By Cantor Meeka Simerly, ’09, 5th Year Rabbinical Student
Don’t worry; this is NOT a political D’var Torah. No, I will not offer opinions here, denounce nor endorse this side or that.
But I will share that my heart breaks every time I speak with my parents and family in Israel. It sounds like they are starting to lose hope. Even my mom, who is usually so optimistic, just can’t take it anymore: the waves of violence, back and forth, uncontrollable horrible acts of hatred, destroying families forever, on both sides. “Matai kvar yigamer kol ha’ra hazeh? When will all this evil end already?” she is asking. ”Ein la’zeh sof. Is there no end in sight?” she concludes with a big sigh. And hearing the despair in my mother’s voice is shaving off, bit by bit, whatever is left of my own hope that “Peace will come one day, you’ll see.” —statements that I have been hearing in that troubled land of ours since I was born.
And my heart wants nothing to do with politics.
In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Vayigash, four words are mentioned not once but twice: “And Jacob Blessed Pharaoh, Va’yevarech Yaakov et Par’oh,” (Genesis 47:7 and 47:10). These words are NOT about politics, left or right. These words tell the story of two old men, Jacob and Pharaoh, two patriarchs of two large families, of so many generations to come, who perhaps shake each others’ hands and maybe even embrace while Jacob bestows his blessing.
“The bond between the two elders” says Dr. Naomi Steinberg, “becomes even clearer when Jacob blesses Pharaoh before departing from his presence. Jacob’s blessing is rooted in the blessing of life that Pharaoh made possible for Joseph’s’ family. After Joseph dramatically reunites with his estranged brothers and father Jacob, Pharaoh invites Joseph to settle his family with their households in Egypt, and they prosper there. Normally it would go without saying that one utters a benevolent wish when departing from a favorable audience before a monarch. What is noteworthy here is that such an utterance is mentioned – and described as a “blessing,” which in the Torah has an overtone of divine favor”. [“Joseph and Jacob Meet with Pharaoh,” Dr. Naomi Steinberg, The Torah, A Women’s Commentary, URJ Press, 2008, p. 272.]
And I’m crying — tears of frustration and longing. “WHY?” I want to scream. “Why can’t we just get along?” If our ancestors could co-exist in Biblical times, why can’t we bless one another with our presence, and our friendship today?!
These four words are a great testimonial that two different people can live in peace with one another in the middle of the Middle East. This is a great proof that our ancestors, on both sides, were once kind to one another, got along, accepted one another’s right to exist, offered help when needed, blessed each other with peace and allowed God to dwell in their midst.
Today, I am so tired of the bloodshed on both sides. I am so devastated to hear about children being slaughtered, burned, stabbed, blown to pieces or blown up, on both sides. I am so upset hearing my mom’s loss of hope. So scared for the life of my niece who is serving in the IDF, and for my nephew who will be drafted a second after he graduates from high school. I am so tired of feeling fear, and I am so tired of not trusting the leaders of our time.
I just want to sit (metaphorically or for real) under a palm tree, have my family with me, and talk. I want to invite Palestinians to sit with us, and I want to say: “Here, let’s just sit and talk. I want you to know that I do recognize your right to live here, but I want you to acknowledge MY right to exist and live here too.” What’s wrong with that?
No, I will not “fast for Palestine” nor make declarations about “who is right” and “who is wrong.” I will not declare my resentment of the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority. I do not want to take a side, or give my opinion. I will not support any organization that bashes Israel. I also will not be a “Rabbi for Human Rights,” nor will I “Stand with You” or “Walk with you in the Street of J.” I just want to sit and talk.
Can Israelis and Palestinians, just stand side by side, look at this beautiful country together and see what WE can build together? Maybe we can bless one another with Salaam and Shalom and maybe even embrace? If Jacob and Pharaoh did, why can’t we?
Please share if you know how/where can one join a group to talk, to engage in dialogue? Just a “shevet achim va’achayot gam yachad,” dwelling together of brothers and sisters, not more, not less: “Under a Palm Tree, with Pharaoh & Jacob.” Let us to offer a blessing as we acknowledge each other and our desire to dwell together in peace.
Here are some examples of organizations/resources that do exactly that, please feel free to add to this list and spread the word to others:
1) Southern California Muslim-Jewish Forum http://www.scmjf.org
2) nJewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group http://traubman.igc.org/dg-prog.htm
3) Newground – Muslim/Jewish Partnership for Change mjnewground.org