This past Sunday I had the privilege of standing with Imam Ismail Nur and the Anglican Bishop Anna Greenwood-Lee in an act of solidarity and hope at a gathering for peace in Israel/Palestine. I was the first speaker at the vigil, and while I was thinking about acknowledging the un-ceded lands of the Lekwungen speaking peoples, I reflected on the harsh reality of dispossession. Dispossession of land, culture, economics. How many of us have recent ancestors, grandparents, great grandparents who needed to flee home to arrive to safety in Canada. The answer is too many. This is not a story that is specific to a geography or a specific culture, this is a very human story and I am afraid that with the impact of climate change this story is only going to ramp up and constantly hit closer and closer to each of us. I know that the conflict in Israel/Palestine is current and holds lots of emotions and I want to share some of my thoughts regarding the conflict through the lens of Jewish spirituality. I also want to stress the deep present need for Tikkun, cosmic repair that leads to Shalom, reconciliation that is overdue to our First Nation’s siblings.
Jerusalem is. called in Bible, Ir Shalem, the “City of Peace,” and it is anything but peaceful. A mystical understanding of Shalom, one of the names for Divine Source, is not simply the absence of violence, it is about wholeness. God is called Shalom because God in God’s unity is the force in our universe that balances opposing forces, like water and fire. When there is a lack of Shalom we feel fragmented. We learn from the second century sage Ben Zoma, that the person who is powerful is the one who can control their anger and emotional impulses.
The vacuum of leadership in Israel and Palestine seems to feed on an ongoing victimhood narrative and ensuing competition of who is the biggest victim must stop. It only feeds the conflict and allows for a false sense of righteousness that often enters the realm of “whataboutism.” It forces people to take sides and either become pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian and this manifests as an obstacle to being pro-peace.
It is clear to me that Israel will not be truly free until Palestine is free. Controlling others, even if there is a just temporal reason to do so, is a form of oppression. The oppressed, like flowing water cannot be stopped and will some day rise up.
Nationalism in its extreme forms is gaining a grip on our planet and has a grip on Israel/Palestine. This kind of nationalism is a desecration of God’s name because it allows for an ideology or in this case holy land to become an idol. It is a form of desecration because it negates hope and it negates seeing the other through the eyes of Divine Source as a being created in God’s image. Each human is deserving of infinite dignity because we are all emanations of the Divine. Extreme nationalism needs an enemy and an enemy is someone who must be other for one’s own sense of safety and it is impossible to see an enemy as a fellow human traveller created as you are in God’s image. It is clear to me that Israel will not be free until Palestine is free.
It teaches in Psalm 29 that in God’s sanctuary we all say “Kavod,” honour, respect and glory. Unlike other cities where people allowed themselves to get caught up in the escalating conflict and in some cases resorted to physical violence and deep anti-Semitism and islamophobia we as spiritual leaders in Victoria are working towards dialogue and relationship building that fosters connection, understanding and ultimately Shalom.
Rabbi Harry Brechner is Rabbi of Congregation of Emanu-El in Victoria, B.C.
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* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, May 29th 2021