Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
The following letter to the Palestinian people shall never be sent. After at least three rewritings and endless discussions among my colleagues, it has been concluded that it would never have the effect we had hoped. Its message would be misused and distorted by the traumatized Palestinian people whose hearts it was meant to open. And the backlash it would cause in my Jewish community among those who have come back to settle the hills of Judea after our 2000 year exile, would be fierce and unforgiving. Traumatized as we are by our own terrible pain and loss, instinctively and derisively we lash out at anyone who expresses empathy for the pain of the other. My community would accuse me of lack of empathy for our own, of desecrating the memory of our dead. Letters are not the way. Only direct human contact can begin to heal the wounds.
February 25, 2017
To the Palestinian citizens of the Hebron area and their leaders,
We, the writers of this letter, grieve at the loss of human life that you have suffered. It breaks our hearts to think of the families that have been forever broken, the orphans and widows that will never see their loved ones again. We are deeply pained by thoughts of the wounded who have been forever scarred physically and emotionally.
We write to you as Jews deeply rooted in our own tradition, but your pain is ours as well. In our calendar the anniversary of the massacre in the Tomb of the Patriarchs, called in your tradition the Abrahamic Mosque, is just about upon us. It was on the Jewish holiday of Purim when Baruch Goldstein 23 years ago, brought tragedy upon your people and sin upon ours.
Baruch Goldstein committed an act of murder in cold blood. His deed was unforgivable, a depraved act that had no justification in any way, shape or form. It ran contrary to the most basic axioms of human morality and completely contradicted everything written in our Torah. We, together with the vast majority of Jews in Israel and around the world, condemn his act totally and unconditionally, and we also condemn the rejoicing in his act that a small handful of Jews have engaged in.
The man surrendered to the idols of rage and fear. These idols surround us, controlling and traumatizing so many of us. He gave in to his pain, thereby creating so much more pain. We, all of us, must not succumb as he did.
Baruch Goldstein’s murderous act was made even more despicable by the fact that he killed human beings engaged in the holy act of prayer. He gunned them down as they expressed their submission to the one God who created us all. We Jews have fresh memories of very similar atrocities being committed against us in this terrible conflict between our peoples. We can and do identify with your sense of ultimate violation, desecration and bereavement.
Jewish tradition tells us that Adam and Eve are buried in the ground over which the Tomb of the Patriarchs/the Abrahamic Mosque is built. Adam and Eve represent our shared humanity, reminding us that the one God whom we all revere formed us all – Muslims, Christians and Jews, Palestinians and Israeli – is his own image divine. Baruch Goldstein’s ideology and his rage made him blind to the human commonality that makes us all essentially one. His act, together with so many other acts of violence, could easily bring us to deny each other’s common humanity. We will not let that happen.
You may ask: Why after 23 years are we writing this letter and what do we think to accomplish?
The need to write this letter has developed in our hearts after meeting you, our ‘other’. Palestinians in Hebron and Bethlehem and in the villages in between have been meeting with us for the last three years. Meeting them has changed us, changed us for the better. They have shown us their human face and told us their human and national story. We think that we have begun to understand and to empathize. They have allowed us to see you Palestinians not as the enemy but as our brother. We have been transformed. (And they have been as well.)
We have learned that not only we, but you as well have a deeply rooted sense of belonging to this land. We honor that and respect it. Today we understand that not only we have experienced great tragedy, but you as well. Today we see not only our own suffering but yours as wells. You have undergone tremendous loss of dignity and humiliation. We are terribly pained by your suffering and we want it to end.
Let us all begin together to overcome our trauma and to take responsibility. Let us work together to put an end to this madness for the sake of both of our peoples. We promise to listen to you – really listen – until it hurts, and to act on what we hear. Our only request is that you speak to us, and that you listen when we speak to you.