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27 May 2017

I sit down to write as someone different.

Four years ago, in April 2013, I left Tel Aviv - Yafo to return back to the United States. At the time, I was not feeling well. I came down with a bad case of something — the doctor in Jerusalem said laryngitis. I was living in a small apartment off Sderot Yerushalayim in Yafo. Life was good despite that nasty bout of laryngitis, living in a dark and damp studio apartment, and being detached from that City — Jerusalem — which had intrigued and sustained and nudged my soul since that first night on the Mount of Olives. How could I have realized it then, but I was on the cusp of a major shift in my life; isn't it funny how we are so bad at noticing times of transition? The years that followed my return to the United States have been the quickest and fullest so far in my twenty-five years doing this thing we call "life." Here I sit in Jerusalem, in what feels like forever and just a minute all at once, trying to see if I have gained some form of foresight, to see if yet again I am on the last page of this chapter. If so, what does it even mean? Sitting here, writing, listening to the music blaring from some nearby street, drinking carrot juice in a whisky glass (that I so wish contained whisky), I talk with myself: me and this keyboard, both a deep self-interaction yet hollow, electronic, post-modern in the best and worst ways.

We all want to do something meaningful with our lives (as if living peace is not enough). Today, I feel bogged down by the weight. I think I realize now that in the United States, everyday interactions have as much double-meaning, and are imbued with as much history, as those between people here. It is difficult to discern if the difference I feel is simply because of my outsider perspective or if there are veritable differences in the methods of transmission and revision of intergenerational narratives of oppression, survival, and meaning-making.

I still believe that any solution to the Conflict here will come out of empathy, a recognition that both Israeli and Palestinian have valid, powerful, and heartbreaking historical narratives. The cores of these narratives hold important opportunities for dialogue, understanding, and ultimately a way forward. This isn't about pre-requisities for starting peace negotiations: we need to realize that these narratives are already in dialogue with one another, and those living here are writing the play. It doesn't have to end as two star-crossed peoples finally embracing at the last moment, recognizing their shared destiny, but, alas, too late. After walking here for a while, I know more than ever that the next act of this story is not yet written, but I do think that this generation will write that final act.

So, on my second-to-last night here, I find myself confronted with questions that are like old, familiar friends. For some, I have provisional answers, while others are simply interrogations of and interventions into the world around me. Last night, I met with a leftist Israeli who related a story about "moderates." A "right-wing" Israeli had told her, "Hey, at least you are better than the moderates — they don't believe in anything." I think this is so wrong. One of the things I love about Judaism is that learning, something that is so highly valued, is a life-long process. Why would they study the law over and over again if this was not the case? Here, Judaism affirms post-modernist critiques of "High Modernism" and its cold methods of knowing. Here, Judaism recognizes the scientific method and the need to simultaneously reify and re-examine knowledge. So, no, I disagree with what that Israeli told her about moderates.

Someone who thinks nothing about the Conflict is simply disengaged. They are not "moderates." There is another kind of moderate, made of three parts: the skeptic, the interrogator,  the optimist. Most of the skeptic's beliefs are provisional, even though they might cling to some values (e.g. belief in G-d, survival, peace). The interrogator is curious, presenting herself without prejudice, with only a desire to know better (i.e. understanding more complexly, or in altogether new ways.) Finally, the optimist seeks peace, believing that peace is always possible. This can mean reading the holy texts of one's faith with an eye towards peace. It can mean moving from the "bet" to the "aleph." Or, it can be a belief that humanity is brilliant, the realization that our cultures are like different chapters of one book: we share a binding, one that is both corporeal, mundane and of this world, but also one of spirituality, Sarah/Abraham and those who followed, mystical, surreal.

This is who I think I have tried to be, or, rather, constantly become. I think there is nothing wrong with this moderate, no shame in it. Of course, the Achille's Heel of this method is that it makes taking action harder. That poem that is often attributed to Martin Niemöller, First They Came..., immediately comes to mind. At this point, I accept that I do not have the answer for how to balance the tension between the "moderate" as I have described her and the need to act. If I wanted anything, it would be for such knowledge as this to not be provisional! Perhaps, if I look to values, like peace, I will find the bridge between this moderate and Niemöller's warning.

I finish writing as someone different.


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