Peace in Jerusalem

There are a lot of worried people now. In and around Jerusalem, they are worried that they will be the next victims of violence. They are worried that a random attacker will suddenly enter the classrooms of their children without warning. They are worried that someone will throw rocks on their cars. They are worried that angry protesters or soldiers will harm them or harass them. They are worried that their home will be demolished. The ones who love us and live far away are worried for us as well.

I am a little worried, I will admit. Perhaps the right word is unsettled. But it isn’t the first time in the nine years that I have lived in Jerusalem that violence has infiltrated our city. I am by nature a cautious person anyway. (though my mother may not agree with that 🙂 )

Not everyone is afraid. Not everyone is suspicious and turning to hate. Here are a few examples from yesterday:

I dropped my son off at daycare, which is part of the YMCA Peace Pre-school in downtown Jerusalem. It is a pre-school where the kids are from a mix of Jewish, Arab, and international families. The staff is half Hebrew-speaking and half Arab-speaking. The Arab women come from Abu Ghosh and from the Jerusalem neighborhoods which are in the news. They greet us with a smile and Good-Morning in all of our languages “Boker Tov!” “Sabach al’hir!” I know my child is safe here. Here he is loved. Here is the proof of co-existence. Alexandra Klein, the director of the pre-school wrote beautifully to the parents yesterday:

“It is not a question of sides, who inflicts and who suffers. We are all in pain and under horror, and we are all on the same side. And which side is that? The side of the people who believe they can leave this world a better place for their children than the one they live in today. That’s the only side we’re on, and we’re together on that side.
… We’re all on edge, parents and teachers alike. Nevertheless, we’re determined to carry on and do our best to carry out our holy mission here, with respect to one another. This is what we’re dedicated to, always have been, and this is the choice we make every morning. Let’s try and be kind to each other, even these days – especially these days. Let’s leave the news outside the preschool, and do what we love doing and do best – raise our children together in love and respect, care for them, educate them, teach them sharing and confidence and hope.”

My husband was in reserve duty yesterday and he had taken the car with him. I ended up taking a taxi to my congregation in Tzur Hadassah. As I sat in the back as we went through heavy traffic, I noticed the name of my driver: Sammer. It is an Arab name. He was quiet and he was polite. There was terrible traffic. As we got closer and I went through my bag, I noticed something and said “Oy!” He started and turned around slightly to ask if everything is OK. I smiled and said, “I forgot to leave diapers for my son at his daycare.” (They were still in my bag) When we got there, I offered him 20 shekels more than we had agreed because of the traffic. He quietly said “thank you” and drove away. Arabs are not terrorists.

I have been a part of Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem the three years I was a student and having been a part of the staff during the past three years. It is my home base in Israel. I have known most of the staff for the past 10 years, both Jewish and Arab. Whatever happens in this country, there is always a feeling of friendship and mutual respect. Yesterday, I gave Eli the parking attendant money to pass on to Faiz, the gardener, who had given me a bottle of olive oil that he had made from his olive grove. Trust. Friendship.

Tzur Hadassah practically sits on the green line, its closest neighbors being on the other side of the line – the ultra-Orthodox city Beitar Ilit, which many Tzur Hadassah residents shop and bank there and visit their doctors, and the Palestinian town of Hussan. In Tzur Hadassah, people who ride the “tunnels road” update each other if rocks were thrown that day. There are constant reports of “shabachim” (shohim bilti chukim – illegal presence) passing through the town, and incidents of break-ins to homes. There is a lot building going on in Tzur Hadassah, so of course many of the workers are Palestinian.

The conversations on the large Facebook group “Mothers of Tzur Hadassah” were expressing a lot of fear, worried that their children weren’t safe at school, and there was even a rumor that armed Palestinians had infiltrated the town (it was not true). At our meeting for mothers and babies, I asked the mothers how they were doing with the situation, expecting them to be anxious and wanting to be a source of support. One, the wife of a professional army officer, said that she was not worried. Another recalled her teenage years spent riding the bus from Givat Ze’ev to downtown Jerusalem during the second intifada and Palestinian snipers would occasionally shoot.

They weren’t worried? I asked. They shrugged their shoulders. You can’t live your life in fear, they said. Because one thing happened somewhere you can’t expect that it will happen to you. You do your best and you keep going in your daily life, and you deal with what you have before you. There are so many good people in the world, you have to remember.

One day in Jerusalem. I condemn the acts of violence, I condemn murder. I shudder to think that people are capable of committing such heinous acts.

I hope you read my words, I hope you learn about these good people, and I hope it helps you to believe that we can do it. For my fellow Jews, I remind you the shared vision of both the prophet Isaiah and the prophet Micah of the idyllic time, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. They will learn war no more.”

For my Muslim neighbors – I have learned that the word “Islam” has in it the word “salaam”, peace.
For my Christian neighbors, I have learned that Jesus was a peace-seeking figure who sought to bring joy and comfort to the world.

Let us live our teachings of peace.

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