This article was originally published by Makom on 7/22. The article can be found here.
I’m a rabbi. So when asked what one should do in the face of the horror in Israel and Gaza right now, I emphatically reply: “pray.” But I know that message doesn’t resonate for many and besides, our tradition has more to say.
The Mishna teaches us to be ohavei shalom v’rodphei shalom, lovers of peace and seekers (chasers, more literally) of peace. For American Jews, far away, this teaching is particularly apt; notably, we’re not expected to be osei shalom, doers/makers of peace. (Our liturgy reserves that title—Oseh HaShalom, Maker of Peace—for only The One … who doesn’t seem in a hurry.) We’re charged, it seems, with laying the ground for Shalom by loving and pursuing this Divine attribute. Some thoughts on how we might do so:
- When possible, visit Israel and: volunteer there (there are countless social change organizations spanning political and religious divides), donate blood, study Hebrew/Arabic, learn Torah, visit southern cities, hardest hit by rockets from Gaza and visit Palestinian territories (each have reputable groups with which to travel safely) – all these things will bring you in contact with the land, its people and its narratives.
- Learn more: read much and read widely, take courses and talk to people you trust on varying sides.
- Reach out to family and friends touched in any way by the current conflict in Israel and Gaza (which is really everyone you know there); listen to what they need to say, ask them how you can be most helpful (and it might be simply listening…).
- Get involved with NGOs or political groups working/lobbying on behalf of the Israel/Gaza you seek.
- Bring speakers to your community that represent voices you think need to be heard.
- Seek out/Create safe and productive spaces for communal conversation on this topic.
- Connect with Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims wherever you may be. Share in a Shabbat dinner, join in an Iftar, get to know one another’s stories. The only human headway I can imagine in pursuit of peace will come from human relationships and a commitment to their constant care.
- Cultivate deep empathy and humility and reflect them in all you do, say, post and write.
All of this brings us back to the text with which I opened, the next clause of which instructs us to be ohev et habriyot, lovers of all God’s creatures. If there is ever to be real peace—between Arabs and Jews and between Jews and Jews—we must push ourselves to hear, see and feel the place of the “other” – Palestinian civilian in Gaza, Jew on the right/left, soldier enlisted to fight, parent cradling a scared child amidst sounds of war – be willing to hear her narrative, understand his fear, feel her pain, argue their side….
So by all means, pray – but don’t stop there. Don’t just love peace, pursue it. Chase it down any way you can.