Healing, resilience, hopeful. Those are the three words I’d use to describe the South Florida Rabbis Solidarity Mission to Israel. Thanks are due to Jacob Solomon, who got Miami rabbis a scholarship to attend, and who enabled us to meet with President Elect Herzog; to Rabbis Fred Klein and Josh Broide who did countless hours of legwork within two weeks to make our trip a reality; and to Rabbi Jeremy Barras whose passion and inspiration dreamed our trip into being.
It goes without saying that Israel is much safer than the media portrays in on a daily basis. We saw one of the incendiary balloons as we left Kibbutz Kfar Azza on Tuesday June 15, one hour before the flag march began. It certainly gave us sympathy for what the communities in the envelope of the Galil go through, yet it never impacted our feeling safe in Israel. We attended Shavua HaSefer at the old train station one block from our hotel in Jerusalem, heard Idan Raichel playing a live concert when we were dining at a restaurant in Yemin Moshe, and spent an evening in the vibey Mahane Yehuda-certainly not the Shuk I remember from even 5 and a half years ago. We recognized that one month earlier we would have felt different running for our lives to shelter, yet the extent of the disproportionate negative coverage was obvious to us, just as it was obvious to me my first Israel Trip with AMHSI during the Second Intifada.
Parshat Hukkat is the perfect segway into describing our trip. The law of the red heifer, a three-year-old, unblemished calf whose ashes are sprinkled into mixture to purify one who came into contact with a corpse, is the least rational law that we have. Similarly, the ways in which the conflict has progressed between Israel and the Palestinians is irrational at its core. From it I will give 3 takeaways from our trip.
The first is that the words we use to communicate matter. For example, Shirin, who runs an Arab school in Lod, referred to the garinei Torah, Jews who came to Judaize Lod, as settlers. Many of them are not from Judea and Samaria, yet she perceived them as coming to take over her homeland-not so different from how many Conservative Rabbis (not me) feel when a new Chabad House opens in their backyard. The word settler clearly means different things to different people. Another example is Al Aqsa. When her students, studying to become engineers, were asked what they want, they said “Give us Al Aqsa.” I thought they meant the mosque but in reality, they mean the entire Temple Mount. As Rabbi Eliezer Wolf said, that’s like saying “You can have the apartment complex except the penthouse.” Precise definitions of words matter, and we need to engage in radical listening from a standpoint of curiosity.
Secondly, we are dealing with real people as opposed to strictly positions or ideologies. It’s far too easy and destructive to label people based on a particular view they hold. There were so many times I could have labeled and judged people I met, whether Arab or Jew, as naive, misguide, a hawk, a hooligan, a terrorist rather than looking at the deeper story, framework or worldview. We need the space to see the people in all their complexity, not just their stance on one particular issue.
My final point is that like the red heifer, some things are only known by God. WE heard multiple conflicting stories about Lod and Sheikh Jarrah (the neighborhood known to Jewish residents as Shimon HaTzaddik and which I had walked around in during my year in Israel). Our heads were spinning-we tried to question the veracity of stories of the Jewish, Arab and coexistence people we meet with; each one seemed sincere. Maybe the truth is in the middle; perhaps it is more on one side than the other. Only God knows. Like the red heifer, some things we must accept on faith rather than by reason.
I will conclude with some Torah taught by my roommate, Chabad Rabbi Eliezer Wolf. In building the Tabernacle, we needed numerous animal skins, including the Tahash. According to Midrash, the Tahash was a multicolored animal only seen in biblical times. The Tahash skin was place above the goat skin, meaning no one entering the Tabernacle (Mishkan) could see it. Only one could see it-God looking down from the heavens.
Each of us has a limited lens through which we see the world. We’re often overconfident that we have the answer “if only they’ll see things my way.” May we have the humility to understand that there’s only one who sees the big picture: God. May God help us bring peace not only to Israel and the entire world but also to Bet Shira Congregation.