Words on the recent Gaza war

I wrote this to my co-workers at J Street and then shared it with the organization. Link here

Anger, frustration, disapproval and anguish

JULY 15TH, 2014

By Sarah Groner, J Street Israel Program Associate

Hard times are upon all of us. These past few weeks have been extremely challenging, and I wanted to share some of my reflections. Since I know that many of you are up-to-date on what is happening in the news, I wanted to write about my feelings at this moment:

Many mixed feelings of fear, anger, frustration, disapproval and anguish.

Feelings of security and gratitude to Israel and the US that have invested to protect my life with the Iron Dome system. Uneasiness walking around these days, in fear that I will be caught off guard when a rocket comes. Will I know where to hide? When I was in Kibbutz Kfar Azza a few years ago, the residents told me that when they went for walks in the kibbutz, they learned to look for places of shelter every few steps, in case the siren went off. I realized I have now begun to do that too.

But even that sentence is hard to write. The threat of something terrible actually happening to me is extremely small and the discussion of the trauma Israelis are feeling now seems to me so minimal in comparison to the people of Gaza, the soldiers at the borders and the people at the centers of the riots in Jerusalem, the north and the south. Even in Tel Aviv the other night, at an anti-war protest, some right wing activists attacked and injured the left wing protesters. When I think about it rationally, the danger in the streets is more threatening than the danger from the air. But emotionally, when the siren blasts - you run, hear a few booms and hope it will end soon. It shakes you.

The threat on the streets, from racism and hatred on both sides, beats me up inside. It seems like both sides are pointing fingers to blame someone for the current violence, but unaware of the greater political context of this conflict. How can we take back the conversation? How can we decrease the tension and raise up the moderate voices? How do we deal with the hatred and sworn offenders? Do we really have a strategy to counter-balance Hamas? Will the current situation ever change?

Times of war are exhausting. Carrying around all of these emotions and ping-ponging from fear to calm and even having some joy in between (I went to a wedding on Thursday night and another tonight) is tiring. Ultimately, I feel that my presence here can contribute something to the dialogue. I care deeply about the future of my state and I want to be a part of the moderate voices that I hope will rise from this wreck.

I pray for this to come to a peaceful end. Speedily, in our days.

To the supporters of J Street: thank you for the work you do to help make that a reality.

Violence stops with me #

There was a facebook campaign last week called #violencestopswithme which had me thinking about where violence starts and where it leads.

A number of months ago, I was in a settlement for shabbat. I went to synagogue and joined in the prayers, from the side of the mechitza. I was not feeling connected to the prayers, but trying hard to open up and feel something.

As I often do, I looked over at the chazzan to see what the man leading the service was doing and how he was praying. I could see him clearly and I starkly observed one detail of his appearance. He had a revolver in his back belt strap.

I looked at the man, who we call a shaliach tzibur, in a spiritual endevour of prayer, holding a rifle - a symbol of violence. While it may be justifiable for a settler to guard the community and to carry a weapon for self-defense, it was my sense that one should not simultaneously hold weapons and pray to God. The God I believe in is one of compassion and kindness; one that mourns the very existence of violence on his planet. 

The fact that this chazzan was praying and that the community seemed to think of this event as normal, scared me at my core. When guns and violence become an everyday thing, when a religious deed can be done with a weapon on hand - someone must ask, where does this lead? How can we support this message? How can we raise our children in a world of justified aggression?

At this very challenging moment in Israel, I think it is important that we ask ourselves where does violence exist within ourselves and within our society.

Thoughts on a visit to South America

[Written June 23, 2014]

In the past year, I think I have gone to synagogue more time in the diaspora than I have in Israel.

Strange, considering I have been in Israel for 95% of the Shabbats. A few reasons for this I think, including:

1. When I am abroad, I am on vacation. Friday evening and Saturday mornings are more free and less important to sleep in

2. Connecting with the Jewish community is important to me, wherever I find myself

3. It is interesting to see how other communities celebrate and keep the Jewish ritual

This past weekend I went to a Reform service in Buenos Aries for Friday night services. The service reminded me much of the Beit Tefila Yisraelit service I enjoy in Tel Aviv. There was a 5 piece band, two singers (male and female), who sang new and familiar tunes. The service was led by a rabbi who interjected explanations in Spanish in between the familiar Kabbalat Shabbat service. It was stark how I could follow the service, sing along to the songs and feel moved by the community, when simple conversation with the members sitting there would have been all but impossible.

At one point in the service the rabbi stopped to say a misheberach for the sick. This he said in Hebrew and then inserted some Yiddish names, reminding me how our ancestors come from a shared experience. And then he said the names Naftali, Eyal and Gilad and and I began to cry. The force of the Jewish people came upon me like a powerful wave coming into the shore. We shared not only the past, but the pain of the present. That Shabbat, Jews of all affiliations, in all parts of the world were praying for the safe return of those boys.

A few days ago I met an Irish woman named Julie at the hostel I was staying at in Buenos Aries.

I told her I lived in Israel, that I had moved there from the US. We talked about religion, peace (and the problem of religion in trying to make peace), family and faith. When I told her I had gone to this conference for young Jews and that the coming days would be filled with meetings and dinners with these other young Jews, Julie said “its like you are family.” In her words I heard admiration and possibly longing. She is a world traveler – she spent the past two years in Canada and South America, and previously has spent 9 months travelling Australia. I imagine that over the course of her travels she would have loved to stop in an unfamiliar community for a familiar dinner – like we have as Jews.

This made me feel lucky to be Jewish and to be a part of this brethren of a people united around the world, by a shared the past and destiny. It also made me sad for those not part of our tribe, for whom the wonders of modern travel and connectivity provide possibilities but lack familiarity.

Is this, perhaps, something the Jewish people can model for the world?

Conflict and Resolution

Last fall, I participated in a program for rising Israeli and Palestinian women leaders, which brought together twelve women from each community for three intensive weekends as well as several one-day programs. Although I have been working in the peace and human rights community professionally for three years, this program was the first time that I participated in a dialogue group.  The experience profoundly re-shaped the way I view both my professional work and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; I appreciate much better how the conflict affects real people. 

For the millions of people – Israeli and Palestinians – living in this region, the current reality is one of conflict. Some, more than others, feel the conflict in their daily lives. The road to a resolution lies in bringing understanding to as many of these people as possible.

One of my fellow participants stands out for me.  Muna is from Hebron (Halil in Arabic).  Muna had a shy and unassuming gaze, and carried herself modestly, wearing the traditional hijab and modest clothing.  In the many days I spent with her, I always noticed her colorful outfits and meticulous makeup, as well as her impractical, but stylish, footwear.  What was most striking about Muna was how respectfully she spoke despite her forceful message. She was not fluent in English, so she spoke through an interpreter, which created a lag between her impassioned expressions and my understanding of what she said. Muna spoke intimately about the loss of dignity she experienced in her daily life, the longing for the village of her ancestors (who left their ancient home in 1948), and most of all, of her struggle to maintain hope.  She never pointed blame at the Israelis or anyone else, but longed for dignity, pride and a homeland.

I have been to Hebron many times and I have seen first-hand the hardships the residents of that  city experience. However, until meeting Muna, I had never had the chance to become friends with a resident of Hebron.  Something about the way she spoke, the passion encased in compassion, drew me in. I felt a very special kinship with Muna, despite the language and cultural barriers. I could relate to her and empathize with her deeply.  I felt conflicted in my own identity, feeling somehow responsible for Muna’s struggles yet helpless to end her suffering.  I also understood the gap between those in Israel and the Jewish diaspora who want peace and the people on the ground who are most in need of a solution to the conflict. For many of us, “two-state solution” and “final status agreements” are deeply held beliefs, but the hypothesis of two-states for two-peoples will be tested on the street. People like me and Muna will be the ones who will try to make the hope for peace a reality.

Since listening to, and becoming friends with Muna, I have begun to ask more questions about how peace will improve the lives of real people. I invited Muna and the other Palestinian women from the group to my home for a casual reunion, only to be met by the challenges of arranging a cross-border meeting. The women did not get the permits from the Israel administration to cross into Israel, so we had to postpone the meeting by one month. That small experience of frustration that I experienced was a glimpse into the world Muna was describing.

While I still believe that a two-state solution is only solution that will ensure security and the fulfillment of both people’s national aspirations, I now better understand the tremendous sacrifices people on both sides of the conflict will face in accepting this necessary compromise.

Did you make aliyah? Why?

I am asked this series of questions by Israelis on averge three times a week.  By my accountant, students I meet, the shop keeper at the clothing store, the family I babysit for, and so on.  After living in Israel for over eight years, I am not surprised by the first question, nor by the follow up.  For many Israelis, a golden American passport is the true Zionist dream.  To leave the land of opportunity for the land of trouble, conflict, pessimism, war and personal challenges seems unfathomable.

And over the years, my answers have changed.  Generally I answer something about Zionism, the home I grew up in, the idealism of my 18 year old self or my hope to shape Israel into the place I envision it to be.  Still, the reason beneath this decision is multi-faceted and still not fully formed.  I often compare making aliyah to marriage (a decision that I am far from making and much farther from understanding) - saying that as I see it, in marriage you commit to the other person for the good and the bad, the ugly and the meaningful. Much too is my relationship with Israel. Having a passport and roots in America, I know at any given moment I can get a one-way ticket back to where I was born, and re-start my life.  [As I write this I wonder if that day should ever come, how deep the guilt will be considering I published this on the internet. Hope that day doesn’t come!]

Knowing that I can leave empowers me to stay. Everyday I wake up and I decide to stay, I am affirming my committment to this decision and to the relationship I have built with this place and this nation.

Yet, something deeper is motivating me to stay beyond my sense of commitment. In a discussion today with some American friends, I think I got closer to uncovering that which lies beneath.

My friends, who are all activists, were talking about the various issues they care about - things the protest for/against in real life or in social media.  These things include workers rights, immigration rights, abortion rights, womens rights and so on and so on.  While I totally identify with these issues, and if I lived in the US I would also rally around these rights, I was struck by my reaction to the discussion. I realized that the conversation around these issues, while important and compelling, lacks a crucial element to the way I discuss and consider my issues.  Deep down, I frame the issues in Israel around the question - what does our stance on this issue mean for the Jewish state?  What kind of Jewish society are we creating?  Those are questions that I would not ask (and honestly, be troubled of those narrow-minded enough to ask) in America.  In Israel I have the opportunity to do right, and in so doing, shape the Jewish people.

For me, that angle, makes discussion of any issue - migrants, refugees, minorities, socio-economic rights, tolerance - much more significant.  My connection to the Jewish people and my devotion to making the legacy of our generation, and specifically, the State of Israel, is what brings me to these discussions and fills me with passion.

Tues, Wed, Thurs…

Tues, Wed, Thurs…

State of affairs

Last week was Bubbie’s 91st birthday.  She has told me many times that as I lead this interesting life, especially in these (perhaps) most interesting years, I should keep a journal.  She says that a journal will be the way to capture how I feel, when I feel it and then years later look back and recall.

So tonight I am just writing to jot down some things I have been thinking about lately.

  1. feminism - i did this fantastic seminar with Israeli and Palestinian women over the past few months.  This experience is something I meant to write about and reflect on, but I suppose the various emotions and thoughts have still not settled. That will come later. But the seminar has opened me to some degree to embrace my feminism and myself. That, along with support of some great activist/feminist friends, and I see in myself growth in this arena in the past 6 months.
  2. Hebrew - since starting my current job, about 14 months ago, i feel a decline in my Hebrew proficiency.  This frustrates me. Still, not enough for me to do something significant about it, like try harder to keep the Hebrew I have an improve.  This is much like my problem with exersise..
  3. happiness - I feel great. Sometimes I wonder if I am deluding myself or ignoring some deep depression, but in reality, I think I am just happy.  I think I like the life I am leading. Each day includes interesting discussion, thought-provoking reading and positive energy. Living is working for me.
  4. cocoon - i suppose since my travels to India, I feel a great sense that I carry my world on my back.  this in a good way! I feel glad to find comfort in my own cocoon/shell, both emotionally and materially.  In terms of the emotion, while I am in constant contact with my few (6 or so) closest friends, these friends are constantly changing. I turn to them for emotional cooing, but I am able to support myself emotionally (mostly).  And then in the material sense of the cocoon - while I have many things, the real things I need are quite few. If I had to move/run/depart and I had to leave it all, I am sure I would quite quickly and unemotionally get over these objects I cherish today. life is coming and going, but I feel stable and secure.

those are a few feelings at present. one day I hope to look back and remember where I was (in my living room, with cold toes and weary eyes) when these words were written. good night.