And now… ?

Julian Resnick writes from Israel

My calendar from March 2019 over 12 months looked like this: March: Schechter Family Group from NYC and California in Israel; Lipton AIPAC Donor couple from Palo Alto in Israel; April: JCCA National board in Israel; preparation for Bavarian Jewish Journey in Southern Germany; May: Australian Adults March of the Living in Poland and Israel; USA marketing trip; June: Kushnir Family from California in Israel; Andreozzi Family in Israel; July: Ameinu group in Israel; Orange County Fact Finders in Israel; August: Balassa Family in Israel; Greece preparation for Greek Jewish Journey; September: Hess Friends in Berlin and Normandy; Kaplen JCC scholar in residence in New Jersey; October: Altberger Family trip in Israel; Mainline Philadelphia Synagogue group in Morocco; November: Kaplen JCC Staff trip in Israel; December: Carrsow Family in Israel; Indian Business Leaders in Israel; Sandler Family in South Africa; January: holiday in India; February: Central Synagogue NYC teen group in Vienna; Bleshman family in Israel.

And then from the end of the first week in March 2020 until now, September 2021 it looks like the screen of the heart monitor in the Emergency Room in Groote Schuur after the doctors have given up the fight and are pronouncing the patient dead.

So, what does one do with this change of reality? After sleeping away from home about half of the nights in a given year? After teaching family groups, friendship groups, staff groups and synagogue groups about Zionism, Jewish History, Peoplehood issues, Shoah, Socio-political questions in Israel, Italy, Germany, France, South Africa, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Morocco, the Czech Republic, Greece, Spain? Day after day of thinking, questioning, debating issues of great meaning to myself and to my groups (hopefully); and then a big fat NOTHING.

Until today (I am writing this between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), nothing, nada, niks, akhonto, כלום.Well, not nothing at all, like everyone else in guiding in Israel, I have done a few Zooms, I have done some virtual guiding, but to be honest, even though we all need to rave about Zoom right now, I need to look people in the eye; I need to understand their body language; I need human interaction to teach; I need real and not virtual. When you are talking with people about things you are passionate about, about things that matter, it just cannot be Zoom. At least not for me.

Losing my income was tough, but my wife has a good job and she has worked even harder than normal this past year and a half, so we get by. But, the real loss was not money, the real loss was meaning.

The why of life more than the what of life. The hopefully making some small difference in the world of life. The tossing and turning the night before I am going to teach something I know can be a very special moment of life. The meeting extraordinary people of life. All of that, gone.

Looking after my — at the beginning of Corona, five and now — six grandchildren, all of whom live on my kibbutz, Tzora, has been a blessing. But, even though of course they are the world’s brightest children ever (just like your grandchildren), the oldest, Tamar is just seven, and it is hard to discuss the Battle of Normandy, the Two State Solution, Kfar Etzion in 1948, what makes a space holy, the letter written by Robert Sobukwe to Benjamin Pogrund (a copy of which hangs in Sobukwe’s former cell on Robben Island) with her or with Naomi, Asaf, Yotam, Ronni or Noam.

The past month has brought the beginning of a change which hopefully will grow over the coming days, weeks and months. I have begun to leverage the many connections I have in Israel after many years of working in guiding and education here for, what I believe, is the benefit of all of us who live here.

Just over a month ago I accompanied Rabbi Bruce Lustig of the Washington Hebrew Congregation (Washington DC) on a journey around Israel to meet with a number of people who work on initiatives to try to improve the relations between Jews, Muslims and Christians in Israel (an easy way to say Jews and Arabs or Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians). In Jerusalem, in the Galilee and in Tel Aviv, we sat down with people who are working — and here I will share the language they use — in co-existence initiatives, shared society initiatives, co-resistance initiatives.

Language is hugely important in this field of conflict resolution and the choice of words says a lot about the blue sky vision of the initiatives.

Co-existence imagines two peoples with different narratives living side by side, equally (I know it sounds like separate but equal, which might bring back some uncomfortable memories).

Shared society imagines the integration of the different narratives into one society which finds a way to live amicably with two very different sets of commitments.

Co-resistance (the most hard-core of the approaches) to a large extent rejects the notion of blue-sky-vision work and suggests that the injustices are so great right now, that the work is fighting present injustices together.

The meetings were powerful, extremely moving and hopefully will bear fruit. Rabbi Lustig was here on behalf of the Committee for Human Fraternity and Peace, an initiative originally put together to deal with the rift between European Christians and Muslims, and led by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar of Cairo, Egypt.

So we sat down with good people, Jews, Christians and Muslims from Kids4Peace, the Jerusalem Interfaith Youth Chorus, Mekudeshet (the Jerusalem forum for different cultures to express themselves), Sunrise Camp for children with Cancer and their siblings, Debate for Peace, the Givat Haviva International School (a mixed student group of Israeli Jews, Christians and Muslims and international students), ALLMEP (the umbrella organisation which brings together over 300 peacemaking initiatives), the Bereaved Families Circle (Israelis and Palestinians who have lost relatives in the conflict).

It felt good, it felt right, but after Rabbi Lustig left, everyone asked the same question, Now what?

A few days ago we took a first next step, a meeting in Nazareth between two Jewish and one Palestinian Educator. A small step I know, but as Margaret Mead the famous Anthropologist once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

We are planning many of these small steps with many of the people we met up with, and I will share the good news with you when/if it happens — and the disappointment when/if it does not.

I want to finish with a thought. We have just said goodbye to the High Holidays until next year. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we are asked to reflect on who we are, what we do and how we affect other people. Many people I know share powerful thoughts during this time. I will offer one which I shared on the Eve of Yom Kippur here, again:

Know before whom you stand.
דע לפני מי אתה עומד

I thought about this sentence today as Yom Kippur approaches and asked myself why I, someone totally committed to the Jewish People and our common history, who presents projects (especially Israel) and our likely shared destiny, feel so separate from many Jews on this day.

And I remembered not only the sentence, but a fascinating comment made to me by a member of one of the Reform Synagogues I had the privilege to work with in the UK over a decade ago.

This sentence stood over the Holy Ark of his synagogue (as it does in many synagogues throughout the Jewish world). I do not remember what we were talking about, but I do remember one comment which has stayed with me for many years: “This sentence”, he said, “should not stand over the Ark. It should stand over the exit to the sanctuary so that each and every one of us thinks of how we behave not when we open the Ark or stand filled with awe in the sanctuary, but as we go about our daily lives”.

On this Yom Kippur eve, as much as I love the music of Kol Nidre, I prefer to be outside so as not to feel like Franz Kafka felt when he watched his father on Yom Kippur a long time ago in Prague, horrified by — what seemed to him — a man with his mouth filled with words which would not be reflected in deeds afterwards.

On a positive note, my five year old granddaughter, Naomi, shared with us what she understood Yom Kippur to be about. Not a word about fasting or prayer. “It’s about telling your friends that you did not mean to be hurtful, you did not want to insult or be unkind”. May we all live up to her understanding of Yom Kippur during this coming year.

Julian Resnick was born in Somerset West and grew up in Habonim Dror. He studied at UCT, and made Aliyah to 1976. He’s conducted numerous shlichuyot and educational missions on behalf of Israel, to Jewish communities in England and the USA. He works as a guide in Israel and around the world (wherever there is a Jewish story). He’s married to Orly, and they have three children and six grandchildren and is a member of Kibbutz Tzora.

• Published in the PDF edition of the October 2021 issue – Click here to get it.

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