I am somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean as I write this final blog of this experience. It is far too early (and I am far too tired, even though I cannot sleep on the plane) to put the all that I saw and felt into perspective. And even earlier yet to understand how this perspective will frame my relationship with the State of Israel and sense of my own Judaism … as rabbi and as an individual Jew. I do actually have a ‘due date’ for at least a stage of this work, High Holydays 2009 … as I expect to use one of the opportunities for speaking in which I am entrusted by Temple Micah to share some of my stories and reflections. (And if anyone who is reading my blog is curious, consider yourself invited to join us at Temple Micah for that High Holyday service — when I figure out which day of which of the holydays it will happen, I will get the word out!).
Our last hours together in Israel were spent in ‘Siyum’ … a closing celebration. We ended up having some time at the beach in Tel Aviv and enjoying dinner along the beach road as the sun set on our last day and on our trip. Before we arrived at the beach and after we leisurely woke up and made our way from our accommodation in Jerusalem, we were fortunate to make a very worthwhile stop. One of the books that I have been reading during the trip and was one of the books on the suggested reading list for the class is The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan. The book tells the story of the recent history of Israel and Palestine through the story of an unlikely and unusual friendship between a Palestinian man and an Israeli Jewish woman. Bashir el-Kheiri’s father constructed his family’s home in Ramle in the early 20th century. After 1948 when so many Palestinians lost their homes in the war between Israel and the Arab states, Dalia Landau’s family migrated from Bulgaria and took possession of this home. They met when Bashir made the trip from Ramallah after it became a part of Israel in 1967 to Ramle to see his childhood home. It reads like a novel and is a powerful and balanced account of the complexities of the conflict and of this friendship.
This morning on our way out of Jerusalem, Dalia graciously invited us to her home in Jerusalem, to share her story with us. We were all tired – both on body and in spirit – and felt the pull of some time at the beach just to sit, relax and be. For me, some time with Dalia was an important and valuable way for us to spend some of our last hours of the trip. After having spent a good part of the trip with the voices of Dalia and Bashir as part of the conversation in my mind and then to have the opportunity to meet her … was a bit of a brush with greatness kind of moment. I found much more to the meeting than the rock star vibe, too … as much as I can understand, witness and hear the pain in the story of Palestinians, I am not Arab, Muslim or Christian. As much as I can cross the lines of religion, nationality and culture and find brotherhood and sisterhood with others who celebrate and seek justice, peace and freedom, I still find myself wanting to hear and know fellow Jews who struggle and wish to cross the same lines. To sit and listen to Dalia tell her story, to still believe in Israel, to spend her life working towards justice, coexistence and peace … was very important for me.
Dalia struggled and (I think) still struggles with the reality and the complexity of the truth of both people’s narrative… and in her gracious and heartfelt manner did what she could do in her corner of the world. You see, the rest of her story is that Dalia made a decision that she, personally, wanted to do something with her family’s home that reflected and honored its history and the story of the Jews and the Palestinians. She thought to perhaps return it or at least its capital (as it is not legal for Bashir to own or live in the home) to Bashir and his family. He did not want the capital; he wanted a kindergarten for Palestinians in Ramle. So, Dalia honored his request … and now the Open House (the name of the house and the organization housed within it) provides a kindergarten and many other programs toward coexistence and peace.
Dalia’s voices in the book and in person were an important part of my experience on this trip. I have a sense that Dalia’s spirit – also present both in the book and in person – are and will be a dynamic presence moving forward as I struggle to face the realities and truths of this situation as a Jew and as a human being.