Rabbi Estelle Mills, who leads Plymouth’s local synagogue, Congregation Beth Jacob, recently traveled with a group of more than 30 rabbis from around the U.S. on a 10-day solidarity mission to Israel. Mills has been sharing some of her experiences on the Plymouth Independent site. This is her final journal entry.
As I have been meeting people and visiting places in Israel, I have been struck by the intense yearning for peace that is prevalent throughout this very small piece of land that is home to not only the Jewish majority, but also Christians and Muslims. The people living here are not only hungering for a peace from conflict but also for a peace for their souls, especially now as those of all faiths and ethnicities are wracked with the grief of loss: loss of life, loss of normalcy, loss of a sense of safety, loss of trust in one another. Christian Arabs, Muslim Arabs, Druze, Bedouin, and so many other cultures proudly call Israel their home and they have experienced much of the same losses as their Israeli neighbors.
Our visits included discussion with Christian, Muslim, and Druze Arabs who are Israeli citizens and feel caught between their allegiance to their country of citizenship and their Arab brethren. In the city of Haifa (home to nearly equal numbers of Arabs and Jews) we visited Beit HaGefen, an Arab-Jewish culture center which focuses on using creative arts to bring together the two communities. Beit HaGefen works to “assimilate the values of partnership, equality and belonging”. Niven Nijem, a Druze Arab, shared with us the deep complexity of carrying the multiple identities of being an Arab-Israeli. Arab citizens of Israel (which do not include Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza) enjoy a high standard of living, an excellent education, and the same rights as other Israelis and the great majority are proud to be Israelis. They are different from the Palestinians who left their homes to fight against Jews when the Jewish nation declared independence in 1948, and who, instead of settling in other surrounding Arab nations, have lived in an atmosphere that breeds hatred of Israel (and all Jews), becoming pawns in a complex situation in which many nations and leaders bear partial fault.
Our visit to Haifa also included a stop at the Leo Baeck School, which educates Jews and Arabs together and sponsors many other programs to bolster understanding and collaboration. Although due to rain we could not volunteer at their community garden as planned, we heard from many participants about this program where parents and other community members work side by side tending a garden. Jews and Arabs shared their experiences of learning about one another through the framework of the garden, planting seeds of hope for the future. To hear a young Arab mother express her condolences to our group for the loss of life on Oct. 7 and the ensuing war had me choking back tears. For me, it is not a war of Jew against Arab, but of Hamas vowing to completely wipe out the Jewish nation and the Jewish people and Israel fighting for safe and secure borders for all its citizens: Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
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