Holding Complexity in Your Broken Heart and Finding Healing
Written upon returning from a journey of listening in Israel in mid-November 2023
There is a shattered feeling that is pervasive in Israel and Gaza.
The shards of Israel’s southern communities have left people devastated and scattered across the country. Peace activists who worked in the thousands as volunteers became victims of unfathomable violence and trauma. They were once part of the Road to Recovery (a non-governmental organization through which they drove Palestinians who needed medical treatment – mostly children – from checkpoints to hospitals) and once led reconciliation efforts hosting Palestinian and Israelis in their homes. Homeless and grieving they are asking themselves, “What is next for me and my life?”
The shaken Israeli population has been left shattered and literally shell-shocked. Civil society has stepped in to feed the hungry, to tend the farms that grow 80% of Israel’s produce, and to support the families of children, teens, women, men, the elderly held hostage. They are asking themselves: “Where was my government on October 7th and where is my government now?”
The global Jewish community is shaken recognizing that an ancient antisemitism, Jew-hatred, has been awakened with a new iteration dressed in “anti-Zionist” claims and garb. The line is difficult to distinguish though some claim that the 1960’s expression “you know it when you see it” applies. I would adapt it to say, “You know it when you feel it, hear it, and encounter it.” And those instances are increasing in prevalence. The war in Israel has unleashed attacks – rhetorical and physical – on Jews everywhere. Israelis are deeply worried not only for themselves but for Jews across our world – especially on college campuses.
This war, brought on by Hamas, is the greatest blow to Israel in its history leading to a devastating and destructive battle that leaves Israel’s residents in a disorienting fog. They are reeling from the horrors of the October 7th indiscriminate barbaric mass murder. Israel’s sense of security that once seemed so certain was destabilized — its weaknesses and vulnerabilities revealed. The government contract of protection was broken. Like prior to 1948, each community was left for hours and in some cases days to defend themselves.
My colleague, Rabbi Barry Block, who travelled with me wrote: “Where was the IDF? In the Occupied West Bank, protecting Israeli settlers, including extremists who established their settlements illegally. Where was the government? Consumed with a tactic previously well-known only in Latin America, intent on an auto-coup, transforming their democratic election into an autocracy, free from judicial review. Where was Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose longstanding promise to Israelis has been that he and only he could keep them safe? He was and remains consumed with keeping himself out of jail, despite several indictments on corruption charges, and now he’s also busy deflecting responsibility for the October 7 catastrophe from himself to his subordinates.”
The confusion in Israel is made more pronounced by then 240 (now 159) individuals taken hostage for 51 days (and counting) and by the 250,000 Israelis displaced from border communities and 360,000 reservists have been called to serve.
And then there is the devastation in Gaza. More than half of the two million people in the Gaza Strip have been displaced by a military action that Israel deemed was necessary for defense but that has tragically killed so many who are civilians and leaves infrastructure demolished. The vast destruction of Gaza and the horrifically high number of innocent deaths leave everyone asking, “Can there be another way to remove Hamas from leadership?”
Added to all this is that is it no just those on the ground engaged battle – the conflict has global implications and is being fueled by actors outside Gaza and Israel. There are players who do not seek a peaceful resolution – Russia and Iran among them. Global opinion is having its influence and many of us are pulled apart by a media war, as well.
Leonard Cohen taught, “Forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
In this utter darkness of devastation and depression, how can we bring light?
… By daily acknowledging the hostages still being held by Hamas – their names, their stories, their despair and demanding their release.
… By supporting the dismantling of Hamas – a terrorist organization that drives for war and destruction rather than peace.
…By insisting that humanitarian aid and the preservation of human civilian life, on both sides of the border, be a highest priority.
… By assuring Israel that their survival, safety, and statehood matter. Israel feels alone in the world. Forcing Israel to have unsafe borders where they are vulnerable to another 10/7 barbaric attack is untenable.
… By assuring innocent Palestinian that their survival, safety and statehood matters. You hear them, you see them, and you will continue to care about ensuring they have leadership that supports civilian best interests even after this war ends.
… By honoring the many peacemakers who died and those who survived, by not letting their lifework be lost.
The great 1st century sage Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself alone, what am I? If not now, when.”
Here’s how I would translate that for today.
Can I stand with Israel for her security and legitimacy? Can I stand with innocent Palestinians and their right for freedom and self-determination? If not now, when both nations are broken and the world seems engaged and to deeply care, then when?
Note: In a Washington Institute July 2023 poll, 50% of Gazans polled agreed with the following proposal: “Hamas should stop calling for Israel’s destruction, and instead accept a permanent two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.”