Israeli Family Copes With Wave of Terror

Marne Joan and Leora Shirit Rochester in their bomb shelter.

Marne Joan and Leora Shirit Rochester in their bomb shelter.

Matzav is Hebrew for “situation,” which is what we call it during times of unrest.

Last year, during the matzav I would sing with the kids in my daycare the song by Naomi Shemer based on the saying by Rebbi Nachman from Breslov:

All the world is a very narrow bridge. But the main thing is to not be afraid.

כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד, והעיקר לא לפחד כלל.

But how can one not be afraid when terrorists are running around the country killing people? I think what the song really means is to not let the fear take control.

I survived the first Gulf War with SCUD missiles landing in the backyard of my kibbutz, the first intifada, and the second intifada when every time we heard sirens my friends’ then-five-year-old child would ask, “Ima, where is the pigua?” (Pigua is Hebrew for “terror attack.”)

I have heard bombs go off. I have felt bombs go off. I have lost people I knew and cared about. I have survived these times of unrest without letting the fear take over, without locking myself inside. I kept going out and living my life as if there was no matzav, but with a bit more vigilance, always looking around.

Last week was my daughter Leora’s birthday. She has hit the double digits. Her party was based on the Israeli version of the show, “The Amazing Race.” We did “The Race for Leora”: The kids paired up and had to run around the neighborhood fulfilling different tasks to get the next clue.

Everything changed Tuesday. There was a shooting and stabbing attack in Armon HaNatziv, the next neighborhood, on a bus that I sometimes take. I know people who witnessed it and kids in the kindergarten and school right across the street from the attack. Before, all the rock throwing (more like cinder-blocks and rocks the size and weight of bowling balls and larger) and Molotov cocktails being hurdled in Armon HaNatziv seemed so far away. This attack seemed so close.

For the moment, Leora is not allowed to be outside by herself, and I do my best to find rides to and from places. I imagine once the shock of Tuesday wears off and if there is no other attack near the neighborhood, I will relax a bit.

The matzav is also causing an internal conflict. Before the second intifada Jews would regularly go into the Arab villages to do business, buy things, have a cup a coffee, and socialize with the residents. Close relationships were formed. Jews and Arabs would attend each others’ celebrations. During the second intifada, the Jewish Israelis felt betrayed by people they considered friends when they would praise the terrorist attacks and celebrate them in the villages. Since then, the relationships never recovered.

Tuesday, after the attack in the neighborhood, a parent with a child in Leora’s youth movement and I were discussing how to get the kids to and from the activity, since neither one of us wanted our kids to walk. Usually, I encourage Leora to walk, but yesterday was not a usual day. I suggested that I pick them up in a cab, since I do not have a car, but we both wanted to make sure it was a safe company. That meant no Arab driver. Many of the terrorists, as well as cab drivers, come for the neighboring village. I used the same cab company for years until I found out that they did not hire Arab drivers. I did not want to be part of the racism. But now, my main concern is my daughter’s safety. With the celebrations in the villages after each attack, I just cannot trust them with the most precious thing in my life.

The same day I went food shopping. I always bring a book to read while waiting in line. That night it was a good thing it was a very thick book, because I was in line for 50 minutes. Almost half of the registers were closed. When I asked why, I was told that the girls were afraid to come to work, or their parents were afraid to let them.

It is one of the most inexpensive store chains and known for equal hiring of minorities. Last summer the owner was called to fire his Arab workers after three Jewish teens were butchered by Arabs. He rightfully refused. But after the attack carried out by the Arab worker of a phone company and the celebrations in the villages, people feel that they cannot even trust their co-workers. On the positive side, during the troubled times, Israelis are much kinder to each other. No one pushed or shoved or yelled while waiting on line, which is very unusual for the supermarket here. People stood patiently, having conversations with other customers.

When I finally got home, I saw an e-mail from my daughter’s school. They got the water company to stop the work they are doing on the pipes across from the school. Parents and school staff were concerned because some of the workers were Arab. A few years ago the “tractorists,” Arab workers who took the tractors they were working with to run over people, made people suspicious of all Arab workers. And the cleaning company the school uses is to come in only after the kids have left. I have very mixed feelings about this. I do not want the situation to affect honest people’s livelihood. I do not want my daughter or any of the other kids to be suspicious of all Arabs. Part of me feels like I should speak up. But my need to keep my daughter safe is stronger.

Here we are again, dealing with it the best we can. What can I do? I have ordered pepper spray and signed up for a class to learn self-defense against knife attacks. I hope to God I will not need these. Meanwhile, some dark humor and chocolate get me through the matzav.

Special Prayer: Shabbat of Unity With the People of Israel

— by Rabbi David Wolpe

We invite people around the world to recite this kavannah in unity with the State of Israel this Shabbat, October 17, 2015.

El Maleh Rachamim — Compassionate God,
We pray not to wipe out haters but to banish hatred.
Not to destroy sinners but to lessen sin.
Our prayers are not for a perfect world but a better one
Where parents are not bereaved by the savagery of sudden attacks
Or children orphaned by blades glinting in a noonday sun.
Help us dear God, to have the courage to remain strong, to stand fast.
Spread your light on the dark hearts of the slayers
And your comfort to the bereaved hearts of families of the slain.
Let calm return Your city Jerusalem, and to Israel, Your blessed land.
We grieve with those wounded in body and spirit,
Pray for the fortitude of our sisters and brothers,
And ask you to awaken the world to our struggle and help us bring peace.

Israeli Cooking Book, From Philadelphia With Love

Philadelphia’s own Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook just published their first book, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking.

Solomonov and Cook hope to familiarize Americans with some of their restaurant Zahav’s famous dishes. If you loved Jerusalem-born, London-based Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s book Jerusalem as much as I did, then this book will be a treat.

The spices and techniques of Israel’s myriad ethnic groups are reflected in the book’s recipes. Familiar Eastern European Ashkenazi foods such as rugalech, kugels and latkes are presented along with more exotic foods such as kibbe and fillo cigars from the Levant. All of these recipes have been adapted to ingredients that are easily accessible to the American cook. Below is a recipe for Zahav’s Ottoman-inspired eggplant salad.

Photo by Sofia Gk https://www.flickr.com/photos/sofiagk/

Photo by Sofia Gk.

Zahav’s Twice Cooked Eggplant Salad

  •  2 eggplants
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup minced parsley
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  1. Slice the eggplants.
  2. Sprinkle with salt.
  3. Allow the eggplants to rest for 30 minutes in a colander.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet.
  5. Fry the eggplant slices over medium heat, until almost charred on both sides.
  6. Place the eggplant in a bowl.
  7. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy pan.
  8. Stir in the onion, pepper, coriander, and paprika.
  9. When the vegetables are soft, add the blackened eggplant and sherry vinegar to the pot.
  10. Stir for a few minutes.
  11. Remove the pot from the heat.
  12. Squeeze the lemon into the eggplant.
  13. Sprinkle the minced parsley into the pot.
  14. Stir and serve at any temperature.

No Place for Hate Crimes in Israel

— by Yaron Sideman, Consul General Of Israel, Mid-Atlantic RegionImageProxy.mvc

Last week we witnessed two hideous attacks in Israel: The first was an arson attack on a Palestinian family, in which an 18-month old toddler was murdered. His parents and 4-year-old brother were seriously injured. There is evidence pointing to the attack having been carried out by Israeli extremists. The second was a stabbing spree at the Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem that injured six people, two of them seriously, carried out by an ultra-Orthodox man with an existing criminal record.

 Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com.

Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com.

Every society has its negative elements: miscreants who seek to undermine its fundamental values and pollute it with their hateful agendas. Such criminal elements belong behind bars, but unfortunately they will succeed, on occasion, in rearing up their ugly heads and spreading mayhem and destruction. No society, even the most democratic and enlightened, is free of such “bad weeds.”

There are no other words to describe these attacks other than “despicable acts of terror.” They shocked the Israeli public and were condemned unequivocally by public figures from across the political spectrum. The murderous attack against the Palestinian family was condemned as well by the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization of municipal councils of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

Such attacks are an assault on all who cherish human dignity. They are, in effect, an attack on Israel as a democratic society, as described in the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, released immediately after the attack on the Dawabsha family:

This is an act of terrorism in every respect. The State of Israel takes a strong line against terrorism regardless of who the perpetrators are.

Netanyahu said similar things in response to the attack at the Gay Pride parade:

A despicable hate crime was committed this evening in Jerusalem. In Israel everyone, including the gay community, has the right to live in peace, and we will defend that right. I welcome the Israeli religious leadership’s condemnation of this terrible crime, and I call on all those in positions of leadership to denounce this contemptible act.

Our hearts and minds today are with the grieving Dawabsha family and with those injured at the parade attack in Jerusalem. We wish them healing and a speedy recovery.

How Not To Advocate for Israel

Obama%20Fox%20530[1]Last week we saw four examples of how not to advocate for Israel:

1. Don’t back lawsuits you can’t win.

The Supreme Court struck down a law that forced the President, through the Secretary of State, to identify, upon request, citizens born in Jerusalem as being born in Israel even though the United States has never acknowledged Israel nor any other country as having sovereignty over Jerusalem.

President Bush did not enforce this law, and neither has President Obama. No one should have been surprised that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Executive Branch. But as a result of this short-sighted lawsuit, which never should have been brought, the Palestinians are claiming victory and pro-Israel groups are upset.
[Read more…]

The Most Significantly Forgotten Component of Israeli-Arab Relations

Mount of Olives cemetery

The Mount of Olives cemetery.

The Mount of Olives (Har Hazeitim in Hebrew) in Jerusalem has been used as a Jewish cemetery for more than 3,000 years.

Approximately 150,000 Jewish people are buried there, including some of the greatest Jewish leaders, prophets, and rabbis of all time. Thus the Mount of Olives is by far the largest and most important Jewish cemetery in the world.

The Mount of Olives is mentioned in the visions of the prophets Ezekiel and Zechariah. Jewish tradition relates that the beginning of the resurrection process will take place on the Mount at the end of days. Many Jews believe that those buried on the mount will be the first to arise for everlasting life with the coming of the Messiah.

The Jews of Jerusalem customarily sent soil from the Mount of Olives in bags to Jewish communities in the Diaspora, and Jews outside of Israel would spread this soil on the graves of their beloved. In sum, it has been a religious and historic shrine for Israel and the Jewish People for thousands of years.

Jeff Daube, director of the Israel Office of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and Israel co-chairman of the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim, said that the “Jewish significance of the Mount of Olives cannot be overstated”:

It is the greatest repository of Jewish history in the world, represented by the leaders and scholars buried in its more than 3,000-year-old cemetery:

  • three ancient Jewish prophets and a prophetess;
  • numerous sages;
  • chief rabbis of Israel;
  • an Israeli prime minister;
  • many Zionist builders and defenders of Israel, such as the founder of Hadassah Hospital; and
  • illustrious Jews and countless others from around the world whose final request had been to be buried in Judaism’s holiest cemetery.

It sits directly across from Judaism’s holiest site over all, the Temple Mount.

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The graves of Israel’s former prime minister, Menachem Begin (right) and his wife Alizah.

 

The Mount of Olives is also central to Christians: Several key events in the life of Jesus as related in the Gospels took place there, including the description in the Book of Acts, as the place from which Jesus ascended to heaven.

Because of its association with both Jesus and Mary, the Mount has been a site of Christian worship since ancient times and is today a major site of pilgrimage for the Eastern Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants. It is home to significant sites, including Church of All Nations, Garden of Gethsemane and the Russian Orthodox Church of Maria Magdalene.

However, in addition to being a functioning cemetery and site of pilgrimages, the Mount of Olives is also a place where daily Palestinian Arabs commit physical attacks, rock throwings and firebombings, terrorizing Jewish mourners and visitors, impeding burials thus forcing relatives to miss the funerals for their loved ones, and destroy gravesites.

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Reps. Eliot Engel (left) and Jerrold Nadler (both D-NY) holding a stone thrown at them.

 

The Mount of Olives is at the heart of the dispute for Israeli sovereignty, as well as the Jewish People’s tradition, history and most sacred real estate. The Mount and cemetery are involved in the territorial dispute between Israel and the Muslim nations as well as the Palestinian-Arabs, because Islam rejects Jewish sovereignty and Arabism rejects Zionism. Moreover, the Palestinian Arabs have demanded that Israel withdraw from the Mount of Olives, or give up control over it, claiming it is part of their “occupied territory.”

The Mount of Olives is one of three peaks of a mountain ridge that extends 2.2 miles just east of and adjacent to Jerusalem’s Old City including the Temple Mount, and across the Kidron Valley, in the area called the Valley of Josaphat. Mount Scopus is the northern peak at 2,710 feet, Mount of Corruption is the southern peak at 2,451 feet. The ridge acts as a watershed, and its eastern side is the beginning of the Judean Desert. It is named for the olive groves that once covered its slopes. The southern part of the Mount was the necropolis of the ancient Judean kingdom.

cemetery-16Between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan illegally controlled eastern Jerusalem, Jewish access and the continued burial of Jews on the Mount was prohibited, despite Jordan’s explicit commitment in the Israeli-Jordanian Armistice Agreement of 1949. Moreover, the Jordanians destroyed and desecrated the cemetery, and 38,000 of its tombstones and graves were smashed and/or used for making of latrines and roadways.

Since Israel reunified Jerusalem in 1967 as a result of the Six-Day War, burial ceremonies have renewed and large sections of the cemetery were rehabilitated. Israel also guarantees free access to all for religious purposes: something the Muslim-dominated Arabs did not do.

Q: What is the Mount of Olives’ significance for Israeli sovereignty?

JD: While residents of Jerusalem are entitled to safe and secure access in all areas of sovereign Jerusalem, depriving Jews on the Mount has special significance. Despite the fact that the Mount had fallen behind the 1948 ceasefire line, the April 1949 Israel-Jordan Rhodes Armistice Agreement recognized its special status by stipulating, in Article VIII(2), that not only should visitors to the cemetery be accorded free access, but use of the cemetery for burial purposes should continue in force. The exact opposite happened, as we know, under the Jordanian occupation, which also permitted the desecration of tens of thousands of graves.

Given the realities of the Mount under Jordanian occupation, post-1949 it needs to have Israeli sovereignty asserted in order to prevent a repeat of the depredations. Moreover, from the point of view of geostrategic importance, Israeli control is needed to forestall Palestinian Arab attempts to form a north-south corridor of massive illegal construction from Ramallah to Bethlehem.

With facts on the ground, which the Arabs are steadily pursuing virtually unchecked, they could severely undermine Israeli sovereignty not only in eastern Jerusalem, but extending well beyond to the Adumim bloc further east. The Jewish presence on the Mount, together with the adjacent City of David and Emek Tzurim National Park, constitute a natural barrier to those efforts.

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A mourner injured after rock-throwing attack.

Q: What is the security situation: Is the Mount being protected from Arab vandals and terrorists sufficiently?

JD: The security situation has improved — at least as I write, though conditions as we have observed are in continual flux. There are more police, both uniformed and undercover, than in years past. The Zionist Organization of America’s Israel Office has been instrumental in that process.

Actually, we’ve accomplished quite a bit more, having worked with the cabinet secretary and director general in the Prime Minister’s Office on a strategy to effect greater well-being for Arab residents, and security for Jews, throughout all of eastern Jerusalem. Known as The Mandelblit Plan, this new carrot and stick approach, by means of a 300 million shekel budget addition, may be responsible for certain changes we’ve already observed.

During the summer and into September, October and early November, the situation had been especially horrific. Now, with the increased police presence, the number of attacks is down to five or six per day. This still is too high. Many of the attacks involved stonings, firebombings or shooting fireworks. Kindergartens and burial processions are sometimes the targets. Luckily nobody has been killed, but Jewish visitors have been seriously injured; if not for the lucky breaks, the outcomes would have been far worse. We continue to advocate for a policy of zero tolerance.

The violence, as described, relates directly to the sovereignty issue again. The Arab agenda is, “If we can terrorize visitors and residents so they no longer frequent an area, we can wrest control by default. If we can wrest control, we can undermine sovereignty.”

Q: Are Jews visiting the area safe?

JD: That depends. A visitor is relatively safe in the area facing the Temple Mount. If you venture to the back two or three areas, which we sadly call the Wild East, you should either go with your own protection – many are carrying pepper spray if not licensed guns – or with an armed escort provided by the government.

Q: Are graves being desecrated?

JD: They were being badly desecrated until 2013. With the installation of 137 security cameras and a police substation, both of which we had lobbied hard for, we thought we had the desecration under control. There was a marked decrease in 2013 going into the first half of 2014.

As eastern Jerusalem was roiling during the Gaza war, and subsequently into the Fall of 2014, we also saw a sharp uptick in smashed and defaced gravestones. Not coincidentally, the desecration was accompanied by the toppling or burning of cameras.

Q: What role does or has the Mount been playing with regard to any “peace process” negotiations with the Palestinian Arabs?

JD: With Israel having agreed to make Jerusalem’s disposition a subject of final status negotiations, per the Oslo Accords, it has become more difficult in the interim to assert sovereignty, and take the steps needed via the rule of law.

Another example of this is the de facto-permitted illegal construction of a Mount mosque extension abutting the cemetery, Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s grave in particular, despite a Jerusalem municipality stop-work order. The Israel Office had been monitoring and complaining about that over a protracted period, but the situation has reached the point of being too late to oppose further.

The Holy Basin, with the Mount spanning its eastern rim, is especially exposed to microscopic international scrutiny. Every action, or inaction, attracts international censure and sanctions. In order to regain control and restore order, Israel must declare that since the Palestinian Authority (PA) is in material breach of the very same Oslo Accords — signed agreements that were witnessed by the U.S., European Union, Russia et al — it will once again resume full assertion of sovereignty in all of Jerusalem.

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Q: What can American Jews do to help secure the Mount and protect it?

JD:

  • Join ZOA Israel’s efforts in partnership with the ICPHH (International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim.
  • Contact U.S. government officials to take steps if an American is killed or seriously injured. U.S. law mandates official follow-up, including prosecution of perpetrators.
  • Contact the Government of Israel to let its representatives know you are concerned about the violence, along with the desecration and vandalism. You might imply that increased personal security on the Mount would have a salutary effect on tourism.
  • Contact ZOA’s office in Israel if you want to help us create a ferment of Diaspora opposition to the status quo. After all, the Mount is a part of the entire Jewish people’s heritage. We, in Israel, are merely your trustees.

Q: Is any legislation pending in the U.S.? Israel? The U.N.?

JD: In Israel, we arranged for the translation into Hebrew of an Illinois statute on cemeteries desecration and a Florida statute on rock throwing (researched by ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice head, Susan Tuchman), and shopped both, more stringent approaches, around the Knesset.

In addition, we initiated many a discussion about penalties for parents when the culprits are under age, and minimum sentencing for older culprits, to strengthen the deterrence factor. All was received favorably. However, government-sponsored legislation waiting in the pipeline was derailed with the disbanding of the Knesset, so we’ll have to revisit that after the elections.

We are very close to Member of Knesset Miri Regev, who as chair of the Knesset Interior Committee was spearheading efforts along the lines we proposed. Her high standing within Likud pretty much assures she’ll be back in that role soon. We also are already discussing parallel legal strategies with new candidates on the scene.

ZOA Israel has been working on the desecration issue with U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY). Her Protect Cemeteries Act, which we had helped bring to the attention of Meng’s colleagues to help it pass, has applicability to this particular problem. The implications of that bill, now a law, for penalizing any country that fails to protect its cemeteries is connected in a thorny way to the Jerusalem sovereignty question.

My office is also working with U.S. State Department officials to get the attacks entered into relevant reports for 2014 (on Terrorism and Human Rights Practices), which we had achieved with State’s countries report on International Religious Freedom in previous years. We’re pursuing a course of getting the attacks labeled as anti-Semitism, as well, because Christian groups on the Mount tend not to be victimized the way Jews are.

While not a matter of legislation, we are asking State Department’s Consul General and officials to elicit condemnations from local Arab leaders and from the PA itself, both of whose incitement is highly correlated with the violence and desecration.

LB: We must all treat the Mount of Olives with the reverence and importance it deserves — strategically and religiously — or ignore it and give it up at our peril.

Israel Votes for One-State Solution

— by Rabbi Lance Sussman

The official results of the Israeli elections of 2015 are in and Bibi Netanyahu is surely back for a fourth term. The People of Israel have spoken, but what will the world hear?

Several aspects of this election’s vote struck as particularly important. The dream of the founding Labor Zionists view of Israel as a modern, open, secular society is over for now. Israel seems permanently destined to be controlled by the descendants of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the father of right wing Revisionist Zionism, uneasily combined with the religious Orthodox sector both Zionist and non-Zionist. Ultra-nationalism and religiosity is yet again Israel’s path.

Bibi won but there may be huge losses ahead for Israel. In the twilight of the campaign, Bibi openly embraced the One State Solution. In reality that means, Israel has now officially rejected the 1947 UN Partition Plan and, secondarily, the right of the PA to represent an autonomous Palestinian people.

Bibi went to Washington to discuss Iran but the election at home turned on the question of Jerusalem and who governs it. The Palestinian Authority now has no reason to negotiate with Israel. Either it will turn again to international pressure or worse, violence at home. For sure, the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement will feel a yet greater urgency to pursue its terrible goals.

Israel’s standing in Europe seemed at its low point in the wake of the Gaza War of 2014. It is likely to go even lower now. Moreover, for the first time since Truman recognized Israel in 1948, Israel and America are officially out of alignment on the One State vs. Two State option. American-Israeli relations will thus continue to tumble downward and increasingly become fodder for the U.S. 2016 Presidential campaign and the internal U.S. debate over Iran. Be prepared for compensatory Israeli overtures to India and China for international support.

Besides their international political consequences, the settlements will continue to divert Israeli national resources away from its domestic economy. The income gap will continue to grow. The young will continue to be squeezed out of the housing market. Bibi might also feel compelled to start taking steps to consolidate all of Jerusalem into Israel, thereby triggering widespread Muslim protests, or worse.

What is to be done? First, Israel is strong and self-reliant. Israel will be okay from a security point of view. It knows how to take care of itself even if it has to go it alone. National self-reliance is the essence of all forms of Zionism. Second, American Jews should continue to support Israel, especially those aspects of Israel most important to us. So, among other things, I plan to pump up my support of Reform Judaism in Israel at this time.

I still believe in the Zionist dream of a Jewish national home safe, at peace with itself.  And that my expression of Jewishness will be part of that picture with all of its bright and dark spots in today’s Israel. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Visit Israel and never, ever give up hope.

Lance Sussman is the senior rabbi at the Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel.

Obama: ‘The Light of Hope Must Outlast the Fire of Hate’

— by Bill Leopold

President Obama spoke about the messages of the story of the Maccabees in front of more than 500 people at a Hanukkah party, in a White House full of elaborate, tasteful holiday decorations and exquisitely prepared glatt kosher food:

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President Obama at the Hanukkah party at the White House. Photo: Jeanne Goldberg-Leopold.

In the face of overwhelming odds, they reclaimed their city and the right to worship as they chose. And in their victory, they found there wasn’t enough oil to keep the flame in their temple alive. But they lit the oil they had and, miraculously, the flame that was supposed to burn for just one night burned for eight. The Hanukkah story teaches us that our light can shine brighter than we could ever imagine with faith, and it’s up to us to provide that first spark.

Among the guests at the party were the chair of the Montgomery County Commissioners, Josh Shapiro, and his wife Lori. Mr. Shapiro said that it was a wonderful symbol of the U.S. democracy that the President presided over the Hanukkah party and spoke about our core values of freedom, peace, and equality.

The crowd cheered Obama’s news about Alan Gross, who had just been freed from Cuban prison as part of the country’s renewal of diplomatic relations with the U.S., and loved the President’s solid attempt to speak a few words in Hebrew. The U.S. Marine Chamber Orchestra provided the crowd with a tribute to Jewish-American Composers.

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The menorah built by the students of the Max Rayne Hand-in-Hand Arab-Jewish Bilingual School in Jerusalem. The text in Hebrew and Arabic enumerates the founding values of the school: community, dignity, equality, peace, education, friendship, solidarity and freedom. (Photo: Bill Leopold)

Obama introduced the makers of the menorah that was lit during the party, by relating the story of the decade-old Max Rayne Hand-in-Hand Arab-Jewish Bilingual School in Jerusalem, in which arsonists set fire to a classroom two weeks ago:

In the weeks that followed, they and their classmates could have succumbed to anger or cynicism, but instead they built this menorah… Each of its branches are dedicated to one of the values their school is founded on—values like community and dignity and equality and peace.

Two students from that school, Inbar Vardi and Mouran Ibrahim, and a parent, lit the candles. The president said that the students are teaching us that, “The light of hope must outlast the fire of hate.”

From Tension to Connection on a Train

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A train in Philadelphia. Photo: Barry Bub.

Radio Times yesterday offered discussion of a study showing a positive impact on the well-being of commuters who chatted with the strangers sitting nearby.

I had a moment of synchrony with this study when noticing yesterday that my colleague, Rabbi Amita Jarmon who works as a chaplain in Israel, made a commitment in response to the tension in Jerusalem: “Every time I ride on a local bus or the light rail, I will reach out to a Palestinian passenger.”

So, how did this commitment work out for her?

Rabbi Jarmon reported how she approached two men speaking Arabic very quietly on the light rail:

I came over to you to let you know that I am really sorry about all the suspicion from the Jews toward the Palestinians in this city. Jews are afraid and I know you are afraid as well. I want to bridge the gap, create a positive connection. I want to live in this city together with you. I know that the vast majority of people in this city want to live together in peace.

The two men responded warmly. One became the spokesperson for the two who were coming from work, going home to Shuafat. He said that he has Jewish friends — they go to each other’s homes and trust each other completely. He said that while he is afraid traveling around West Jerusalem, those are only the leaders who “want us to be afraid and to hate each other.”

Rabbi Jarmon’s described her next encounter, on a bus, when she went to sit next to a young woman wearing a hijab:

When I sat down, I noticed she was studying the same “Modern Arabic” book I use and have in my backpack. I showed it to her, smiling. I asked why she was studying it, when clearly Arabic is her mother tongue.

Turned out she was a third-year medical student at Hadassah, and teaches spoken Arabic at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She was preparing the section that she was going to teach this week.

The fact that she was a medical student meant she must be an Israeli citizen, as Jerusalem Palestinians almost always go to medical schools in the West Bank, Jordan or Eastern Europe. She told me she was from a village near Carmiel. I said to her, “It must be hard to be a Palestinian in Jerusalem now.”

She replied, “Yes, it’s not like this up north, thank God.”

I told her that when I came to Israel five and half years ago, I came with the intention and desire to live here with both Jews and Palestinians. We had a really nice nice connection.

Rabbi Jarmon serves two nursing homes, so she decided to also “reach out on a human level to one of the Palestinian aides who seemed ‘down'”:

He told me it had to do with his family: “Trouble inside the family is even more disturbing than the troubles in the city.” He said that my taking an interest made him feel a little bit better.

Rabbi Jarmon said that these encounters are having a major impact upon her time in Israel:

I feel my main work, my main purpose in being here now, has become to initiate these little positive connections when I am out on the streets and on public transportation. I invite all my friends in Jerusalem to do the same!

How might this affect us here in the U.S., where tensions after the Fergonson ruling are running high?

On the bus today I took a leaf from my colleague’s mitzvah-centered model to consciously sit near a black man I have seen in the sit in front of me on the train perhaps dozens of times and talk to him:

I came over to you to let you know that I am really sorry about how the Ferguson ruling went down. The process has not been conducted fairly.  I want to bridge the gap, create a positive connection. I want to live in this city together with you. I know that the vast majority of people in this city want to live together in peace.

He began to pour out his heart to me to me about his fears and profound disappointment. I just listened and when his stop was called and he realized how long he had been speaking he said, “My name is Joshua. I feel so much better. Thank you for listening.”

Cartoon courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com

Cartoon courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com

I said, “My name is Goldie. I hope our paths cross again. Blessings to have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.”

A primary mitzvah of Thanksgiving is hakarat ha-tov, “recognizing the good” in this world and speaking our gratitude for it. I am grateful to my colleague for teaching this practice that can help increase peace in our world, one commuter, co-worker or neighbor at a time.