Holding Two Realities in Our Hearts

Editor’s Note: Divrei Shalom is the place for Temple Shalom community members to share their perspectives and ideas. We invite all community members to write for us.

By Mary Jane Suzman

I am deeply troubled by the tenor of the CJP call to attend the rally for Israel, and even more by the letter from Barry Shrage linked to it. They emphasize only the suffering of Israel – our wounded soldiers, our widows and orphans, our traumatized children. This suffering is real, but it is not the only suffering: there is a humanitarian disaster of immense proportions amongst the Palestinians of Gaza. As a Jew and a human being, I do not believe that support for Israel requires blindness to the suffering of the Palestinians. Such blindness is in fact destructive of the long-term welfare of Israel and the long-term prospects for peace.

In a particularly misleading statement, Shrage quotes Jonathan Sacks in stating that “Israel has had to endure an ‘assault of a kind no country in the world has had to face: worse than the Blitz in World War II. At the height of the Blitz, on average 100 missiles were launched against Britain every day. On average during the present conflict Hamas has been firing 130 missiles a day against Israel’.”

A little research reveals that during the Blitz in 1940-41, German bombing killed more than 40,000 people and damaged or destroyed over 1 million buildings. Later, in 1944, the V1 and V2 missile attacks began. A total of about 10,000 missiles were fired into Britain, killing a further 9,000 people. In comparison, the Hamas missiles fired on Israel have killed 3. What Sacks and Shrage also failed to note in making their comparison is that each German missile contained a hundred times more explosives than an average Hamas missile.

We have powerful visions in our Jewish texts that can provide better guidance: all people are made in the image of God; all people share in the divine breath that was blown into Adam at creation; love the stranger as thyself; love peace and pursue peace.  There are also lessons on how to handle the deeply held conflicting truths of different people – we are instructed to make ourselves a “heart of many rooms,” and house them there together.

We need to hold these texts close, even in a time of crisis and conflict – perhaps especially in times of crisis and conflict. We need to constantly remind ourselves that the 1,800 Palestinians who have died were each and every one made in the image of God. We need to break down the simplistic duality of Us against Them, Good against Evil, Victim and Aggressor, and allow questions: have Israel and we American Jews done everything possible over the years to pursue peace? Have we treated the Palestinians with the dignity and equality due them as human beings? Are we partially responsible for the current hatred and divisiveness? Are we partially responsible for the escalation that led to the current war?

In response to the CJP’s “urgent call to stand up for Israel” I would ask: Can we not hold two realities in our hearts at once? Our love and support for our people and the state of Israel, but also the suffering and cries of the Palestinians in Gaza? Our narrative of deep connection to the land, but also theirs? Trying to do this leads to a very pained and crying heart. But perhaps it is that pain that can energize us to radically intensify our efforts to lay the foundations that can eventually lead to the end of conflict. Perhaps that pain can help us turn the creative energy, skills, passion and love that originally built the state of Israel toward the determined, multi-faceted, deep pursuit of peace. That is the endeavor I could whole-heartedly support.

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3 thoughts on “Holding Two Realities in Our Hearts

  1. Rabbi Eric Gurvis says:

    A beautiful piece Mary Jane. I would point out that while our tradition does instruct us to create “a heart of many rooms,” sometimes we have to accept that there are those who wish to build the heart/house without room for others. Hamas falls into that category.

    That does not diminish the pain in our hearts for the loss of innocents, but neither can we ignore the reality “the other” wishes to create. And while we must (or Israel must) accept appropriate responsibility, Hamas must shoulder it’s share of responsibility along with owning their worldview which accepts the deaths of innocents as not only acceptable, but desirable in order to achieve their ends.

  2. Mary Jane Suzman says:

    We cannot control what Hamas does and thinks. But in the face of that, we must ask who WE want to be – and act according to the highest ethical values of our tradition. There are many many steps we (and Israel) could take to right wrongs, to reduce hatred.

  3. Rhoda Ben-Gai says:

    Thanks for sharing your perspective Mary Jane. I read your post while sitting at Boston City Hall Plaza at the Rally for Israel this evening. I hesitated to attend after learning that participants were encouraged to bring their own signs. I knew that some of those signs would make me cringe. But at the same time, I knew my family and friends in Israel are doing a lot more than cringing these days, and I need to “stand” with them.

    In reality, many voices were heard. Some spoke of visits with families in Sderot and the anguished stories of their physical and psychological trauma. Some spoke of the suffering of innocent Palestinians in Gaza. Some reminded us to contact our representatives in Washington and thank them for their support of Israel.

    One of the speakers whom I found most powerful was an Israeli Defense Forces Reserve soldier and current Brandeis student who just returned from duty in Gaza. He told a story of being eye witness to a terrorist firing off a missile and then jumping into an ambulance. He spoke of the dilemma faced by the soldiers about how to respond, and relayed that “of course” they held their fire. He also spoke powerfully about the suffering of the civilians in Gaza.

    All of our voices joined together singing the American and Israeli National Anthems. Very moving. May we continue to take the time to listen to each other’s voices.

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