Posted on November 5th, 2011 | Filed under Challenges, Community, Congregation, Featured, Interfaith, Intra-Faith, Leadership, Philosophy, Social Issues, Theology
Tagged with Belief, community, Dialogue, ethics, Faith, Formation, Gender, God, Hope, identity, Interfaith, Islam, Israel, Judaism, love, morality, Palestine, Peace, pluralism, politics, questioning, Questions, Religion, tolerance, transformation, Violence, war, women
"The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago).
Bearing witness to the painful, violent, actions of human beings breaks us apart. Sometimes it feels preferable to make a clean cut, a precise division between good and evil. In so doing we take control of this breaking apart and proceed in a surgical fashion: there is good and there is evil. No complications, nothing messy. But separating the world into good and evil will eventually lead any honest person to divide herself into pieces. In slicing and cutting we become dismembered, unrecognizable, cut off from ourselves. In the breaking apart we crack an outer layer and stand raw and vulnerable. Staying in this place is terrifying and sad, but if we can bear to remain there long enough, a new layer of healing will begin to form, more durable and elastic than the first.
The seeds of all actions are contained within each and every one of us. None of us are wholly good or evil. Whatever actions, however brutal, we see manifest in the world, we can understand, in some way, as being connected to a part of ourselves. And it is this understanding that makes bearing witness to the painful reality of which seeds take root and how they flourish all the more difficult.
These past two months living in Jerusalem have been an experience of witnessing the struggle—in this city and in my own heart—between forces that seek to dismember us into discrete parts, and forces that compel us to stand in the suffering and be broken apart. Sometime over the past month my heart broke. I have been living in the sad and tender place, waiting for it to strengthen and heal.
There are lines that seek to separate good and evil running like veins through the heart of this city.
I have seen the separation barrier winding its way across the landscape. Separating Israelis from Palestinians, separating Palestinians from Palestinians. Running alongside neighborhoods, encircling areas so that they become cut off. Unlike a vein that carries fresh oxygen, new life, the wall has no life running through it. Only life on one side, life on the other side, being further and further segmented, limbs cut off from the self.
I have seen the lines of the mechitzah separating men from women. Open during announcements, closed while we are singing. You on that side, me on this side. In some places the line runs down the center, striving towards equal segments. In others, the line runs such that I am in the back, kept far from you, far from Torah, far that mutually decided upon center of holiness.
I have seen the lines at the checkpoints, waiting to be let through the revolving metal door. What kind of passport, visa, ID card do you have? These are the lines made by the government deciding who belongs where. The lines we, as society, either further enforce or try to break down.
I have seen the mechitzah of the synagogue brought out into the street. Lines separating you from me, not just while we are praying, but while we go about our daily business. The mechitzah in the ultra-Orthodox community of Meah Sha’arim that prohibited women from walking on certain streets during the festive holiday of Sukkot.
And I have seen this mechitzah used on other streets: the streets of Hevron. This time, the line divides Muslim from Jews near the holy site of the Cave of the Patriarchs. Beyond this physical barrier were the invisible walls. We sat on grass in a park that Muslims aren’t allowed to be in, we walked down streets below Palestinian homes that they are not permitted to walk on. I could not see the lines, but I could see the soldiers, perched on the rooftops, placed on each corner. And I saw the lines of recent history. The crumbling shops of the Palestinian marketplace, doors of stores now welded shut, shaded by the walls of the newly constructed beit midrash. Like archeological layers not yet covered over by time. And I could see very clearly the line between the ghost town of Hevron and the Palestinian-controlled area of H-1. On one side the streets echo eerily with your footsteps, on the other side is the bustling marketplace where you can buy spicy pickles and fabrics in every color.
So many lines—for protection, for safety, for clarity, for power, all for fear.
The other day the lines of this city meandered their way into my own heart. We went to Misrad haPanim to extend our tourist visas to student visas. The woman behind the desk took our passports, searched her computer, and looked at our marriage license. She read the letter from the yeshiva where I am spending this semester of rabbinical school. She told us our Jewish heritage was in question and we needed a letter proving we were Jews. I did not know you had to be Jewish to obtain a student visa. Once you begin drawing lines, eventually you slice through your own heart.
The heart. A beating muscle that unceasingly pumps oxygenated blood to every living cell in the body. Without its constant beating, we are dead. Without realizing that it is being segmented into pieces, we gasp for breath and don’t know why. I pray that the heart of each of us can heal and in so doing become more expansive and more durable than before. When we begin to heal the lines running through our own heart, only then will the heart of this city heal.
This image: Nevit Dilmen (Attribution via Wikimeida Commons)