“Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.” The day of remembrance for Kristallnacht was this week. Looking at what’s happening in Israel and globally, I’m reminded of the Preacher. By the Preacher, I mean Kohelet, traditionally thought to be King Solomon, whose writings in the Tanakh are known in English as Ecclesiastes. The first line, in Hebrew, reads: “Havel havalim. Hakol Havel.”
Everything is havel, which, better than vanity, is translated “vaporous, breathlike, fleeting.” Everything is vapor. Like Abel, whose Hebrew name is Havel, and whose life was like vapor, blown apart by Cain. Like what we thought we had gained in Israel, once upon a time: a state of our own that had mostly won the world’s respect and affirmation through blood, sweat and tears. A refuge. We thought we had pushed back the red sea of ancient, irrational hatred. The world had, to an amazing degree, recognized our right to a homeland in our homeland. The horrors of the Holocaust were understood and widely contemplated.
Yet, in the past months, much of what has happened has the character of a bad dream. The New York Times writes that the Temple Mount may not have been where the Jewish Temple was after all (later retracted under pressure). The United Nations declares ancient Jewish holy sites to be under the rightful control of a future Palestinian state, even as Palestinian Arab terrorists torch Jewish holy sites. In Europe, organizers of a Kristallnacht commemoration declare their plans to turn it into a commemoration of the Palestinian suffering for which Israel bears responsibility.
And the stabbings. The Palestinian leadership put the word out that Jews planned to change the “status quo” on the Temple Mount, where Al-Aqsa Mosque also stands. Currently, only Muslims have free access to the site, with everyone else having very limited or no access to this sacred space, revered by Jews especially but also Christians and Baha’is. “Changing the status quo,” according to Palestinian fears, would entail increasing access for non-Muslims (at least) or tearing down al-Aqsa and replacing it with a synagogue (at most). Israel has no intention of either: not of expanding access (although surely that would be a step forward for human rights and decency were that to happen) and certainly not of razing Islam’s third holiest site. Yet the claim enflames the Palestinian street, as it did at the start of the 2000 Intifada. Mothers begin celebrating the deaths of their children who died to “defend Al-Aqsa,” even giving out candy on TV. A Palestinian Arab mother names her newborn baby “Knife of Jerusalem” after the attacks. Mahmoud Abbas, who Western media falsely portray as a moderate, calls for the shedding of Jewish blood and declares that the “filthy feet” of Jews will not besmirch Al-Aqsa.
Mainstream Israel wants to negotiate an independent state for Palestinian Arabs yet a majority of Palestinian Arabs believes Israel wants to take their land and evict them. Tellingly, this is in fact what the Palestinian Arab leadership wants – to take back all Israeli land and eliminate Israeli Jews, as the Hamas charter and popular Palestinian songs, media and school textbooks demonstrate. In a classic psychological move, the Palestinian Arab imagination projects onto Israel its own desires: what is within is used to interpret what is without. This narrative has spread beyond the borders of Israel and the disputed territories to capture the imaginations of people all around the world. So, our refuge has begun to feel, increasingly, like a new ghetto, where we can be once again easily separated out and demonized.
Havel havalim. Hakol havel.
After experiencing years of checkpoints, poverty, “collateral damage,” the Gaza wars and more, it is certainly understandable that Palestinian Arabs feel sorrow and rage. It is even understandable that they hate the Israeli government. But to blame Israel and all Jews for their suffering, and not the racist, Israel-negating, violence-inciting, kleptocratic Palestinian leadership?
Israeli self-defence is viewed as aggression; the most enlightened state in the Middle East is slandered as an “apartheid state”; Zionism is viewed as racism by people whose denial of Zionism is in fact rooted in racism. Havel havalim.
Where do we look for something solid to hang on to? The opinions of the world, the justice of its courts and institutions, are failing us. And we ourselves are not immune to being blown apart by this hurricane wind on the inside and losing anything worth fighting for. In Israel, Jewish mobs have formed to attack “enemies” internal and external. Hatred and anger against the Palestinian Arabs grows. We are in danger of forgetting their humanity and their pain. We are in danger of losing our ability to think rationally, to think long term. We cannot and will not find security in the courts of the world. We must make our own reality, one that reflects what we know to be true. And we must hold to that reality with strength and with love. That is what we are already doing in our best moments:
- A Jewish restaurant gives a 50% discount to Jews and Arabs who eat together.
- There are peace rallies in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
- Israelis find a variety of ways to laugh through what is happening and share them online.
- Doctors in Israeli hospitals treat Palestinian terrorists alongside their victims.
We know that Israelis want peace, and that Jewish values in no way mandate injustice or aggression towards Palestinians or anyone else. We must make our own peace and our own future, through clinging to our own highest values like a rudder in the storm. And, as we find a way to a just divorce with the Palestinian Arabs, as Amos Oz so rightly said we need to do, both for their sake and for our own, we must at no time forget the humanity of each Palestinian Arab. We must not demonize them, must not forget that every Palestinian Arab is made in the image of God. Our own spiritual tradition, the beating heart of our highest values, mandates that we do not return hatred for hatred. At no time may we forget to fear the loss of our own humanity under the impact of their knife blades and bombs and stones. That is the way to commemorate Kristallnacht.
Matthew Gindin is a writer, lecturer and holistic therapist. As well as teaching holistic medicine, Gindin regularly lectures on topics in Jewish and world spirituality, and has a particular passion for making ancient wisdom traditions relevant in the modern world. His work has been featured on Elephant Journal, the Zen Site and Wisdom Pills, and he blogs at Talis in Wonderland (mgindin.wordpress.com) and Voices (hashkata.com).