It was the day before Ramadan, when I got an email from a Rabbi. “Ramadan Mubarak….Are you around today? I would love to come and sit with you for a few minutes simply to be together and mourn the painful loss of life in Israel/Palestine.”
We had woken up that morning in a state of mourning over the violence in Gaza; disappointed at the silence of our politicians; and feeling hopeless for the Palestinians as we watched the celebration of the opening of our Embassy in Jerusalem. As I turned on my iPhone, the first email to hit my inbox was from a Jewish woman from one of the interfaith groups—an email she had sent to all members. Until now, we had avoided talking about the Israeli-Palestinian issue and had focused on topics that unite us. But she had decided to speak up, because as she put it, to stay silent would be wrong. Her heart was breaking over the violence in Gaza and as someone who loves Israel she had taken a position that moving the embassy to Jerusalem was not in either party's interest and was a setback for peace. That took courage! Not only had she broached a sensitive topic, not only had she not retreated into the safe zone of silence, but she had taken the risk of offending those who would disagree. She wasn’t speaking as an anti-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, rather as a human being, exposing her humanity and compassion. That’s a woman whose company I would like to keep. Maybe her courage would rub off on me. Why not start now. I quickly penned my thoughts and Replied All. Another member wrote back, then another, then more, affirming her feelings. By the evening, the group had collectively agreed that we needed to sit down and have a conversation.
But the Rabbi beat everyone to it. “I am tied up this morning, can you come this evening?” I asked. “I am busy this evening. How about tomorrow morning?” He wrote. Back and forth, emails and text messages, calendars were just not coinciding, but the Rabbi did not give up, and at 5:00 p.m. that day, our doorbell rang.
This was a first for me; for both me and my husband. Palestinians are dying, they have lost hope for their place in Jerusalem, and a Rabbi comes to us to share our pain. He said that there are some things that are not in his control (referring to the violence), but this is in his control—coming and talking to us. I flicked through my iPhone and showed him a photo of my 6-year old daughter, posing in front of her Ramadan calendar. Each day is a little colorful pocket with a good deed inside. Each day she will get her good-deed assignment for the day. He loved it. We settled on our sofas, and over seltzer and fruit salad, we talked. We talked about the violence, the politics; we listened to one another; we saw things one way, we saw things differently; we looked into our crystal balls, visualizing what the future may look like; and then Khalid asked him to pray. He sang a prayer in Hebrew, a prayer for peace in our walls and in our castles. I prayed for him, and for his family. Khalid later said that he had felt that we were his flock, and he was ministering to us.
We had yet another encounter. The next day—the first day of Ramadan—we had another one of our interfaith meetings. One of the members is a Rabbi—not the same Rabbi. As he removed his dripping raincoat, he laid down on the tabletop Ramadan gifts for all the Muslim members—a box of pastries from my favorite French patisserie, Maison Kayser, and a greeting card. As I wow-ed over the cover of the card, Allah inscribed in Arabic calligraphy in sparkling gold and ivory, a sun-disk against a dark sky, with Eid Mubarak inside, he related how he wrestled to get the gifts to us in one piece. It had been raining and he tried to protect the gift boxes by holding them inside his jacket, but when he got onto the subway, it was crowded and he was afraid the pastries would get crushed, and when he was walking again in the rain, he was afraid the boxes would slip out from under his jacket, so he held them this way or that way, balancing the umbrella in the other hand . . .
I looked at the boxes and the card: all intact and dry. I said to the Rabbi:
“What you just did, is Jihad. You struggled to do good.”