The Importance of Being Hopeful: Women Wage Peace

The importance of being hopeful

A year has passed since the terrible war of last summer, and we were beginning to hope that this summer – aside from the infernal heat – would be more peaceful. But then came the stabbing hate crime at the Jerusalem Pride Parade and the murder of 16 year old Shira Banki, and the terror attack on the home of the Dawabshe family in the village of Duma near Nablus, which has taken the lives of 18 months old Ali Dawabshe, and of his father Sa’ed. The vicious circle of hate and terror and revenge continues, demanding its pound of flesh, there is no respite, and compassion still conceals its face.

Shortly after the horrendous hate crimes, come the wave of condemnations – the genuine ones, as well as those paying lip service – as well as grief and indignation, and the urge to meet and dialogue. And of course there are the politicians who insist on arguing for moral superiority in the face of atrocity, in this aching and bleeding region, which years for a little less of that, and a little more compassion and a little integrity.

But within a few days, public life resume their course, and the grieving families are left alone with the loss; left alone to pick up the pieces of life shattered by hatred.  Daily routine settles in, and the plethora of Neshama candles of condolences from strangers gradually disappear. The Israeli Hebrew press is more interested in the Obama-Netanyahu feud and their battle of the hearts and support of Jewish Institutional leaders, then in those who insist on creating islands of sanity, of human encounters, of listening, of mutual respect.

It is scary to see how quickly the dust of everyday life covers the fresh wounds.

נרות נשמה

That is why I keep going back to the “Protective Fast” tent in Jerusalem, camped across from the Prime Minister’s residence. This campaign of 50 days of fast, marking the 50 days of Protective Edge War, was initiated by Women Wage Peace, a movement I joined since its inception as a member of its steering committee. I keep going back to the tent because there I find the compassion, the human capacity to forgive and fight hatred; I find the ability to have a conversation without storming out, to sing together songs of peace and hope without a shred of cynicism and with great intent.

I am 52 years old, not a girl anymore; I have a very healthy sense of humor, a capacity for sarcasm, and just the right amount of harmless nastiness. And of course, I know that a group of women huddled together and chanting will not bring peace, not on our own, anyway. But, this is a beginning, and it is a persistent and inspiring resistance to despair, to indifference, to inaction, to denial. And as Margaret Mead said, this is the only thing that ever made a difference in this world.

People call us names; naïve, stupid, pathetic, menopausal and deprived of sexual satisfaction. All has been said about women determined to wage peace and then some. But I am 52 and I really don’t mind being called pathetic, naïve, touchy-feely or sticky, oh, and I have earned my approaching menopause fair and square. But as a mother, I wish for a better life for my children, for all children. As I woman, I know that indifference is not more sophisticated than compassion, despair is not wiser than hope, and cynicism doesn’t know anything that faith in the human capacity to heal doesn’t.

In addition, people tell us to go to Ghaza and to Ramallah; they tell us we are barking up the wrong tree. “We” want peace; it is “them” who do not want it. This is a valid argument that merits an honest answer. What I have learned through life, and through our conversations with Jewish and Palestinian women and men who came to tent to support us, to have an open conversation, is not a new thing, but it is important nevertheless. What I have learned is that most people on both sides want to reach a political agreement that will end the violent conflict. There are inspiring people on both sides who suffered terrible losses and grief, yet have found a way to forgive, to reach out and seek like-minded partners.  And on both sides there are those who benefit from the status-quo, from the political power they draw from the standstill in the negotiations and the escalation in violence. There is fear and distrust on both sides; real fear, justified fear, anchored in an impossible reality of violence and revenge.

In addition, there is criticism from the left, as well. Mostly because we attempt to create a movement that reaches out to women from the center and the right (well, soft right); because we strive to be political, but not another anti-occupation movement. Our critics ask: “How can you be political and no talk about the occupation?”. Personally, I agree. I want to talk about the occupation; I want a lively public discourse about the occupation. Yet, I have never demanded nor made my membership in the movement conditional, and I agree that avoiding the issue of the occupation and avoiding laying blame on Israel (or Palestine for that matter) was a wise strategic choice. Women like me, who oppose the occupation, have space where we can be active and vocal. In Women Wage Peace we seek to create a more pluralistic and inclusive space, for women who may not be comfortable with anti-occupation discourse, but who still believe that the only way to achieve sustainable peace is through a mutual and respectful process of negotiations that will lead to a lasting agreement. These women – with whom I may disagree on a host of political issues – are my allies and partners.

It does not mean I am always comfortable with this type of discourse, but them stepping outside of our comfort zone rarely feels comfortable… Nevertheless, being part of a movement means I embrace the fact that it does not represent me 100% all the time. However, I can represent me; I have my own voice, and the capacity and privilege to make my voice heard. Being part of a movement means to discover the benefit – as well as the discomfort – in listening to a woman holding a view different from my own.  Being part of a movement is to understand that the only thing that has ever made a difference in this world are shared actions of people with a shared vision. Being part of a movement is to listen to the woman next to me, recognize that her words are different from mine, and appreciate that the power of movement is in its diversity.

DAVID BROZA“Good will come some day”. Musician and singer David Broza at the Protective Fast Tent.

They say “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”; in the Protective Fast tent, in our movement, I find beauty and compassion that give me the strength to keep waging peace.

Dedicated to the memory of:

Ali and Sa’ed Dawabshe, son and father

Shira Banki

Victims of hate crimes and terror. May their memory, their lives and loves be a blessing.

From Memory to Hope

As a Jewish-Israeli, woman, Memorial Day has always been a most significant day for me. In 1967, when I was 5, I lost my beloved cousin Nimrod in the Six Day War; and ever since, it has always been a day of profound and contained personal pain. As a feminist and human rights and peace activist, I search for the unheard voices of women; I search for words of solace and compassion.
So when the Rabbi of our small Reform Congregation in Kiryat Yovel in Jerusalem asked me to participate in a Havdalah ceremony, marking the transition from Memorial Day to Independence Day, I felt honored. I knew I would want to write words of solace and compassion, and that I would look for inspiration in the words of wise women, near and far.
Here is what I wrote for the Havdalah ceremony that will take place tonight, at First Station in Jerusalem.

Pain, Memory and Hope
“The soul doesn’t have set holidays,” my grandmother, Gila Gouri of blessed memory, used to say.
Such a short sentence, merely six words, yet in that sentence my grandmother revealed her deepest wisdom and understanding of the human soul: – Our souls do not observe the calendar.
My grandmother’s saying takes on particular significance as we transition from Memorial Day to Independence Day – from the memory of those who fell in battle and conflict to the joyful celebrations of our independence and sovereignty. The transition is difficult, because our souls keep to their own rhythm, and they cannot feel pain or joy according to the cycle of the sun as it rises and sets.

EMILY DEmily Dickenson

“After great pain, a formal feeling comes,” wrote Emily Dickenson in her wonderful poem about the paralyzing, freezing sense of pain that breaks our hearts. This is the pain of loss, the pain we feel when someone dearest of all is no more; the sorrow of the longing that can never end. Perhaps, today, those who have lost their dearest ones feel that pain more sharply. Today, we are called upon to remember not only those who have gone, but also those who carry the pain and memory in their hearts every day and each moment. At this moment of Havdalah, of Transition, we are called upon to recognize that among us are many for whom the memory – whether it is fresh or a memory that they have carried for years – persists and goes on even after the ceremony ends and as the vivid fireworks light up the skies.
And Grandmother Gila also used to say, “We live as long as the living remembers us.” Memory is our way to keep those who have gone among us, to carry them with us. Memory sharpens the pain of loss, but at the same time, it keeps alive the love that we felt towards those who have fallen, maintaining it as a living, breathing emotion.
This moment marks the transition from memory to hope, from pain and loss to the excitement of celebration. The human heart is the strongest of all our muscles. Pain paralyzes and freezes the heart, until it feels that it will break. Joy, love and hope expand our hearts beyond all limits. At this moment of Havdalah, we ask our souls to contract into the pain of memory and to expand into love and hope; at this moment of Havdalah, we call on our hearts to contain both that that brings us pain and that that brings us joy. The heart can do this, we can do this, and this moment of Havdalah is intended to enable us all, as a community, to perform this complicated transition together.
At this moment of transition from holy to holy, we remember those who have died and we commit ourselves before them to do all that is in our power to create life filled with hope and peace and lives filled with compassion.

English translation by Etta Prince-Gibson