A Reflection on This Moment

by Rabbi Debra Rappaport

Earlier this month, I joined colleagues from around North America for a mindfulness retreat, with the theme of words and silence. The most powerful words I heard were from our teacher, Melila Hellner-Eshed, who travelled to California from Jerusalem.

Melila, as a founding partner of the Sulha Peace Project, has been co-facilitating every other week gatherings with Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians, who listen to one another’s pain. They are poignantly aware of how countercultural this is – everyone outside the room, it feels, is pulling toward opposition, toward polarization. The people weeping and singing in this room feel the precariousness of their endeavor.

They are trying to protect the flame of humanity from self-destruction. Participants in these listening circles often turn to music when words fail them. Melila expressed her gratitude to those of us in North America, who, a little bit removed from the suffering in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, have access to our words.

Both the pain and the commitment to life expressed by Melila are so specific to being in Jerusalem at this moment in time. Yet her words resonated deeply within me too, as she named a dynamic that’s also prevalent here in our communities.

Ross Gay writes, in Inciting Joy“My hunch is that joy, emerging from our common sorrow – which does not necessarily mean we have the same sorrows, but that we, in common, sorrow – might draw us together. It might depolarize us and de-atomize us enough that we can consider what, in common, we love. And though attending to what we hate in common is too often all the rage (and it happens also to be very big business), noticing what we love in common, and studying that, might help us survive. It’s why I think of joy, which gets us to love, as being a practice of survival.”

It is in this spirit that I express humble gratitude for the more than 115 people who taught, volunteered, and participated in Hineni’s Engage! afternoon of Jewish Learning and Culture this past Sunday, as well as our partners at the J. Over the course of 11 different sessions (yes, many simultaneous) and the spaces in-between, we had an abundance of learning, art, song, connecting and joy.

Let’s keep finding what we love in common and studying that.