We spent today in the Jewish settlement of Efrat, where we engaged in conversation with people holding a wide variety of opinions and ideas regarding the current political situation. However as our guide said to us at the beginning of our day; "I know many, if not all of you come here today with baggage regarding the political situation in this country. We will not agree with everything, nor will you agree with everything that you are going to hear today. However my hope is that you leave here today with the view that we are people too, and that you will realize just how vastly complicated this conflict really is". I think I speak for everyone when I say that this goal was certainly fulfilled.
Our first stop was at a school where we had the chance to talk with a rabbi and a couple of his students who will soon become rabbis as well. This conversation revolved largely around their study of Jewish law, and how Jewish law influences everyday life. I sound it interesting that rather than just looking at laws in terms of "thou shalt do this" or "thou shalt no do that", the students are constantly studying and debating the discourse and discussion behind the laws. this study is no small commitment either (the students that we talked to had been studying for 8 years!!). We were then able to sit down and have lunch with a number of other students from the school, further facilitating conversation around faith and tradition.
A short bus ride later we were sitting down with another rabbi, this time diving head first in to the political situation. Interestingly enough, I think he delivered one of the most thought out peace narratives that we have hear so far. He believes very strongly in trying to form connections between Israelis and Palestinians, so as to break down the separation that has been growing stronger and stronger in recent years. He said that this segregation through creating the wall along with A, B and C zones, has been massively detrimental to any ideas of peace. This separation of people seems to have led to a situation where only the voices of the extremist few, on either side of the conflict, seem to be heard. The voices of the more moderate majority get drowned out by messages of fear and hate, which only lead to further separation and conflict. He also stated that far too many people do not have a good enough grasp of just how complicated this whole situation really is, which has led to many short term "bandaid" solutions. These short term fixes have only served to complicate the conflict even more because in the end, they do not address the larger issues. According to him, if any change is going to come, people will have to start thinking outside the box, and it will have to start with long term, grassroots movements. He used an analogy that really stuck with me, it goes like this; "A traveler asks an old man for directions on his journey. The old man told him that there are two roads leading to his destination. The first one is short, but it is very long. The second one is long, but it is very short.
At the end of the day we split up and had the chance to have dinner with different Jewish families living on the settlement. I think this really hit home to everyone just how wonderful and normal may of these people are. This just adds another whole layer of complication to everything that we have seen and heard so far. It is so easy to sit on one side of the conflict and point fingers at the other side, to lay blame and leave it at that. But that is not nearly so easy when you have sat in their homes, eaten together and enjoyed each others company. We have to realize that while there are a number of political issues that we do not agree on, we are all human, and that is something that we cannot forget. There were a few other speakers that we heard from today, but I am limited in time and these were a few moments and thoughts that stood out to me today.
I will leave you with a quote from a song that struck me on the bus ride home. If you are interested, the song is Jesus Friend of Sinners by Casting Crowns. The line goes:
"Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers, let our hearts be led by mercy, help us reach with open hearts and open doors,oh Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks yours".
This really hits home for me, and I think also sums up part of the purpose for this trip. "Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers", I think today was a big eye-opener for all of us.