November 11, 2018
The one hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day, ending World War I, the war to end all wars.
It is also the 14th anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death.
Was it by poisoning?
It is the day we are flying home from Israel/Palestine after the pioneer trip with Combatants for Peace. This group, started in 2006 when Israeli and Palestinian former fighters, people who had taken an active role in the conflict, put down their weapons and joined together in non-violent activism to end the occupation and build a peaceful future for both people.
What is a human being? This is the essential question.
I witnessed human beings transforming their personal and collective trauma and pain through friendship, restraint, story telling, loving and serving children, seeing the humanity in the other as whole and complete. Most of all serving children. I was honored to join in the construction of a playground with the Combatants for Peace. This playground is in an area underserved and vulnerable to attacks by settlers. It is for Palestinian children. Imagine Israeli volunteers working side by side with Palestinian children and ex fighters and international visitors. I saw children with great dark eyes looking toward the future and witnessing generosity and friendship. Together they build schools and playgrounds!
This is a manifestation of the moment when Jacob faces his brother Esau after decades of betrayal, hatred, and fear and says to him, “ … to see your face is like seeing the face of God.” ( Gen 33:10) This means you are empty of my projections. You are entirely worthy of your own history and truth. You and I are unnamable despite our names. We recognize that we are both infinite, ever changing, ever unfolding.
When we see the other as complete, does it end war? Does it bring good government? Does it uplift humanity? Not necessarily.
But it does claim, proclaim and reveal the possibility that we can heal and grow beyond our habitual desire to protect ourselves by hurting the other.
I need to allow this truth to triumph over how painful this trip was for me, how it touched my deepest shame. Jews, Israel, therefore me as the oppressor. That is intolerable. It cannot be metabolized.
During my blessed life I have been identified with both Judaism and Israel, the Jewish People, the Jewish past, Jewish oppression, Jewish salvation. Israel and the Jewish story has been my greatest love. It has also been the lens with which I see the world. It is my home.
The bitter tears I did not shed for many years burst forth in Ramallah, in Daheishah, in Beit Zahur.
I was born in 1946. I was a replacement child for my brother Chester who was run over by a car in 1944. I was a replacement child for one and a half million Jewish children killed in Europe. I didn’t really want to be born.
I embraced “never again” in all its directional meanings: never again victim, never again perpetrator, never again by-stander. The territory of this pledge reaches to the ends of the earth. It is impossible to fulfill. It places a weight of shame that is bruising, even crushing.
On this trip, I am all three, victim, perpetrator and bystander. In my life I am all three, always, victim, perpetrator and bystander. In a sense we are all always all three. And this is impossible. It breeds profound confusion and shame. It is a product of the deepest trauma. It is a prison. Victim, perpetrator and bystander are shrouded in deepest distress.
Only a greater love, a greater mercy, the mercy and love that built the prayer room/synagogue at Theresinstadt – where we traveled to a month before.
The Terezin Ghetto was a concentration camp outside of Prague established in November 1941. For most of its prisoners it was a transit camp from which they were deported to extermination camps in the East. Rabbi Arthur Berlinger , a prisoner, managed to find a small shed in the yard of a house ;he decided to decorate it and turn it into a Jewish prayer room.
On the wall were these words: “But despite all this, we have not forgotten your name. We beg you not to forget us.” (from Tahanun in Hebrew Prayer Book)
And on another wall it is written: “May our eyes behold your return to Zion through compassion.”
Only compassion, infinite love touching suffering, can allow the rough, the rigid, self hating, fierce, angry terrified, bruised child to relax, to release, to connect to something infinite and great beyond mere humanity, humanity and its suffering and our limitations. Call it dharma, Torah, Jesus, Shechinah, Mary, Allah, Krishna.
Only through love and compassion for the self and the other can Zion be restored, can the holiness of that ever desecrated city be restored. This is the meaning of the combatants with their stories of hatred and fear. This is what we witnessed when Osama from Jericho embraced Tuli and Avner from Tel Aviv and we learned that Palestinian Adam and the Israeli Jew Michal had taken their wedding vows a week ago.
It is okay to love Jerusalem – “the air of the hills pure as wine amidst the aroma of the pines…”
The air, the stones, the colors, the vast array of costume and color.
It is not okay to own Jerusalem. Ownership, clutching, hoarding, self-aggrandizement is not safety. It makes human frailty into human cruelty. Only compassion, resting in the infinite, releasing constriction, opening to emptiness do we seek, do we wish to practice. It is very hard, countering our embedded stories, our survival instincts. But perhaps that is what it is to be human . All our forms – religions and nations – have partial ways of leading us on that path if we can but recognize them in each other and ourselves.