News

At Central Synagogue

Reflections from Shani Ben Or Regarding The Outbreak of Violence in Israel

Posted May 13, 2021

Every week, I lead a women’s circle of Palestinian and Jewish students at Hebrew University, where we come together to explore the unique dimensions of our identities as women. This week, our meeting fell on Erev Yom Yerushalayim, a holiday that has become associated with right-wing nationalistic sectors in Israel. With Ramadan coming to an end and Yom Yerushalayim beginning, the tension level in the city was exceptionally high.  All of my Palestinian participants found reasons to be absent. I should have known then what they understood: the city was not safe for them, and not safe for us.

In retrospect, I regret holding the meeting at this sensitive time. I feel responsible for compromising my participants’ sense of security. But we are always smart in retrospect. In reality, how can we possibly prepare for the anger that causes a violent riot outside of our window? As we were leaving our meeting, we were told that all campus exits were closed until Palestinian and Arab Israeli rioting ended. We sat there for over an hour, heard the yelling, rocks being thrown, police sirens. We sat there, students from East and West Jerusalem, and we were afraid.

Unfortunately, that was only the beginning. The next day, I was preparing for an alternative Yom Yerushalayim event in partnership with Central Synagogue (who have become my community) when a siren went off in Jerusalem. Confused, we found our way to shelter. One of the young women who ran in with us seemed to be having a panic attack. Between her crying and hyperventilating, she succeeded in getting out a few words: “I’m sorry,” she cried, “I grew up close to the border with Gaza, this is too much for me to handle.”

Those were probably the scariest moments in the past few days, because now that I am a mother, nothing matters besides knowing that my son is safe. And he was. We all were. No civilian was hurt by that specific rocket. But more rockets came as the evening progressed, mirroring scenes that the older generation of Israelis can recall from the Gulf War. All night, I hoped I wouldn’t need to wake up my one-and-a-half-year-old boy and run to safety. I prepared a script just in case, to calmly whisper to him if necessary, and imagined every step to shelter so that I wouldn’t panic and forget. Luckily, since that one siren on Monday, I have not needed to use the plan I had so carefully rehearsed, but millions of Israeli parents, Jews and Arabs, have not been so fortunate. And sadly, some did not succeed in protecting their loved ones and themselves.

Unfortunately, the violence on both sides is only escalating. For most Israelis, the main source of our fear is not the outside threat from Hamas in Gaza, but rather the terror caused by Arabs and Jews among us in cities of mixed populations. At this point, there is no doubt that we are in a civil war. What makes me sad and scared for our future is the way we are harming one another. On both sides, a minority with extreme views is willing to go to extreme measures to cause harm, pain, and devastation in our country. This must come to an end.

Shavuot is right around the corner, reminding us that we need to stand strong together in the wilderness. When my parents made Aliyah they may have thought that they were going to the Promised Land, but I believe that we are not there yet. There is still more work to be done, more healing and growing that only the wilderness can provide. After all we have been through and all that is ahead, I wish to return to the desert, to embrace the change it provides – the type of change we need in order to be worthy of receiving the Torah. And I hope that we can return to meetings like our women’s circle, which embodies the best of Israel’s promise: Jews and Palestinians coming together in safety, peace, and mutual recognition of our shared humanity.