I am a hopeful person by nature, an “optimist against my better judgment,” as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once famously said.
Like so many, since October 7 I have felt trapped in a dense fog of anguish and doom. It has taken a much bigger effort than before to maintain a modicum of hope.
Just like in Yehuda Amichai’s poem “The Diameter of the Bomb,” we have watched the circle of pain and death expand out from that barbaric day to encompass multitudes of innocent people, and the strife has reached these distant shores and the entire world.
I identify with the fear and the rage; I share in the feeling of despair; I agree with the imperative to destroy Hamas, which is pure evil. At the same time, I deeply worry that fear, rage, despair, and the imperative to destroy inevitably cloud the vision—leaving no room for empathy or compassion and ending up in the dehumanization of the other. And ultimately demolishing hope.
The day after this war comes to an end, Jews and Palestinians will still be living on the same land, the land to which both peoples belong. A different vision is desperately needed in order to prevent another 100 years of violence and bloodshed. Sadly, there are few people these days who remain committed to opening the cracks where the light gets in, who understand, in the words of the great poet Zelda, that “my peace is tied by a thread to your peace,” who affirm that there is no real peace without security for all, and no security without peace. Those few are the ones who remind us that if we don’t look beyond the present moment, we will drown in despair.
I recently heard the following poem by Tali Versano Eisman:
אֵין לִי צֹרֶךְ שֶׁתְּתָאֲרוֹ לִי אֶת הַמַּיִם
לֹא אֶת צִבְעָם, לֹא אֶת עִמְקָם
הֲרֵי אֲנִי חָשָׁה אוֹתָם עַד צַוָּארִי
יֶשׁ לִי רַק בִּקְשָׁה
אַל תְּחַדְּלוּ לְרֶגַע מִלְּתָאֵר לִי
When I’m drowning,
I don’t need you to describe the water to me,
Not its color, not its depth,
For I feel it up to my neck.
I only ask you,
Don’t ever stop describing
What the dry land looks like.
We have all been immersed up to our necks in the unfolding news, in the analysis and the opinion pieces. I am grateful beyond measure to those who have the vision to describe to us the dry land just as we fear drowning in the dark waters of despair.
On this Thanksgiving weekend, when many of us find it so hard to find what to be grateful for beyond the blessings in our own personal lives, I urge you to read the following articles:
- I Too Am a Survivor of a Massacre. This Is What Needs to Be Done Now, an opinion piece that appeared originally in Haaretz by Avi Dabush. Avi is a survivor of the October 7 massacre at Kibbutz Nirim, CEO of Rabbis for Human Rights, and a student at the Beit Midrash for Israeli Rabbis of the Hartman Institute and HaMidrasha.
- Israeli and Palestinian Activists Ask Americans to Take Side of Peace, about the work of Sally Abed and Alon-Lee Green, leaders of Standing Together. As part of their visit to the U.S., they spoke at BJ on October 25 to a packed Sanctuary and to thousands on the livestream.
- Five Miles and a World Apart, Younger Activists Dream of a New Peace Process, about May Pundak and Rana Salman. May is a human rights lawyer in Israel and Israeli CEO of A Land for All, whose father helped negotiate the Oslo accords, and Rana is the Palestinian Co-Director of Combatants for Peace.
I know that, like me, you will feel grateful for these leaders. I hope these pieces will inspire you and will nurture the vision of a peaceful future, which seems so far and unattainable but which, I pray, will come one day and will put an end to the 100-year-old cycle of hatred and bloodshed.
Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat shalom.