Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Bridges- Are we willing to listen?

Last night was a first for me on two accounts. Until last night, I had never been in a Reconstructionist temple. More importantly, before last night, I had never heard a Palestinian speak in person about peace.

When I first heard that Ali Abu Awwad would speaking in nearby Montclair, I knew I had to be there. Awwad is an activist and pacifist who, along with my former neighbor Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger, founded Roots, a Gush Etzion based organization whose goal is to produce dialogue and trust between Israelis and Palestinians. He knows well the costs of war having lost a brother who was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. Awwad, along with his family, have gotten involved in Bereaved Family Forum, an organization where families on both sides of the conflict who have lost family members join to speak and grieve together.

As someone who continues to hope against hope that eventually there can and will be a peaceful resolution to the conflict, I was interested in hearing from someone on the Palestinian side who believes in such a vision. This was an opportunity to give lie to the claim that there is nobody on the Palestinian side who believes in peace. Awwad, who started off by wishing us a “Shana Tova” and “Gmar Chatima Tova”, spoke with passion, warmth and humor. He described the irony of the need for himself, a Palestinian, to tell left-wing Israelis that they need to be willing to speak with “settlers”. He made it clear that his group is still small, but that a bridge completed by a few hundred people can build a bridge that can be crossed by millions. He spoke about the need for both sides to speak with one another, to move past thoughts of violence and revenge, and to stop competing for who has the more tragic narrative.

As I listened to Awwad speak, I wondered whether he would have the opportunity to speak to the Orthodox community, and how my fellow co-denominationalists would relate to his message. I wondered why it was that I had to go to a Reconstructionist temple to hear Awwad’s message. I was curious whether Modern-Orthodox Jews, so open to modernity in so many ways, could  accept a narrative that is different than the one-dimensional one that they have often had reinforced in schools and shuls. Of course, for those of us living outside of Israel, it is not our job to advocate for positions with which we ourselves will not have to deal with the consequences. Still, I believe that there is great value in hearing a more balanced and nuanced view than the one we often hear.

If you share my hope, commitment to hearing from all sides, and willingness to have your views challenged, I would encourage you to try and bring speakers like Awwad to your community. I’d like to think that he would welcomed, and once his message has been heard, embraced.


  1. "I wondered why it was that I had to go to a Reconstructionist temple to hear Awwad’s message." For the same reason why a Reconstructionist would have to go to a Mod-O shul to hear R' Shlomo Aviner shlit"a. It's not that we O are more closed-minded, it's that we're closed to a different set of ideas.

    1. But why are we closed to that idea?

    2. Because all people are closed to questioning their deeply held beliefs. Whether it's a Mod-O and Messianic Greater Israel Zionism, a Reconstructionist Jew and Tikkun Olam Liberalism, a Chareidi and da'as Torah, a Xian and the resurrection of Yeishu...

      To question the postulates of one's belief system is to wonder whether one succeeded in finding meaning in one's life. The possibility of finding "no" is just too painful.

    3. Right but how and why did that become an essential belief of Modern-Orthodoxy? Why is Rav Ahron venerated on everything else, ignored on this?