Syria and Purim

March 15 or so, 2012


I am in a 7 day silent meditation retreat at Kibbutz Hannaton, on a hill in the Galillee, over looking other hills, hills on all sides with sprawling Arab and Bedouin villages, and beyond those hills, less than a day’s drive if there were roads and no borders, blood is running in the streets.

Young people who want blogs like this one and Facebook and Tumblr like the lovely young Israeli girl I live with, kids like that, like our kids, wanting what the world is opening to for young people everywhere, on Wall Street and Dizengoff and Tabrir, their blood is running, and my tears are running with them. And the birds flying overhead right now, bird sounds I’ve never heard before, these birds, may have flown over Syria this morning or late last night, these birds may have bomb smoke or tear gas in their wings, and maybe they are dropping Syrian blood and tears on our Jewish hill top and the Arab hill tops and maybe just maybe into our hearts.

What can I do? What can Israelis do? These are thoughts floating through my heart chest belly. And then the thought what can Palestinians do? That thought breaks me open and tears are really flowing now. My Palestinian friends, whom I have met in Israel and in the West Bank, friends whose families and ancestors have lived in Syria, live there now? What can they do? Do they feel as my Jewish -American grandfather, Perry Pesach Plager, told me he felt, in America, during World War Two, a mix of frustration, anger, hopelessness, helplessness, despair, confusion. What will it take to empower all of us to do something? To do more, to find strategies that are effective so that the world can reflect what is in our hearts, our vision, our highest vision?

And this gets me to the experience and insight I had on Purim in the Old City of Jerusalem this year, my third Purim in this Holy Place. I spent most of Shushan Purim-the “second” day of Purim, celebrated as Purim within the walled cities here- in Sarah Yehudit’s crowded apartment, filled with women in costumes, enjoying amazing food, exchanging baskets of food and gifts with each other, and studying deep mystical teachings of Purim, and singing and dancing. I took on, with great seriousness, the Purim practice-the requirement- of achieving a mind state that is incapable of  judging, of seeing the world in terms of good/bad, right/wrong, of experiencing the world of form and illusion- a world covered in masks and costumes- as a wonderful display of God’s diversity and variety and creativity. Of entering Rumi’s field of beyond notions of wrongdoing and rightdoing, into a field where all is love and splendor and amazement and color and texture…

Late in the afternoon, I ventured out of the apartment into the main square of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City.The crowds were there, as usual, and this time, people dressed in costumes of jugglers and kings and queens, so many queens, and holy people and tourists and monks and–but wait a minute–are these Purim costumes? or are these everyday costumes? Are these really monks and religious Jews, Moslem, Christian…and what does that mean? Is this how this person dresses everyday? or just today? And  I realized that I didn’t know. That I don’t know anything about anyone else – I see their faces and their costumes – everyday- and I give labels to it all. And these labels can bring me into separation or connection, depending on the label and the day. I realized that this is always the case – what we see are costumes. When I encounter someone with a pre-formed idea of who or what they are, because of their costume, I’m just seeing the costume.

Sometimes I fall into worshipping the costume, like Nizamuddin, the Sufi saint in Delhi, who knew that the Sultan was valuing his robes, not him, so Nizamuddin rubbed the leg of lamb on his finery, fed the finery, to  the horror to the sultan’s guests at the banquet, as a teaching to us about what is it that we are feeding and valuing- the essence of people, or their robes? And the Zen monk who had been turned away in his tattered monk’s robes from the businessman’s door, and when the businessman came to visit him in the temple, left his robe for the man to prostrate to…What is it that I am prostrating to? Who is it that I am prostrating to? An idea of someone? An idea of God? or can I strip it all down and prostrate to life, to the life in front of me, to all life?

So what would happen if instead of “Syrians” being massacred, or bombs falling on “Israelis” or “Gazans” what would happen if we stripped off these veils that we see through and just saw life or God or God’s children?  And don’t we all, each of us, already know that this is really what we are seeing? And I ask, what is it going to take for us to be able to take off our own masks? Who will tell me, what do you want from me, so that you feel safe enough with me to take off your masks? And to see me without mine?