. (Indeed: one cannot divest from a country, only from a corporation.) They're considering withdrawing their church investments from three American-based multinational companies which make certain kinds of equipment used by the military.

Here's a link to the report which lays out their recommendations. And, from that report, here are their reasons for suggesting divestment from these three companies, in brief:

  • Caterpillar sells heavy equipment (e.g. the armored IDF Caterpillar D9) used by the Israeli government in military and police actions to demolish Palestinian homes and agricultural lands. (See On the Tent of Nations, destruction of orchards, and the path to peace.) It also sells heavy equipment used in the West Bank for construction of, among other things, settlements, roads which are solely open to settlers, and the construction of the Separation Barrier.
  • Hewlett-Packard sells hardware to the Israeli Navy, including Electronic Data Systems which provide biometric ID used to monitor Palestinians (and not used to monitor Israelis) at several checkpoints in the West Bank and in the separate Palestinian road system.
  • Motorola sells an integrated communications system, known as "Mountain Rose," to the Israeli government which uses it for military communications. They also provide equipment for the IDF, including ruggedized smartphones, and have signed a contract to provide the next generation of this technology to the IDF.

The conversation about divestment comes from the church's Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (CMRTI), a denominational committee which works to ensure that their investments are aligned with their stated religious values. The Presbyterian Church has an official policy of only investing in businesses which are pursuing peaceful endeavors.

The PCUSA has made these sorts of decisions before. Early in the church's history they withdrew investments from companies which produce alcohol. In 1980, they began withdrawing investments from corporations involved in military production. As one Presbyterian writes, PCUSA's "social witness policy prohibits [us] from investing in industries that harm people. We do not, for example, invest in gambling, firearms, pornography, and alcohol." I can understand why the CMRTI thinks that if their church seeks to only invest in businesses which do the work of peace, these corporations are not a fitting place for their investments.

Some of the Jewish critique of the church's process seeks to make the case that focusing divestment and other economic attention on what happens in Israel is inappropriate if equal attention isn't also paid to other places. But to me it makes perfect sense that the church would pay attention to "the Holy Land." It's easy for us, as Jews, to forget that Christians have a two-thousand-year-old attachment to this place. Don't we all pay attention to places which are emotionally and spiritually meaningful to us?

It may also be noteworthy that the PCUSA's investing agencies continue to hold stock in companies which do business in Israel, among them Intel, Oracle, Coca‐Cola, Procter & Gamble, IBM, Microsoft, McDonald's and American Express. (And that they have chosen at various times to withdraw investments from companies which did business in South Africa, Burma, and Sudan -- companies doing business in Israel are not the only subjects of their attention.) They're considering withdrawing their investments specifically from these three companies which produce implements used in a militarized or militaristic manner -- not from Israeli businesses or from other businesses working in Israel.

I don't imagine that any of these corporations would be substantially impacted by the removal of the PCUSA's funds. The divestment from Caterpillar et al. would be merely symbolic. But religous institutions frequently work in the realm of the "merely symbolic," and I can understand how this gesture could be meaningful -- both to members of this church, and to my friends who are working toward a just and lasting peace.

When I hear the anxiety from sectors of the Jewish community which oppose this divestment, I hear fear that this divestment proposal is thinly-veiled antisemitism; that it delegitimizes Israel; and that its passage will lead to further anti-Israel feeling. I see the situation differently. To me, what "delegitimizes" Israel is the injustices of the occupation, and I don't think it's appropriate to try to shame the Presbyterians into continuing to invest in corporations which do work they deem unethical.

The prophet Isaiah -- author of a holy text shared by Jews and Christians, though we sometimes interpret it in different ways -- speaks of the day when we will beat our guns into plowshares. (Some artists are taking that call to heart even now, turning guns into religious art, or into musical instruments.) Choosing not to invest in companies which make implements of war -- whether they be guns, or military communications systems -- is one way of embracing that prophetic vision of peace.


On the Tent of Nations, destruction of orchards, and the path to peace

10372014_564567453661960_551324635489164955_n

Valley of fruit trees: before and after. [Source.]

Several years ago, during the summer when I was living in Jerusalem, I had the opportunity to spend an evening with a group called the All Nations Café. (I blogged about it at the time, and also spoke about it from the bimah of my shul on erev Rosh Hashanah that year.) It was an incredibly powerful experience for me -- talking with Israelis, Palestinians, and internationals who were  dedicated to peace and to forging connections across our differences. It's one thing for me as an American, living half a world away, to talk about my yearning for peace and coexistence. These folks were living that intention, and I admired them deeply.

I remember being particularly moved by hearing the story of the man on whose land we had gathered, a Palestinian man named Abed, who told us about his struggles to prove ownership of his family's land (despite holding papers dating from Ottoman times) and about the challenges which that entailed. I thought of the All Nations Café last week when I heard news about the destruction of the orchard at the Tent of Nations farm. (A side note: as I was writing this post the tentofnations.org website seemed to be down, but I think that webmasters are in the process of mirroring it at a new location: Tent of Nations.) My friend and colleague Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb wrote:

Daoud Nassar and his family at The Tent of Nations in the West Bank was invaded by the IDF and their environmental and educational farm destroyed. Entire fields of grapes, apples, apricots, almonds, figs were wiped out. Hundreds of fruitful trees were destroyed. Daoud and his family own the land, have papers dating from the Ottoman Empire...I feel this deeply. Daoud is my friend. Those of us who know Daoud have been deeply impacted by his compassion, nonviolence, resiliency, creativity, and commitment to community.

Daoud has posted about the destruction on the Tent of Nations Facebook page:

Today at 08.00, Israeli bulldozers came to the fertile valley of the farm where we planted fruit trees 10 years ago, and destroyed the terraces and all our trees there. More than 1500 apricot and apple trees as well as grape plants were smashed and destroyed.

(His post is here.) I'm embedding a ten-minute video about Tent of Nations, which includes a tour of the land and gives a good sense for what and where it is. I really recommend watching the video -- take ten minutes and watch, before you read the rest of this post. (If you can't see the embed, it's here at YouTube: Tent of Nations: we refuse to be enemies.)

One of the articles archived at Friends of Tent of Nations explains that "The Nassar farm is part of a parcel of land, including eight nearby Palestinian farming villages, that Israeli authorities hope to annex in order to expand the Gush Etzion settlements, whose population is around 50,000." I know that there is a housing shortage all over Israel; I feel certain that that plays into the Israeli government's desire to annex West Bank land in order to build. But I suspect that the current Israeli government is also acting out of the intention to continue establishing "facts on the ground."

That article explains that when the Israeli government first declared intention to confiscate the land, the Nasser family made the conscious choice "not to be enemies," and founded the Tent of Nations, an organization whose aims are "to build bridges between people of different backgrounds, and between people and land." Author Emma Halgren continues:

The Israeli authorities have forbidden any permanent infrastructure development on the site, as well as access to the electricity grid and public water, so the Nassars have refurbished seven underground caves, painting them, fitting them out with comfortable rugs and cushions and connecting them to electricity from a generator so that they could be used for meetings and other gatherings.

I remember a similar situation on Abed's land where the All Nations Café met -- because land ownership was contested by the Israeli authorities, no construction was permitted, so Abed and his family had refurbished a small cave and had also erected tents. I remember hearing about how the cultivation on Abed's land involved rain-collection and solar power, because the legal limbo of the land ownership dispute prohibited him from accessing the surrounding electrical or water systems.

In a 2010 post about Tent of Nations (Tent of Nations receives demolition orders), Rabbi Brant Rosen wrote:

Some background: Daoud’s farm has been in his family for four generations; his ancestor registered his land with the ruling Ottoman Empire and the Nassars still have the original deed. In 1991... the Israeli military initiated proceedings to expropriate the Nassar family farm, which happens to be located between two Jewish settlements in the Gush Etzion Block.

Despite Daoud’s irrefutable proof of his family’s ownership of the land, the legal battle over it has stretched on for well over two decades – and the Nassar family has spent over $140,000 in legal fees to date. Up until now, their case has been essentially stuck in Israeli legal bureaucratic limbo.

In the meantime, the Nassar family has used their land to establish “The Tent of Nations” an inspirational center that provides arts, drama, and education to the children of the villages and refugee camps of the region. Daoud and his family have also established a Women’s Educational Center offering classes in computer literacy, English, and leadership training. (Many rabbis and rabbinical students are familiar with Tent of Nations as a primary destination for Encounter – a well-known educational program that promotes coexistence by introducing Jewish Diaspora leaders to Palestinian life.)

I meant to go on an Encounter program during the summer I was living in Israel, but it was cancelled on account of violence. Many of my rabbinic friends and colleagues have visited Tent of Nations, and I hope to have the chance to do so someday as well.

Rabbi Rosen refers to Daoud Nassar's "irrefutable" proof of ownership; I assume he means the Ottomon-era deed to the land. Unfortunately for Daoud and his family, Israel maintains a policy of not recognizing Ottomon or British deeds in the West Bank (see Displacing: House Demolitions and Closure at ICAHD), so that deed isn't enough to protect the farm or the organization established thereupon. Because Israel doesn't recognize Ottoman or British deeds, the Nassar family has funded an extensive survey to further prove ownership of their land, but everything I've read suggests that the survey's findings are in a kind of legal limbo.

Recently I posted about a dispatch from Paul Salopek in Jerusalem. I quoted Paul: "In a 5,000-year-old city where changes in neighborhood zoning rules earn international headlines—such is the ferocity of ownership over each square inch of Jerusalem—we orbit painful questions of identity, of zealotry, of personal loss, of national survival." This is surely most intensely true in Jerusalem (because everything is more intense in Jerusalem!), but Jerusalem is also a microcosm of larger struggles for ownership and identity which persist across the land.

What precipitated this demolition of 1500 fruit trees and adjacent vineyards? A note from attorney Sami Khoury explains that the Israeli military authorities recently served papers to the Nassars indicating that their orchards were planted on state land and that the trees therefore constituted tresspassing. (There's something vaguely Kafkaesque, to me, about accusing fruit trees of being tresspassers...) Although the Nassars immediately filed an appeal with the military court arguing that the orchards were planted not on state land but on their own land -- and although legally no demolitions are supposed to take place while an appeal is pending -- the orchard was uprooted shortly thereafter. (There's an extensive timeline of events at the bottom of Rabbi Rosen's more recent post about Tent of Nations.)

I empathize with my Israeli friends who struggle for housing in a country where apartments are in short supply. And I'm sure that those who live in the settlements which surround the Tent of Nations land would be happy to have that land for their own building purposes. When I was in Israel I met several bloggers, one of whom was then living in Neve Daniel, one of the settlements adjacent to the Nassar farm; she mentioned the housing shortage, as did my friends in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem. But bulldozing fruit trees which have been so lovingly cultivated goes against the grain of my understanding of what Judaism is about.

The Torah teaches that we should not destroy fruit trees even in a time of war, and mainstream Jewish interpretation has understood this as an edict against any act of despoiling, in peacetime as well as war. Writes Rabbi Arthur Waskow (in an email to the OHALAH rabbinic email list, quoted with permission):

Torah could hardly be clearer. This early step in protecting both the Earth and human beings from "scorched earth" destruction helped create the tradition of menshlichkeit that is the best fruit of the Jewish people. Was it for cutting down that fruit and these verses of the Tree of Life that generations worked so hard to create a "Jewish" state?

For another perspective on how Torah prohibits the destruction of trees, see the essay Bal Tashhit: the Torah Prohibits Wasteful Destruction by Rabbi Norman Lamm, former president of the mainline Orthodox institution Yeshiva University -- hardly a lefty peacenik.

Destroying orchards is not ethical. Even if there is a housing shortage in the surrounding towns. In this era of consciousness about our footprint on the earth, there's no excuse for destroying productive agricultural land in order to build houses, and that may be especially true in the Middle East where rainfall and arable land are both limited. Because the Nassar farm is prohibited from accessing local water and power systems, they have developed (and are teaching others) sustainable agricultural practices, using solar power and rainwater, filtering "grey water" for reuse, and so on. This farm could be an exemplar to others of how to live lightly on the land.

Beyond that: destroying someone's farm and livelihood is not ethical; and kal v'chomer, when that farm is also home to a nonprofit organization which does so much good work, the destruction becomes even more shameful. One of Tent of Nations' projects is instruction in English and in computer skills for women in the neighboring village of Nahalin. These women are unable to leave their village because of travel restrictions (imposed by Israel), and would otherwise have few opportunities for education and personal development. (You can read more about that program in this April 2014 dispatch.) Tent of Nations also provides summer camp programs for local children from Bethlehem and nearby refugee camps, where the kids engage in projects like putting on Shakespeare plays and making mosaics out of broken tiles scavenged from rubble. These good works should not be met with this kind of destruction.

Beyond that: what impression can this possibly give to the wider world, except that Israel is destructive and power-hungry, trampling on the rights of the poor? That is not the Israel I know and love. But that is the Israel which is making itself manifest in the eyes of the world, and that grieves me.

I am among the many who believe that settlements are an obstacle to peace. (The recent Pew study showed that a plurality of American Jews hold this understanding.) I've been writing about this for years -- see West Bank settlements: obstacles on the road to peace, my liveblogging of a 2009 panel discussion featuring Akiva Eldar, chief political columnist and writer at Ha'aretz; Hagit Ofran, the director of Settlement Watch, a project of שלום עכשיו / Peace Now; and Scott Lasensky, a Senior Research Associate at the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention.

It seems obvious to me that the more Israel builds up the settlements, the more those settlements carve the West Bank into a disconnected block of Swiss cheese. And the more the West Bank is carved-up in that manner, the less plausible it becomes to imagine a Palestinian state there. Many of those who support settlement expansion agree with me that building settlements negates the possibility of a two-state solution -- there are members of the Knesset who support settlement expansion for precisely this reason. If there will be no Palestinian state, then either Israel must choose a path of perennial occupation, or Israel must choose to grant citizenship to the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank.

I don't think that perennial occupation is sustainable. I also don't think it is ethical, and I believe that it is damaging both to the lives of those who live under occupation and to the souls of those who perpetuate the occupation. Is it time to give up on the two-state solution and instead work toward a binational state in which all citizens have equal rights? I don't pretend to have the answer to that question. But it seems to me that as settlements expand, we approach a moment when the question will become moot. And I think it's especially saddening when the intention of expanding the settlements leads to the destruction of an orchard like the one belonging to Daoud Nassar and his family.

If you're interested in learning more about how you can help Tent of Nations rebuild, I'm told the best way to stay abreast of the situation is to "like" their Facebook page, so that you will receive their updates on how they plan to move forward.

 

 


Paul in Jerusalem

Some weeks ago, I wrote a poem inspired by Paul Salopek's Out of Eden walk, his seven-year quest to cover -- on foot -- the original migratory journey of humankind. (You can find my poem on the Out of Eden blog -- Couplets and kilometers -- and it's now available in April Dailies, which you can read about here.) If you have any interest in travel, I can't commend Paul's work to you highly enough. You can read his chronicle of his journey at National Geographic, and on the companion website you can listen to audio clips, look at photographs, and encounter other multimedia glimpses of where he's been.

As it happens, these last several weeks he's been walking through some places to which I have a deep attachment. (Me and just a few other people, as it happens.) His most recent blog post is about a city I revisited only six weeks ago:

"This place is too complicated," says Yuval Ben-Ami, my walking partner in Jerusalem. He is a big man with gentle eyes. A writer. A radio host. A street singer—a bard. He has hiked Israel’s entire perimeter along its borders. He knows its village bus stations. Its cheap Ethiopian restaurants. Its most scenic battlefields. He has been up all night thinking. "The only way we can do this--"

And with a blue pen he draws a curlicue...

That's from Vortex: Walking Jerusalem, the most recent dispatch from Paul. Later in the essay he writes:

In a 5,000-year-old city where changes in neighborhood zoning rules earn international headlines—such is the ferocity of ownership over each square inch of Jerusalem—we orbit painful questions of identity, of zealotry, of personal loss, of national survival. We trudge over a hundred lonesome boundaries—invisible and monumental—that Israeli and Palestinian Jerusalemites do not cross...

I found his post incredibly resonant with my own sense of the city. It's poignant, surprising, and thoughtful.

Once you read it, click through to the walking Jerusalem map. You can see the dotted line of his walking journey through the city, and if you click on any one of the little icons, you'll be taken to a photograph taken in that spot. (As it happens, one of the first icons I clicked turned out to be the bookstore where I went for lunch with Bethlehem Blogger -- the place where I purchased Crossing Qalandiya, which I just reviewed recently.)

I'm looking forward to continuing to read Paul's dispatches -- especially as he walks through places which are entirely unknown to me. But there's something especially powerful about reading his words, and seeing his photos, from a place which I am fortunate enough to already know and love.


Listening across our differences

ThumbSometimes when I look at my Twitter stream, and see the wide (and passionate) diversity of opinion which my friends express about Israel and Palestine, I despair of common ground ever being forged. If I can't imagine my friends on the one side really hearing my friends on the other side, how can it be possible that those who disagree with each other even more strongly than my friends will ever break bread together in peace?

Ethan has written a fair amount about the dangers of homophily, and about the echo chamber which arises when one is only exposed to limited opinions and perspectives. (Here's an early blog post on the subject; for more, I highly recommend his book Rewire.) I try hard to stay open, and to hear the voices of people who are different from me -- and I know that there are so many axes of difference that I'll always be working to broaden my hearing.

Am I listening to women as well as to men? Am I listening to people of color as well as to white people? Am I listening to transgender folks as well as those who are cisgender? Am I listening to people from the global South as well as people from the global North? Am I listening to people who are poor as well as people who are wealthy? (And so on, and so on.) And -- what do I do when the voices to whom I am listening are in tension with one another?

Listening can be a powerful and active thing. I learned this during my year as a student chaplain at Albany Medical Center. The greatest gift a chaplain can offer isn't "the perfect prayer" or "the right teaching," but real and whole presence. When I sit by someone's bedside, and open myself to hearing who they are and where they are, I manifest the listening and loving ear of God.

It's a lot easier to do that when I'm sitting by a hospital bedside than when I'm comfortably ensconced behind my desk encountering someone else's version of the news. And yet the opportunity to respond with openness and compassion is as real on Facebook and Twitter as it is when I'm ministering to someone who is suffering. Beyond that, while we don't all have the holy opportunity to engage in formal pastoral care, we all have countless opportunities to listen every day.

Ethan makes the case that homophily -- listening only to people like ourselves; that phenomenon referenced in the saying "birds of a feather flock together" -- can make us ill-informed about the world. Being a rabbi, I'm inclined to frame that same truth in religious terms. I think we have a religious obligation to broaden our sphere of understanding. Every person in the world is made in the divine image. No matter where they're from, or where they fall on the political spectrum, or where we might agree or disagree.

When we listen to people who are different from us (and different from each other), we can open connections between one experience and another, one understanding of the world and another. We encounter different facets of the infinite diversity of creation. The shema, which we recite every day, calls us to this work of listening. Listen up, y'all, it exhorts us. We are in relationship with the Source of All Being! And that Source is One. It's our job to listen to the unity which thrums behind our diversity.

There's a Talmudic story which teaches that the difference between God and Caesar is that Caesar puts his image on every coin and they are all alike -- whereas God puts God's image on every human, and we are all different as different can be. (For a beautiful drash on this, I commend to you Rabbi Arthur Waskow's God & Caesar: the Image on the Coin.) This is, as my programming friends would say, a feature and not a bug. It's not a flaw or an accident -- it's part of what makes creation so incredible.

And because we are so different in so many ways across this wide world (and even across narrow subsections of our world!), sometimes we disagree. I struggle with that sometimes. Like many clergy, I'm a born peacemaker, and I've had to learn to resist the temptation to put a "band-aid" over disagreements in a facile attempt to bring healing.

It is not always easy to hold a posture of openness to differing perspectives and views. Sometimes it feels like my own heart has become the container where opposing voices are duking it out. (Those are generally times to step away from the computer and ground myself in cooking, or reading a book to our child, or in poetry and prayer.)

But I think that cultivating that posture of spiritual openness -- developing the habit of keeping one's heart and mind open to other perspectives, even when (especially when) those other perspectives challenge us -- is some of the most important inner work we can do. And if there come moments when I look at our heartfelt differences of opinion and I feel despair, then I have an opportunity to pray that I might soon be returned to the ability to look at our differences and see opportunity for connection again.


Related:

Image: from a print by Jackie Olenick.


Crossing Qalandiya: letters between two women

You have no idea how strange I feel lately - almost as if I've started seeing things differently -- through your eyes. Maybe this is normal, because we know each other relatively well now, and of course this has an effect. I keep finding myself explaining 'your side' to people. And, frankly, I am shocked at some of the reactions I get.

There are many people here who are completely blind to the way things look from your point-of-view, and to what your people are going through. I am sure this is also true for some of the people on your side. But suddenly it has become clear to me that so many of the problems are the result of miscommunication and misunderstandings... so the only solution is dialogue.

Crossing-qalandiya-220x330That's from one of Daniela Norris' letters to Shireen Anabtawi, as collected in Crossing Qalandiya: Exchanges Across the Israeli/Palestinian Divide, published by Reportage Press in 2010. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The book begins with a letter from Daniela, and here are her first words:

Dear Shireen, I hope you are well, and that you remember me. We met in Geneva last month, at a cocktail party, at Michelle's house. I admit that I was taken aback when you said you were from Palestine. I was convinced you were Italian or Greek -- something Mediterranean, anyway -- but I didn't imagine you were Palestinian.

It is strange, but despite the few kilometres that set us apart, I have never really gotten to know a Palestinian woman. Certainly not one as charming as you. What can I say? I am embarrassed to admit that the image I had of Palestinians was somewhat different...

I have a confession: I hesitated before I went to meet you the next morning. After all, you are supposed to be "The Enemy," and who knows what The Enemy has in store for them? But we said we'd bring our kids along, and when I arrived with my two little boys and saw you waiting at the café with your two beautiful children, I was ashamed of my previous thoughts... Ever since I met you, I read and listen to the news from our region differently, with more compassion for the other side -- your side.

Shireen, in turn, writes back:

Dear Daniela... I appreciate your frankness. I must admit that the only Israelis I've met over the past years have been the soldiers at road-blocks, and I, too, found it strange to meet an Israeli woman with whom I was able to connect so easily....

You ask about my daily life in Ramallah. I hope that one day you'll be able to visit me here. Ramallah is beautiful. When I was in Europe and said I was from Ramallah, people asked me whether we had roads, shops, food. I was surprised to hear these questions. It's so sad that this is the image we have in the eyes of the world.

...All in all, my life here is pretty good, but I must admit that it is difficult to come back to Ramallah after spending time in Europe. When we travelled, we drove from country to country and were rarely asked to show a passport. Here, if I want to visit my family in Nablus, I have to show documentation and permits; not only that, but I have to wait long hours at road-blocks, in the heat or in the rain...

Daniela and Shireen met by chance at a party in Geneva. Daniela had worked for the Israeli Foreign Service for seven years, and later was an advisor to the Permanent Mission of Israel at the UN in Geneva. Shireen is a former director of Public Relations at the Palestinian Investment Agency in Ramallah, and later worked for the Palestinian Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva. As the book's introduction explains, the two women met many times in Geneva over several months, with and without family members, and their friendship bloomed. Neither speaks the other's language, so their communication was in English, the language which they shared.

Once they returned home again, despite the geographical proximity of their homes, they were worlds apart. So this correspondence began. Each wrote in her native language, and then translated it into English before sending. The end result is this book, which I bought at the Educational Bookshop in Jerusalem last month and have only now finished reading.

Continue reading "Crossing Qalandiya: letters between two women" »


The inner lives of Arab and Jewish Peacemakers

6213_THE140213BRIDGES_47I live in two universes when I work in the Middle East. One is a universe where peoples are divided by bitter and violent sorrows, old resentments, understandable suspicions, and completely polarized affiliations. It is a world of great injustices and passed-on abuse, a place where people wait for apologies but are unable to offer any.

Within that world, however, there is another world, a secret world of those people who dare touch those of the other side with their words, their deeds, and their hearts. That special world is to me -- as an activist, spiritual seeker, and analyst of conflict -- a universe of enormous significance. For it is in that mysterious world of human bridges between enemies that we find flowering up from a ground of death, hatred, and war, something extraordinary: the seeds of life, the seeds of the future.

So writes Marc Gopin in the introduction to Bridges Across An Impossible Divide: The Inner Lives of Arab and Jewish Peacemakers.

I have been working my way through this book slowly. The writing is clear, but the stories the peacemakers tell are intense and they merit close attention. Here's another quote from Gopin, responding to the beginning of  the story told by peacemaker Ibtisam Mahameed. Ibtisam has mentioned the battle in Tantura in 1948; in the standard Palestinian narrative, this battle was a horrific massacre of Palestinians by Israelis. In the standard Israeli narrative, though the fact of a battle is uncontested, there is no massacre. Gopin writes:

I have become used to hearing these stories from the many Palestinians who I have come to know over the years. So many stories, and they seem to add up to a pattern of abuse in 1948 that continues to shock me. Each time it sends me into a tailspin, and I am still trying to examine my own reaction. Is it shame? I was brought up to believe that Jews were incapable of acting this way.

Gopin's description of the tailspin engendered by hearing these kinds of stories is familiar to me. I don't want to devolve into endless navel-gazing about how my Jewish soul aches both when Jews are victimized and when Jews victimize others -- but I think that confronting my own feelings can help me do the important spiritual work of living with the both/and where the Middle East is concerned.

Ultimately, he concludes, for the purposes of this book it does not matter whether 250 people were killed extrajudicially in Tantura or fifty. What matters is that it was a horrifying night for civilians, who (everyone agrees) were expelled from their homes and imprisoned just after the battle, and that there were deaths, and that this memory continues to haunt those who were there and the descendants of those who were there. What matters, on a personal scale, is the trauma which continues to be carried. (On every side.)

In her interview, Ibtisam moves from the trauma of memory to a philosophy which argues that war and violence are the easy path, and that peace is the hard courageous work:

I don't want to leave anger and sadness in my heart. First of all this will affect my health, and I felt that dialogue and discussion with the other side, even if you feel a strong pain inside, is better than throwing a rock at them. I want to give peace as a legacy to my children and grandchildren.

Ibtisam articulates a feminism which is rooted in her sense of the God-given equality of men and women. And she also argues for the importance of having women as peacemakers and bridge-builders:

I believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict started long ago, not from the 1948 war, it started since Ibrahim's era when he decided to marry Hagar, who gave birth to Ishmael. Then Sarah gave birth to Isaac, and then both of those women have a conflict over one man, Ibrahim. Therefore Ibrahim had to take Hagar with her breast-feeding baby to a distant mountain which was deserted. He left her there and return back to Sarah. Therefore the brothers were raised separately and didn't have any kin relationship...

I believe that at the end, there will be a solution to this conflict, and there will be peace in the Middle East. But the role of women in this conflict is harder than that of men, because women are those who hold their child inside. And they are the ones who are responsible to raise him. So, if a mother loses her child, she will hold a severe pain in her heart. That's why we as women have to be more aware to the political movement, and become part of it.

Here's an excerpt of an interview with Ibtisam. This is part of an interview series called "Unusual Pairs," also a Marc Gopin project (with filmmaker David Vyorst) -- I believe the videos came first and the book grew out of the video interviews.

(If you can't see the embedded video, you can go to it at YouTube: Elana and Ibtisam.)

Continue reading "The inner lives of Arab and Jewish Peacemakers" »


Daily April poem: twenty little poetry projects

EVENING IN THE OLD CITY


At sunset the city walls are on fire.
No one whose eyes take in that pink stone
will ever be the same. Pomegranate juice,
tart, stains the cobbled streets.
Cheap cigarettes and sweet smoking coals
duel for ascendance. The man dressed
like an eighteenth-century disciple
walks fast, his head down. Teenagers
call out in their incomprehensible dialect.
A man pushes a cart piled with breads
round loops encrusted with seeds and zataar
and a little boy tastes them with his eyes.
Abraham, God's beloved, would balk like a mule
if he walked these streets now. Cars
scraping through the narrow alleys
of the Old City, neon signs and loud music
just outside Damascus Gate. No:
Abraham would feel right at home here.
He'd raise an eyebrow at the motorcycles
but the press of shoppers demanding
fresh mint, dates, eggplants would feel
just like home. "Okay yalla bye," says
the girl with the blue rhinestone cellphone,
pushing past in the other direction.
Because this is a holy city, anyone
who hears God's voice here is right.
The soothing whisper of tradition...
Overhead, bright flags remind passers-by
how little we have in common. Abraham
climbs to the top of the mount, walks
quiet circles around the rock
where he almost made the worst mistake.
(Velveteen imagines this from her desk
overlooking still-bare Massachusetts hills.)
Ubiquitous cats prowl between trash cans.
The green lights of minarets dot
the jumbled roofscape, loudspeakers waiting.
Tonight the same messenger will visit
every foreigner's dream. Yerushalayim
shel zahav: you dazzle and seduce, promise
a direct line to the One Who always takes
our calls. At the staggered hours
of our evening prayers, cellphones buzz
reminders to stop, drop, and praise.


Today's NaPoWriMo prompt offers "twenty little poetry projects," and challenges us to include all of them in a single poem.

It's a neat exercise; it definitely stretched me beyond my usual writing habits. I want to tighten it before publshing the next version; some of the lines prompted by the 20 prompts are (I think) terrific, and others don't quite flow. But the prompt was fun.

Yerushalayim shel zahav means "Jerusalem of gold."

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Recent reading about Palestinians and Israel

13355906035_bea01a22fb_nOne of my Israeli friends on Facebook alerted me to a recent AP article: In West Bank, teen offenders face different fates. Here's how it begins:

BEIT UMAR, West Bank (AP) - The boys were both 15, with the crackly voices and awkward peach fuzz of adolescence. They lived just a few minutes away from one another in the West Bank. And both were accused of throwing stones at vehicles, one day after the other.

But there was a crucial difference that helped to shape each boy's fate: One was Israeli, and the other Palestinian.

The tale of the two teens provides a stark example of the vast disparities of Israel's justice system in the West Bank, a contested area at the heart of the elusive search for a lasting peace.

It's worth reading, though I'll caution you that it's not a feel-good article; I think the picture it paints is pretty bleak. Still, as I've argued at some length, we for whom this piece of land is meaningful have an obligation to pay attention not only to what brings us pleasure there, but also to what saddens us.

Also interesting is Bradley Burston's latest in Ha'aretz, How to lie to college students about Israel (part one). He deftly skewers many of the untruths peddled by the Jewish right. (I'm really curious to see what he puts in the forthcoming companion piece, in which he promises to do the same for the Jewish left.) I particularly appreciate his point about the difference between boycotting settlement products and boycotting Israel writ large -- a distinction which I think is too often ignored in the American Jewish press.

13357401854_8f5a272e4c_nThe final story I'll share is one which at least offers some hope: Palestinian Teaches Tolerance via Holocaust, in the New York Times:

JERUSALEM — Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi is an unlikely advocate for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. He trained as a guerrilla with the Palestine Liberation Organization, was banned from Israel for 25 years because of his prominent role in Yasir Arafat’s Fatah group, and still refers to Israelis as “my enemy.”

But Mr. Dajani, now the library director and a professor of American studies at Al-Quds University, in East Jerusalem, has become a prominent activist for tolerance...[and] in March he took what is thought to have been the first group of students from the Palestinian territories to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, in Poland.

Mr. Dajani has received some fairly predictable push-back from people in the Palestinian community who aren't fans of this sort of work. In response, he is quoted as saying:

My response to all this tirade is that my duty as a teacher is to teach, to have my students explore the unexplored, to open new horizons for my students, to guide my students out of the cave of perceptions and misperceptions to see the facts and the reality on the ground, to break the walls of silence, to demolish the fences of taboos, to swim against the tide in search of truth, in sum, to advance the knowledge and learning of my students in adhering to the verse in the Holy Quran, ‘And say My God increase my knowledge...’ If there are those who do not see or do not like that, it is their problem not mine.

(That latter quote comes from a Ha'aretz story: Palestinian professor who took students to Auschwitz responds to threats.)

 

Photos from my flickr stream: soldiers in Akko; olive tree and green door.


Daily April poem: instructions for drawing a map

MAP AND TERRITORY

 

Draw the lines firm: give no doubt
where the boundaries between us

and them. Your choice of alphabet
will locate you on one side

or the other. Think of the man
walking for seven years from where

the human story began. "I forget
the names of towns without rivers."

He wakes in the morning
to the footprints of desert beetles.

As we told the story of the Exodus
he took ship across the Red Sea

on a Syrian vessel full of mourners.
Hardboiled eggs rolled on their plates.

Will he climb the Harei Yehuda
or the Jibal al-Khalil?

Overhead, cranes following his route
chivvy him with rattling calls.

From their vantage his footsteps blur
into the sinuous tracks of a snake.

His path, the great rift
no negotiations can heal.


Luisa A. Igloria offered this prompt today:

Using couplets, write a poem of literal and metaphorical transplanting in the form of instructions for drawing a map.

In the poem, make reference to a specific mode of travel, a body of water, and a mountain range. Also include only the tracks or sound made by two types of animals that creep along the ground, and one that flies.

As I began the poem I had in mind my recent travels. Was I in Jerusalem or al-Quds? Judea and Samaria, or the West Bank, or Palestine?

That, in turn, reminded me of tweets I've seen recently about Silwan / the City of David from the team chronicling Paul Salopek's Out of Eden walk from Ethiopia to Tierra del Fuego. (If this is new to you, read about it -- it's extraordinary.)

The quote comes from one of Paul's recent dispatches, as does the image of the eggs rolling on the plates of Syrians aboard ship. That image particularly resonated with me because in Jewish tradition we eat hardboiled eggs (and also lentils) at the meal of consolation after a funeral. A reminder of life even in the face of death.

 

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Edited to add: thanks to the team at Out of Eden for featuring this poem alongside a beautiful photograph from the crossing of the Red Sea on their blog: Couplets and Kilometers.