Yalla Peace: If I were a Jew

As a Jew, I hope I would have the strength to ask forgiveness of those I had wronged.

Kotel 311 (photo credit: Wayne Stiles)
Kotel 311
(photo credit: Wayne Stiles)
Although I’m not Jewish, my wife and son are, so I spend a lot of time with Jews, and even occasionally attend synagogue services. One of these occasions is Yom Kippur, when Jews of all denominations seek atonement through prayer and fasting, a religious event with no real parallel in either Christianity or Islam.
Christians believe that Jesus already atoned for the sins of all future generations, and that Christians can be forgiven if they accept Jesus as their messiah. But that’s just a one-time event. Jews celebrate Yom Kippur every year.
Muslims fast for 30 days during Ramadan which, among other things, is intended to teach and remind them of the need for patience, spirituality, submissiveness to God and humility. Ramadan, unlike Yom Kippur, isn’t about atonement per se.
The synagogue we attend is Reform, which is significant. Reform Jews, unlike many Conservative and especially Orthodox Jews, do not believe that the Jewish Temple must be restored in order to open the door for the coming of the messiah. Rebuilding the Temple, as Ariel Sharon eloquently explained, would mean the destruction of the Dome of the Rock.
They also do not believe that every Jew must move to Israel, although they do not discourage it either. More importantly, Reform Jews accept intermarriage, seeing the glass as half full rather than half-empty. When a non-Jew marries a Jewish spouse, especially a Jewish woman, and raises their children as Jews, Reform Judaism sees this as a positive thing, considering nearly one third of all Jews were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
During the Yom Kippur synagogue service sermon, our wonderful rabbi discussed, among other things, the current difficult relations between Palestinians and Israelis.
In his 30-minute sermon the rabbi spoke eloquently of the Palestinians’ right to statehood, and of the need for Jews to be prepared to accept a Palestinian state both for this reason and because such a state is necessary for the security and future of the Israel.
I’ve listened to many sermons on Middle East politics in Arab Christian churches and in mosques. I’ve never heard any preach that Arabs should accept Israel as a state to bring about peace.
As a Palestinian, hearing a Jewish rabbi speak of the “Nakba” from a synagogue podium on Yom Kippur made me feel that he and his congregation understood me. It caused me to reflect on the fact that atonement, seeking forgiveness for your transgressions against both God and your fellow man, is more than just a powerful Jewish notion, it’s an important component of being an exemplary human being. And it made me wonder – what if I were Jew?
If I were a Jew, I hope I would recognize, as my wife’s rabbi does, the need for a Palestinian state. If I were a Jew, I wouldn’t use the Arab rejection of partition in 1948 as a means of putting the blame for the conflict on Arabs, or of rejecting the two-state solution.
I would be magnanimous, as I know Jews can be. I would reach out to the Palestinians. I would recognize that while there is obviously no equivalency between the Nakba and the Holocaust, or between the persecution of Jews through the ages and the plight of the Palestinians today, their suffering is still very real.
Like many Palestinians, one of my heroes is Nelson Mandela. He led the South Africans out of slavery and apartheid. But although he fought his enemies, he wasn’t cruel, he was magnanimous. He spent 30 years breaking stones under the whip of his Afrikaner jailers, sleeping in a 10 foot by 10 foot prison cell.
Yet when he walked out of that cell, he found the strength to forgive the people who put him there.
That power to forgive is what can make peace and security a reality, and is a part of atonement.
So just as Jews ask for atonement for their transgressions, as a Jew I would also ask my enemies to atone for their own. Recognizing your own injustices against others is the power that makes humankind great, and opens the door to a genuine peace.
I would ask Israelis, Jews and Palestinians to recognize what they have done to each other. I would ask them all to seek forgiveness, but also to forgive and be magnanimous. Violence is the result of cowardice and fear. Peace comes from courage.
The writer is an award-winning columnist and Palestinian activist.