More than praying for the peace of Jerusalem, be my messenger

Click photo to download. Caption: A view of Jerusalem. Credit: Berthold Werner.

By Noam Zion/JNS.org

Another depressing day. Listening to the news at 6 a.m. already takes out all my energy and makes me a walking mourner. Israel is in the midst of a cruel war with Hamas in Gaza, and today they announced the deaths of two more Israeli soldiers.

Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed in “collateral damage” (a hellish bureaucratic term of obfuscation) because Hamas intentionally attacks from civilian residence areas. 

The only “good” news is that 18,000 Haifa residents showed up at the funeral of a lone American Jew, Sean, who came on his own to Israel to volunteer for the IDF and met his death in Gaza. Solidarity has its awful price and its great honor.

The new troubles come as fast as those that come to Job, as it says, one messenger of evil tidings is followed by another, while the first is still communicating his message (Job 1:16-17). 

Twenty-seven families have just received the official Army delegation—an officer and a psychologist—who knock at their door and bring what is called in Israel “the good news of Job” (besorat Iyov). 

But I have not recovered from the terrorist death of three kidnapped teenagers in Gush Etzion or the shameful torture and burning to death of the Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem by a haredi Jewish terrorist and his teenage accomplices. My city’s peace is threatened from time to time by missiles from Gaza, but it is the social and nationalist earthquake from below, not the fire rained down from Heaven, which is the greatest threat.

Walking dejectedly to my beloved job at the Hartman Institute, I bump into another messenger, my friend, Drori, who models for me what can and should happen in Jerusalem. Drori is also a source of spiritual inspiration for my family, leading davening in a Kurdistani shul where we all go for Selihot at 5 a.m. and now founding an egalitarian Sephardi-Oriental shul. He also makes great tasty kubeh, Iraqi meat keneidlach, and vegetarian kubeh, now that he is a vegetarian.

“Drori, how are you? What vacation plans do you have after the long year of educational work at the Hartman High School?” I ask. Drori of course responds with a bitter smile: “This is no time for a vacation.”

Drori is a war orphan who saw his father take leave from their Kurdistani shul in Mahane Yehuda on Yom Kippur 1973, when his father was called up to reserve duty in the Yom Kippur War, from which he never returned. He knows what the families of the freshly fallen soldiers are experiencing. 

Drori later went to high school at Hartman, taught my children, and then became not only a Talmud teacher, but the organizer of social services provided by the high school students at Hartman to all in need in Jerusalem. For example, the students sell lulavim and etrogim on Sukkot, and the money goes to projects like teaching ex-convicts how to use computers and giving them respect, skills, and a warm place to come; distributing boxes of food before each holiday for hundreds of welfare families; collecting old textbooks and lending them to pupils who cannot afford to buy them, etc. He won the mayor’s prize as Jerusalem’s outstanding educator in 2013.

“Drori, what have you been doing for the last week during the war?” I ask. Drori is coming from his shul with a check from its tzedakah fund. Yesterday he went to the home of a Golani Brigade soldier released temporarily from battle after suffering from the blast of air and shrapnel when the truck in front of him exploded, killing nine of his fellow soldiers in Gaza. 

Drori, who grew up very poor as one of six orphaned brothers, rolls his eyes: Such poverty in the soldier’s mother’s house. We cooked food at the school and brought it over. The soldier asked his mother for carfare to get to the funeral of one of his friends at Har Herzl Military Cemetery, but she had nothing to give him. 

Drori leaves an envelope with money, but he wonders critically: Where is the social contract? How can this boy endanger his life for his country and yet live in such abject poverty when he comes home?

Then he tells me about a wonderful Palestinian youth worker from the Jerusalem Municipality with whom he is in close contact, who is trying to work constructively with the unemployed Arab youths who want revenge after the recent murder and torture of the Palestinian teenager. 

Drori met him when they did a project to train Arab and Jewish teenagers to be firefighters and to patrol the forests in Jerusalem, which have been torched often during periods of national tension, such as in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood last week. The program was going so well until the KKL - Jewish National Fund refused to let the Arabs patrol the forests.

The Palestinian youth worker called Drori after the murder and asked what he should do to keep the lid on things and keep his rowdy youth from getting themselves into more trouble. Immediately after the murder, angry youths like this tore up the city’s fancy new light rail lines and torched bus stations that serve Jerusalem Arabs in their own neighborhoods. 

Noam Zion

Drori suggested that since it is Ramadan, the youths should cook and bring food to the elderly and then break their fasts together in the evening with music. Drori got food from the high school, and the Arab youth got involved. But the Palestinian youth worker is afraid to tell his kids that the food was donated by Jews, in fact by Orthodox Jewish teenagers, lest they reject the gift in anger and disdain. In the meantime, this youth worker’s Jewish supervisors at the municipality refuse to recognize this project and the work he does as part of his job hours for which he gets paid.

Pain, hope, and frustration. It is so hard to hold back the waves of radicalization and alienation. I turn to Drori and ask him: “Be my shaliach, my messenger of good news. Please take this contribution.” I think to myself: “Please remove some of my guilt, my shame, and my sense of helplessness and hopelessness.” 

He says: “Thank you for being someone to whom I can talk about my work with both Jews and Palestinians and empathize with both.”

Noam Zion is a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute (http://hartman.org.il) in Jerusalem. 

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Posted on July 24, 2014 and filed under Israel, Opinion.