Letter from Jerusalem

My friend Rabbi Amita Jarmon posted this message to some of her colleagues a few days ago, and she gave me permission to re-post it here…

It’s 2 AM here.  Lots of sirens and booms in Jerusalem until about 1 AM.  It’s quieter now but still an occasional siren. I was at an Omdim B’Yachad demonstration tonight.  There were similar demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Haifa.  The J’lem one was small — I estimate about 250 of us.  We chant, accompanied and punctuated by a circle of drummers — the same as at the Sheikh Jarrah demos:  

“Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.”  

“In Gaza and Sderot, boys and girls want to live.”  

“The rule of the right doesn’t want security.”  

“Stop the Escalation, we don’t want war.”

We marched from the Old Mashbir down King George and Yafo to Kikar Tzion (Zion Square). There, a large number of right wing youth gathered around and started shouting with bull horns and ripping our posters out of our hands and shredding them. The police intervened. They brought dogs and horses and we were forced to disperse.  One friend told me that the police have a legal obligation to protect peaceful demonstrators, and should have made the youth who were disturbing us back off.  

I find it so distressing, deeply painful, whenever I leave the South Jerusalem bubble (Baka/German Colony/Arnona/Katamon), to see and feel how full this city is of Jews who see the world SO differently. In their eyes, all of the violence is the fault of the Arabs (the term “Palestinian” is verboten). “How can you be on their side when they are rocketing us?”  I know that they too are pained by what they see as our betrayal. 

They have no awareness of the inciting impact of not allowing Palestinians to sit on the steps at Damascus Gate outside the Muslim Quarter during Ramadan, or of evicting more families from Sheikh Jarrah, or of road blocks preventing Palestinians from outside the Old City to reach the Mosque last Friday. Or of hundreds of armed soldiers surrounding Al Aqsa during the prayers. And so many other provocations.  

Tonight I stepped out of the march (before we reached Kikar Tzion) to engage in a real conversation for 20 minutes with a university student who was very upset that I was carrying a “stop the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah” sign. I know that he was as upset as I was that another Jew could see things go differently. 

Yesterday at the Tag Meir March of Flowers (an annual event on Yom Yerushalayim to try to counterbalance the extremely aggressive nationalist energy of the “Flag Parade”), I left the group to talk with one Haredi girl from the Jewish Quarter for nearly 2 hours. While we talked, some other people joined in, also arguing a Jewish nationalist point of view, but they were just shouting slogans.  I told them I didn’t want to engage with them further, whereas I felt that this girl (who wouldn’t tell me her name) really wanted to connect with me.  The lengthy conversation did not bring us closer ideologically, but it ended with real hugs, even though she declined to exchange phone numbers. 

On April 22 there was a march of Lahavnikim (aka Kahanists) from Zion Square to Damascus Gate.  They were marching for Jewish Dignity in reaction to 2 Haredi youth being slapped on the light rail by 2 Palestinian youth. And there had been several Arab-Jewish brawls for several nights the previous week. There was a call through a WhatsApp group I am in to go out and speak with them as they gathered.  I went and was shocked to hear that they feel the police allow Arabs to behave violently without punishment — that the police are weak at best and biased toward the Palestinians at worst, punishing Jews more severely. They claimed that 3 Jews had been stabbed in the previous few days and it wasn’t in the news. It’s an upside down view of reality as I understand it.  I spoke with about 12 Jewish youth over the course of 3 hours. 

My main approach was to acknowledge their fear of being slapped or worse.  Then I said, “I work in a nursing home, and most of the aides — the people who change diapers, feed, dress and bathe the residents, are Palestinian. They are good people.”   It was acknowledged that yes, there are some good Arabs.  I said, “Most are good. The next time you are on the light rail or walking down Yafo road, imagine that these are the guys taking care of your elderly relatives in nursing homes.  Smile and say Ramadan Kareem, and see how this changes your experience.  Maybe you will then feel less afraid.”

Sadly, my invitation to those young men to try on a rosier pair of glasses that night when looking at Palestinians, which may have had a teeny bit of impact 19 days ago, is probably completely erased in light of the rockets, fires, injuries and deaths of the past few days.  

All is quiet on the Eastern Front at 2:34 AM.  (I don’t have to be at work until 11 AM tomorrow). 


One thought on “Letter from Jerusalem

  1. Dear Amita, my former flat-mate– how precious it is to have an intimate, personal, experiential perspective at this time, when the news is so impersonal. Thank God for you, and your amazing ability to love and connect with people…you are made for this moment. Keep doing your work, engaging people. I know it will make an impact with those with whom you connect. We all feel so powerless, but really, I think, change happens one person at a time. Both sides are so filled with millennia of trauma that is getting re-enacted and re-created today. But you are a healing force, Rabbi Amita. Thank you for being who you are, doing what you do. Me’irah


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