How many of you think religion was and is a major factor in the creation and continuation of the hostile relationships between Israelis and Palestinians? I’ll assume there are quite a few. In fact, it would be quite rational to say that many wars and battles throughout world history have been fought and sustained by opposing religious beliefs. From Crusades to Jihad, once coining the term “Holy” adding “War” becomes much easier. Yet what if, religion and spirituality, could actually become the driving force to peace and reconciliation?
This week, it was religious common ground surrounding the concept of fasting, that sparked a worldwide cluster of events, all with one aim: standing together on those grounds and using them to make claims for peace. This past Tuesday, the 17th of the month of Tammuz, which coincided with the 18th day of Ramadan, is a day in which observant Jews, as muslims do every day on Ramadan, fast from sunset to sundown. Every year this day marks the beginning of a period of three weeks, perhaps the most complex in the Jewish calendar, where we are called to meditate on the causes of one of our biggest historical downfalls, the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem during the year 70 AD. This destruction marked the end of Jewish sovereignty in the ancient kingdom of Judah and brought a 2000 year exile upon the Jewish people. Why am I mentioning this? Because of the reason given for this national tragedy: baseless hatred.
Baseless hatred, the ability people posses to insult, humilate, degrade, delegitimize, polarize, incite. It was rampant at that time in the Israelite nation, and today, we have not yet entirely as human beings risen above those vices. Yet, there is no plague without cure. One of the most brilliant ideas in Judaism, and what keeps me afloat in these insane times, is called “Tikkun”. Tikkun means to heal, rectify, repair and create. According to Kabbalah, every person is living right now to do “Tikkun” to heal their own portion of the world, to bring light where there was darkness.
Abstract as it may sound on paper, here is what happened from Houston Texas, to Paris, Katar and throughout Israel this week. Jews and Muslims attempted to enable “Tikkun” through fasting, breaking the fast together and using this concept as a platform for dialogue.
Fasting today, is recognized for it’s health benefits, but spiritual leaders long ago recognized it’s potential for personal and collective transformation. When I talk about common grounds think of the following: Islam’s sacred month of Ramadan involves lengthy fasting, while Judaism’s holiest day Yom Kippur involves a 26 hour fast. Why? What does fasting enable, and why did “fast and break-fast together, eat and meet” events encouraged by the interfaith organization “Choose Life” gain such momentum? In my opinion, it’s becaue fasting tunes us in to our fragility as humans. It reminds us that we have needs, it reminds us that the other has needs just like us. From lack of excess energy it weakens our usually robust egos and gently tugs our conciousness higher.
On mount Hebron, where Abraham once lived, spreading his newfound and highly negated idea of a One, his offspring gathered towards dusk this week to engage in a mutual practice of breaking the fast. I was there with my family, close to one hundred observant Jews and a respectable groups of Muslim Palestinians. A Palestinian friend of mine went through great lengths to attend the event and was astounded that he could feel comfortable surrounded by Jews in headcovers. I think many of the people there were surprised that they felt strangely comfortable with one another.
When religious practices become platforms of commonality. When we connect from places of humility and humanity, we can share our stories and have them heard more easily. Then I believe that our spiritual lives can assist our political aspirations and be a quiet guide in the quest for healing this land and it’s people from years of Baseless Hatred. When anything, religion included, is used for the wrong purposes such as inflating collective egos and claiming the absolute truth- it is part of the problem. But this week, for a few hours, and for a few people, while a raging war is tearing up the land around them, an ancient religious practice of fasting brought them closer together than they had ever been. From this place of self-reflection and openess to the other, I want to believe that we were all a small but significant part of a solution.
YaLa Young Leaders