Palestians and Israelis Holding Each Others’ Pain/Counting the Omer

Day 38 – Tiferet of Yesod: Compassion in Bonding

Bonding needs to be not only loving but also compassionate, feeling your friend’s pain and empathizing with him. Is my bonding conditional? Do I withdraw when I am uncomfortable with my friend’s troubles? (Counting the Omer, Simon Jacobson)

We explored and witnessed and experienced just this at the women’s NVC training this past weekend. Fifty women and girls gathered together again for a weekend at EcoME in the Dead Sea region.
I want to write about one part of the weekend that is still so present with me that I am writing with tears in my eyes.

In my mind is the moment when we all sat together in a circle and watched and listened to the sobs of one of the Palestinian women participants.

I see this moment as at the core of the Nonviolent Communication trainings here. How can we fully, unconditionally, hear and feel the pain of others–without giving up anything of our own. Whether we are with our spouses, children, co workers, or people from groups we usually stay away from, how can we unblock our hearts and ears and bring ourselves into full connection with their experience-without that fear that we give up something.

Her sobs came after she shared how painful it was for her to hear the Jewish kiddush on Shabbat morning- the part of the kiddush that celebrates that Jews are chosen by God. That when she heard this, in a circle that she was part of, that she thought of all the discrimination and pain and suffering of Palestinians inside and outside of Israel.

Immediately, I saw looks of horror, sadness and dismay on the faces of several of the religious Jewish women who had participated in the kiddush.

Immediately I saw that some of the Jewish women wanted to comfort the Palestinian woman and also wanted to explain to her that they meant no harm. One woman began sobbing, another reached out and shared how hurting her was the last thing she wanted to do, how horrified she felt.

This is the moment of the power of nonviolent communication. How can we stay with each others’ pain, without trying to explain it away or fix it or get defensive or make it about our own pain? How do we do that?

Arnina, one of the NVC facilitators, held this space of empathy by asking the Palestinian woman, are you crying for all the pain that is here.
Her sobs grew louder.

The sobs of the Jewish women grew louder too. One Jewish woman went to her and said how terrible, terrible she felt,

Her sobs grew louder.

Arnina asked, is it so painful for you to imagine that your words could cause pain?

Yes, more and more.

I listened to her sobs and I had the sense that I was hearing the grief of a sister, a Palestinian sister, over all the pain that we have caused each other. The outpouring of grief from “the other side” that everyone yearns for here – tears over the suffering on “my” side AND “your” side. Tears over the suffering. The tears that say, enough. No more. That say, I don’t want to be a part of this. I don’t want this to go on. That say, I feel the deepest intense grief over it all. All of it. I felt the deep yearning in everyone there for an end to it all. And the real grief over all the harm that is being done and that has been done in all of our names.

And I sit here now, in Ein Kerem, in a lovely house, built onto an old Arab house, now the home of a Jewish woman who has come here to bring people together through music, Palestinians and Israelis, children and grown ups, and I wonder, as I did at the NVC training – how can we expect people here who aren’t Jewish to trust that when we say chosen people in our kiddush we aren’t doing it to hurt anyone, that we are just doing it to celebrate our tradition? And is it true that it is so innocent? What is our responsibility, to look even at the heart of our tradition and see its effect in the current world?

One of my NVC teachers, Miki Kashtan (Arnina’s sister!) says that empathy doesn’t flow upwards very easily. When one side is holding power over the other, it is so hard for empathy to flow up to the holder of power. So I ask, isn’t it too much to ask of people who are living under military rule of the Jewish state to trust that we mean no harm when we celebrate that God has chosen us? And if it is, how do we move forward?

Do we change our ritual observance so that we are in alignment with another mitzvah – of doing no harm to others? Or do we take great care to teach our children that what we mean by this is, as some women said at the retreat, that Jews are chosen to perform the mitzvot- and that by so doing, we are contributing to bringing greater peace and enlightenment to all the world? It is not about being over others; it is about being in service.

And can we celebrate this in a way that inspires us to truly put ourselves in service of peace and justice?
What is our responsibility, whether we choose to only do our observance in private or not- how do we make sure that our religious observance really does serve the highest good for everyone?

And where is the line between wanting people to agree with each other, with each other’s interpretations and stories- and just coming to the level of care and acceptance and valuing of each other that is enough to create true peace and elevation of all of us?

This is our work. This is our life.