Despite the sense of the impending doom that threatens to overwhelm the Middle East, I feel the need to share a more personal reflection about my own family and our lives here in this complicated but fascinating and challenging part of the world. One of the main motivations for my decision to live in Israel was that I wanted my life to have significance and to play a part in the great Jewish experiment of modern times. Despite all my misgivings at the direction that Israel is taking, and my sense of the incredibly urgent need for us to change course, I look around at my family today (literally today) and I can’t help but feel awe and wonder as I try to hold all the pieces of my world together.
I just came back from facilitating a day of dialogue with a group of wonderful Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish, Christian and Muslim women who live in Jerusalem. We are working together to develop a project based on our shared vision for the future of our lives in this city. On the way home, my soldier son called – and I thought about the contradictions inherent in my position – committed to peace-building and dialogue and peaceful resolutions to conflicts, but also the mother of a soldier. When I arrived home, I tried to get in touch with my husband – currently in the US in his role as the Vice-President of an institution dedicated to training the Jewish leaders of the future – rabbis, cantors, educators – struggling with all the dilemmas that face the Jewish world at the beginning of the 21st century.
Next I thought about my younger daughter – currently in Poland on a school trip. So as my husband was worrying about the future of the Jewish people, she was busy exploring our past, with all its pain as well as some of its beauty. And I guess you might say that both my son and I were dedicating ourselves to the future of Israel- each in a very different way but each with its own inherent justification.
And then finally, there’s my oldest daughter – coming to the end of a seven month trip, most of which she’s spent in India but now enjoying the beaches of Thailand before she returns home next month to begin her studies at Tel Aviv University. Having finished her own army service a year ago, she’s been privileged to enjoy a respite before she throws herself into her own future – whether as the human rights’ lawyer she currently dreams of becoming, or on whatever other path she chooses to take.
At one point during our dialogue yesterday, one of the women said something that made other women feel that their right to exist as a people was in question. Clarification lead to an important distinction: the fact that I demand my rights does not mean that I deny you your rights. We would all do well to remember that as we move into the historic moment that may unfold over the course of the coming weeks: recognition of the right of Palestinians to a state of their own does not mean that Israel does not have the right to exist – and vice versa. Just as the tension in the room dissipated significantly once this point was clarified, a lot of tension in the region would be released if Israel would simply recognize the seemingly soon-to-be-declared Palestinian state.
My family is incredibly privileged – first and foremost to have the freedom to make all these choices about our lives. As people with such advantages, we owe it to the rest of humankind and the world to work to enable other people to have the autonomy to make similar choices about their own lives. Demanding freedom for others does not require that we relinquish our own liberties – just as with the case of Israel and Palestine, it’s not a zero-sum game. Despite what our leaders would have us believe, we can fulfill both national groups’ desires for self-determination. If you will it, it is no dream, as Herzl famously said. Why should it remain a dream for the Palestinians?