As I sit here in the Kids4Peace Jerusalem office on the eve before the Yom Kippur Fast, which is considered the most holy day of the year for the Jewish people because it is the day that g-d decides who is written in the book of life and who isn’t, I can’t help but feel privileged and torn to be the co-director of Kids4Peace Jerusalem. I am privileged to be part of an inspiring interfaith community that strongly believes that Jerusalem can be shared by the 3 faiths in peace and not torn into pieces. I am also internally conflicted as how can I continue to maintain both my religious Jewish identity and my interfaith identity.
For over the past eight years that I have been part of the K4P community, I have slowly become less traditional in my observance and more in conflict with my Judaism. At a first glance Judaism promotes a notion of peace, “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they experience war no more”. But the daily prayers and weekly Shabbat Kiddush highlight a different view. We recite a blessing thanking g-d for choosing us from among all the nations in order to serve him (or her). The idea that the Jewish people are the chosen nation is a difficult one to come to term with, if you believe that all people, religions, nations are created equally, then why am I saying that we are chosen?
I and other observant Jewish people that are part of the interfaith movement have had to make adjustments in our prayers or have had to rationalize the meaning of these prayers in order to continue our interfaith work and give respect to the other religions. I know many other people cope by saying, we are all the same, we are all human beings, as the Israeli President posted in his New Year message (second 13-15). But I do not believe that the answer is as simple as that. I want all of us in the Kids4Peace community to understand and celebrate our differences. Because if we were really all the same, then what are all of these conflicts about!
This year, Yom Kippur (Jewish fast day) and Eid Al Adha (Muslim Feast of Sacrifice) concede and there is fear that in Jerusalem and other areas that have both Jewish and Muslim residents, will have clashes and violence. New Israel Fund and other NGO’s have already begun an awareness campaign, reaching out to both sides and informing them that the holidays overlap. But perhaps this is already too late, perhaps there is already too much fear and lack of knowledge.
This morning I got a ride to the Kids4Peace office with a fellow student from my beginner’s Arabic class. He is a religious Jewish Israeli settler that is learning Arabic in order to understand the Arab culture and to begin to break the stereotypes by getting to know the other person. This is very uncommon for a Jewish Israeli settler to want to get to know the other especially by going ahead and learning Arabic. In the car we picked up a hitchhiker on our way out of the Old City. The hitchhiker was also a religious Jewish Israeli man that looked to me to belong to a fairly extreme religious group. He overheard our conversation and our Arabic lesson cd in the background, and asked “aren’t you afraid of them?”
I didn’t want to assume I understood his vague question: afraid of what? afraid of whom? I thought to myself. But before I was able to ask a clarifying question, my fellow student began to answer the question. He went on to explain that there are Arabs that want to kill us and Arabs that want to be our friends, the same way there are Jews that want to kill Arabs and Jews that want to be their friends. The hitchhiker challenged this answer and asked “but on the day that Mohammad Abu Khdeir’s body was found, weren’t you scared to be there with them?” With that question he asked to be let out of the car as he had reached his destination.
I sit at my desk now with the same heavy feeling that I felt the day Mohammad Abu Khdeir’s body was found. I sit on the border between East and West Jerusalem, I co-lead an interfaith community, yet outside my door there is hatred, misunderstanding, racism and division in Jerusalem. I could allow myself to lock up the K4P office tonight in despair knowing that this weekend will be one of violence and conflict, or I can send one last “What’s Up” message of holiday blessing to my interfaith community and ask that we all amplify our voices of understanding and peace today, tomorrow and throughout this year to come.
Eid Mubarak to my dear Muslim Friends.
Gmar Hatima Tova to my Jewish Friends.
And to my Christian friends, your holiday is approaching quickly, but it is still too early to be wishing a Merry Christmas!