By Dganit Jenshil, Director of Community Relations, HUC-JIR Taube Family Campus in Jerusalem
I go to Jordan to look for hope…
The bus ride is long. We leave in the dark, Jerusalem is asleep around us. We talk a little. Hi, nice to meet you. Where are you from? We are nine women and one man. All Jewish Israelis. I wonder, are they also here to look for hope?
We cross into Jordan. The scenery changes, the roads are broken, the houses small. People sell vegetables by the road. Children run barefoot. They see the bus and they wave hello. I wave back.
We wait for the Palestinian group on the other side of the Allenby crossway. Israelis and Palestinians can’t cross at the same place, the walls of separation in our lives continue as we enter Jordan. Will we be able to overcome them in our encounter?
A thought: If Palestinians and Israelis want to meet in an equal, free way, they can only do it outside their homeland.
Can we leave the walls behind?
The Palestinians with whom we meet are young, full with energy. They sing and dance on the bus. Some are from Nablus, some from Beit Lehem, one from Azaria, one from Hebron… This is my first time meeting someone from Nablus.
We get to Dana in the early evening. The surroundings are beautiful but the living conditions are hard. We concentrate on getting to know each other. We meditate. Everyone is very polite. We learn about the spiritual questionnaire and the protocol of using it and we are divided into two groups. We sit in our group and we start. We trust the method and the facilitators. We give ourselves to the speakers. We listen…
One by one people begin to share their stories; we listen, we do not judge, we cry, we hug, we listen more…The translator makes it easy as we move from Arabic to Hebrew and back without a stop. Language ceases to be a barrier and we are working hard on removing other barriers: fear, prejudice, stereotypes, righteousness and some more fear.
The narratives are of fear, of confusion, of struggle, of pain and sometimes even despair but also of courage, of hope, and of optimism. Each story is a journey and we become closer and closer.
I am afraid to tell my story. My story is about a family, a people- a nation that built a home and created a state for the Jewish people, it is a story of survival and heroism, of pioneers and dreamers who made a dream come true. It is a story about Zionism. For the Palestinians it would represent their disaster and their pain. How do I tell them my story?
I cry a lot. The tears are unstoppable. The stories are so hard, so upsetting. I start to worry that the hope that I came looking for does not exist.
Shabbat comes in. The Jewish group prays, the Muslims and the Christians watch politely. As we welcome the angels of Shabbat, I hope that the angels of peace will choose to stay with us.
We are told to be ready to leave for Petra. This second part of the seminar is much more theoretical: we learn about non-linear thinking, we practice thought and actions that are based on the desired future rather than the past, and we each start thinking about ideas and projects that we would like to do.
In couples, we visit the local market. We bring small gifts to the group and for each other. I walk with my new Palestinian sister and we are hugging before we knew why. And now that we have heard each others' stories, we are even closer. She doesn’t speak English or Hebrew and I don’t speak Arabic, but we speak nonstop about our kids, about cooking, about men, about life.
As we visit Petra the next evening, it feels like one big family. We walk close together along a path with thousands of candles: talking, singing, and laughing. The night is magical and I don’t want it to ever end.
Now it is time to say goodbye. On the bus we dance a little, we joke, and then we are quiet, each lost in his/her thoughts.
“These are the things that a person does and enjoys their ‘fruit’ in this world, and the principal remains intact for them in the World to Come: honoring one's parents, the practice of loving deeds, and making peace between man and his fellow….” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 127a)
How will I ever be able to thank the people who made this seminar possible? The facilitators, the family who donated for it so generously. I am forever in their debt. The change that they created in me and in the people who were with me is so profound. It will radiate into our surroundings and onto the rest of the world in circles that will never end.
We drop the Palestinians in their border crossing and we continue to ours. The walls re-enter our lives. Will we be able to overcome them?
The following morning I write this:
I pass her every morning
I look at her
I hate you, I say.
She looks at me
All tall and strong.
Go away, I say
I do not need you!
Yes you do, she answers me.
I do not, I say,
I try to be as tall as her.
I protect you, she smiles
I keep you safe at night, she whispers…
You cannot break me, she insists.
I think I can, I say
I think I can.
About Healing Hatred: Healing Hatred is an innovative model for interreligious dialogue based on the tools of spiritual counselling, developed to enable participants to communicate about the core spiritual and moral dilemmas that lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Dr. Sarah Bernstein, Project Director (Rossing Center for Education and Dialogue)
Vivian Rabia, Project Coordinator and Facilitator (Rossing Center for Education and Dialogue)
Sami Awad, Project Director (Holy Land Trust)
Dr. Ruhama Weiss (Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion)