Israeli Memorial and Independence Days are for me filled with mixed emotions. Having grown up in Religious Jewish New York suburbia -- feeling alienated from American normative culture and strongly identified as a religious Jewish Zionist -- I moved to Israel 18 years ago out of a deep connection and commitment to the narrative of the Jewish People and a desire to live out that narrative in a way I felt most holistic and authentic -- combining land, faith, and nationhood. I was not blind to the political reality in Israel, but hearing about it from afar and living it from up close are two different experiences.
As I spent more time living in Israel and meeting Arabs who live here as well, I have been exposed to another narrative that is no less true nor real than mine. And while living out my own narrative does not mean having to negate theirs, hearing their narrative has altered my perspective and caused me to change my own view as to how the Jewish narrative should continue to play itself out.
And so, this year, like in years past, I debated how to spend these two intense days. In Israel, Memorial Day is followed by Independence Day, so that the entire Jewish population of the country goes immediately from mourning to celebrating. The clear message is that those who died did not die in vain -- that because of their sacrifice we are able to live safely in the Jewish State.
When I first moved to this country, I, like most other Jews here, felt these days intensely. I mourned those who died so I could live, knowing that my own children could one day be on the list of fallen soldiers. And I celebrated with pride the existence of a thriving Jewish country, raised from the ashes of the Holocaust, with a rich culture and strong and self confident identity. Singing the Hatikvah, the Israeli National Anthem, instead of the Star Spangled Banner, felt like a true homecoming.
But once I opened myself up to hearing other narratives, it became impossible for me to fully throw myself into the nationalistic feelings of these two days. Although I am Jewish and know that is the narrative of my People, I cannot wholeheartedly participate in a ceremony that acknowledges only the pain of my own People -- because when we acknowledge only our own pain in this complicated story, we negate the pain of the others involved. The Arab population who was living in what is now called Israel suffered huge losses in 1948. Hundreds of Arab villages were wiped out, families separated, people exiled, and many lives lost. This day is called the Naqba -- the catastrophe -- in Arabic and is commemorated with ceremonies and protests across the country.
Precisely the day we Jews celebrate as Israeli Independence Day, a large portion of the Israeli Arab population (some who identify as Palestinians and some who identify as Israeli Arabs) mourns as the Day of the Catastrophe. How can I stand and celebrate at the expense of others who mourn when what I really want to be doing is mourning and celebrating together? How can I sing the Hatikvah, which speaks only of Jews living freely in a Jewish country, thus alienating those non-Jewish Israelis who also deserve freedom and equal rights?
This year, however, I was able to see a glimmer of hope in this seemingly irredeemable situation. A vision in which both narratives can live side by side and then join together to create a joint narrative of hope and peace. My six-year-old son started first grade this year in the Hand-in-Hand Arab-Jewish "Galilee" School, and I decided to attend their Memorial-Independence Days ceremony to see how they handle this complicated challenge. The result brought me to tears.
The ceremony, which the school calls "From Pain to Hope," begins at the sound of the Memorial Day siren with two parallel ceremonies. While the Jewish children in the school attend a Memorial Day ceremony in Hebrew focusing on the fallen soldiers and victims of terror, the Arab children attend a ceremony in Arabic focusing on the destroyed villages and Arab victims. Then the entire school comes together for a joint ceremony in both languages stressing the possibility of peaceful co-existence that is a daily reality for both the students and staff of the school. The way the ceremony is orchestrated displays respect of both narratives while also showing that a joint future narrative is not an impossible dream.
Of course, being willing to be part of the creation of such a joint narrative means both populations having to be willing to make room for the narrative of the other -- for both the pain and the dreams of the other. It means recognizing that no one narrative takes precedence over the other or is more "true" than the other. And it means being willing to substitute a vision of victory for a vision of true peace. Like any successful marriage, living together in peace is not about being right or winning, it is about learning to give and receive in order to build a joint entity through which both parties experience deep personal repair and thus bring a more broad repair to the world.
In the words of one boy during the school's ceremony: "If we children -- Arabs, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Boys, Girls -- can get along every day at the Galilee School, you grownups can find a way to get along too."
Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David runs Mikveh Shmaya: A Ritual and Educational Mikveh. She is most currently author of Chanah's Voice: A Rabbi Struggles with Gender, Commitment, and the Women's Rituals of Baking, Bathing, and Brightening (Ben Yehudah Press, 2014). She lives on Kibbutz Hannaton with her husband and seven children. Her first memoir, Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Towards Traditional Rabbinic Ordination (JFL Press, 2000) was the runner up for the National Jewish Book Award in the category on non-fiction. She is currently working on a novel. To order Chanah's Voice, click on the following link: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_10?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=haviva%20ner-david&sprefix=Haviva+Ner%2Caps%2C299