Recalibrating – It’s Not Only About Us!

For decades I have taught that Jews live with a double identity. On the one hand we are B’nai Adam, literally children of Adam, and on the other hand, we are B’nai Yisrael, the Children of Israel, the progeny of Abraham’s grandson Israel, whose original name was Jacob. We are both human beings and Jews. The creative tension between the universal and the particular is essential to our sense of who we are.

For decades I have observed that in most of the traditional Orthodox communities that I have experienced, this tension was not sufficiently emphasized and that the particular had greatly eclipsed the universal. In my own mind and in my teaching, I tried to recalibrate the balance.

Gradually, my discomfort has become acute distress. Of course, the growing acceptance of racism in Israeli culture and politics has played a central role, but there have also been little incidents in my daily life that have recently driven the matter home:

I hitched a ride home from Jerusalem one day with a motorist from Kiryat Arba. During the drive, I told him about my work with Roots building human bridges between local Israelis and local Palestinians. I talked about seeing the divine image in our Palestinian neighbors. He looked like he had seen a ghost. Scandalized, incredulous, he turned to me and solemnly informed me: “They are not human beings, they are cockroaches.” I turned quiet, lost in despair.

My Palestinian partners in Roots (and many secular Jewish peace activists) often talk about the common humanity that unites us and them, that before we are Israelis or Palestinians, we are human beings, and that, of course, human life is more important than land. It seems so logical and it resonates with me on the intuitive level. Yet on the religious level, it sounds a bit foreign. I don’t remember much of this line of thinking in the rabbinic texts that I have spent most of my life studying and teaching. This gives me pause.

At the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC last month, I sat next to a young Evangelical theologian. He remarked to me that the first chapter of Genesis that proclaims that all human beings are created in God’s image has no explicit echo in the rest of the “Old Testament.” I suggested a few verses that do seem to be cut from the same cloth, but still, his remark remained with me. I silently noted to myself that this lacuna characterizes the traditional prayers that I say every day.

In the Roots Jewish – Christian leaders religious dialogue group, a Catholic priest recently told us that he would like to bring to our study the work of a contemporary Catholic theologian that explores the meaning of human solidarity. For a few short seconds, I felt lost; I was not sure that I understood the meaning of the term human solidarity. And then a wave of deep inner embarrassment swept over me: What is wrong with me that the idea of human solidarity is so foreign that it causes temporary disorientation? The answer is only too clear: My all-encompassing Jewish / Rabbinic / Israeli identity has left but little room for an intuitive sense of the ultimate common destiny and unity of all human beings. It is painfully difficult for me to live with that.

My humble and inadequate response to all of this is two short prayers, fruits of my frustration:

Prayer for Human Solidarity

Our Father* in heaven, Creator of all humanity, Whose mercies are upon all His creatures and Whose love is withheld from none.

Help us to live in the light of our faith that all human beings are cast from the same die, that all are created in the divine image and that all bear Your infinite value.

Let us remember that all of humanity constitute one unit and that we are all interdependent. May we heal the suspicion, fear and hate that divide communities, nations and peoples. Renew our sense of human solidarity. Grant us the resolve to overcome our tendency to act as if our national or religious particularity is prior to our common humanity.

Let us never forget that this world will survive and thrive only through understanding and cooperation.

Let us recommit ourselves to the common good.

Help us to be healed of the hubris of exclusivity that deludes us into the false belief that only we are close to You.

Help us to be hospitable to diversity and to engage charitably with those who are different from us. Let us remember that our truth is always only partial and better approximates Your infinite truth when we have the courage to go forth and gather into our hearts the manifold sparks of Your light that has been scattered throughout the peoples, cultures, and religions that You have created. Let us listen and learn, grow and expand, with openness and joy.

Let us join forces to live together and do Your will as one humanity, while each people still walks in the illumination of its own unique insight.

Prayer for Israeli-Palestinian Solidarity

Our Father* in heaven, Creator of all humanity, Whose mercies are upon all His creatures and Whose love is withheld from none.

Who has sanctified the Holy Land from the River to the Sea and placed here both

Palestinians and Israelis, Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Let our unique and particular covenants with You never blind us to Your love of all Your creatures. May our love of You, of our nation and of the land, never prevent us from loving the other peoples of this land of Yours, and may it never prevent us from honoring their love of this land.

Help us to break free of the hubris of exclusivity that imprisons us in a narrow perspective and allows us to be concerned only about our own. Help us to heal our suspicions, fears, and hatreds and to aspire towards harmony and brotherhood. Help us to fully see the humanity of all and to expand our concern, our identities and the circles of our love to embrace all the peoples of this land.

Help us to remember that our fates are intertwined and that our destiny is to live together; that one people’s pain, suffering, loss or restriction will only bring the same for the other; and that the welfare and the happiness of one depends on the welfare and the happiness of the other.

Elevate our wills to desire for the other what we desire for our own people. Grant us the courage and the strength to join forces to search together and to dedicate ourselves to the implementation of the common good of all the peoples of this land of Yours.

In this way may we bring joy to Your land and gladness to Your city, and may You look favorably upon us and bless us all with peace.


*some may wish to substitute ‘Parent’ for ‘Father’.

Discover More

Massacre in the Patriarch’s Tomb

The following letter to the Palestinian people shall never be sent. After at least three rewritings and endless discussions among ...

“Solidarity is a Verb, Not a Noun”: On Muslim Fundraising for the St. Louis Jewish Cemetery

This past weekend, hundreds of graves at the Shel Emeth Jewish cemetery in St. Louis were vandalized. No sooner was ...

I’ll Tell You What You Need to Do

Why would they stand and hold signs that say ‘We refuse to be enemies’ when every day they are treated by our authorities like less-than-human enemies?