A commentary by Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur, editorial manager of Tenou'a
A few days ago in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, popular Arab-Israeli author Sayed Kashua wrote a piece that was widely talked about and picked up by the international press.
He explained why he is leaving Israel and why he has stopped believing in the possibility of coexistence. Sayed Kashua no longer believes in the fight for Jewish-Arab coexistence in Israel, of which he had long been a pillar and a role-model.
Many have spoken out about it. Among them, the Arab-Israeli singer Mira Awad. She addressed a reply to him in the same section of Haaretz, sending a message both of sympathy and empathy in which she explained why she chooses to stay. In her column, she says she wants to continue this work, in her words, as a « bridge between cultures and peoples » which she has pursued, along with many others, both Jews and Arabs, in recent years.
THE BRIDGE IS ALWAYS THE FIRST TARGET
It seems to me that in Mira Awad’s article she says something essential, both politically and architecturally. She writes (and I quote), « being a bridge is a complex thing: the weight crushes you and the world has for you no recognition. Instead, the bridge is always the first target in wartime, even though the bridge is only there for one reason: to allow people to reach the other shore, perhaps for a picnic or simply to discover the view that awaits them on the other side. »
Ever since reading this text, I have thought about the strength of this image. In reality, all of us in the Middle East as in Europe, are living in a time when bridges do collapse. Just look at how, both here and there, some have fallen into « fighting for my side », into unilateral or selective empathy. Just look at the receding of a national or republican common bond in France, and the resulting appearance of divisions, often times with insults hurled at the other camp, in transcendence of one’s own self.
This narrowing of the mind is at work within each group, each « community » making it hard to accept the divergence of opinion or analysis because it is so painful. It becomes difficult to hear the discord without accusing the other of being a traitor to his culture or of hating his own, using thoughtless terms such as dangerous, naive, utopian and foolish, or fascist, extremist, and hostile, inhuman. Social networks are magnifying these failures, these collapses of our alliances with each other to benefit themselves. As time goes on, we are only friends with members of our own group or our tribe … and even then, not with all of them, especially not with those who in recent weeks, we had « unfriended » on Facebook, because of foul language.
In short, during this painful time, a lot of bridges were bombed. And there is no point in reconstructing them by force. Because, let’s face it, some bridges lead nowhere. All points of view and all positions are not equal. And undoubtedly, there are ideologies with which no one in our country should accept to have a picnic …
This is precisely why it is essential to preserve and consolidate in our Republic, those bridges that lead to an ability to live together, even damaged and shaky ones. They connect our shared identities.
DEVARIM: ONE WORD FOR « WORDS » AND « ACTIONS »
Let me segue to a lovely Hebrew word for Jewish identity. I would like to talk about the Hebrew word which defines the « Hebrew » people IVRI.
Literally to be a « Hebrew » is to be a « boatman » or more accurately « one who is going across ». An IVRI , an heir of Abraham – the first of whom, according to our texts, crossed the river from one bank to another. Clearly, in Hebrew it says that our identity has something to do with our ability to build bridges.
This identity has often been that of the Jews throughout history, these men and women who have established routes from where they came to the places that welcomed them; between their textual culture and the narrative of their host countries; between the wealth they carried with them in their baggage and that which they encountered along the way. What better illustration than Jewish languages (Yiddish, Ladino and many others …); the different customs of our synagogues as well as Jewish recipes that are as much books of history as books of geography, which are in their own way bridges built into our history.
In a thousand ways, Jewish history has made works of art or, more accurately, asked the Jews themselves to be these bridges, these liaison officers.
Therefore, in times of crisis, the story is the same. As Mira Awad said, bridges are always the first torpedoed or, to put it differently, as in a recent statement by historian Elie Barnavi, « the fate of the Jews has always been the infallible test of the moral health of a nation » .
Our vulnerability is that of the Republic; of its bases, structures and infrastructures. Where are today’s civil engineers of bridges and roads who will find words and ways to strengthen the voices of those who will be crossing and meeting each other… which will be our strength?
Will we think of new places to meet and perhaps (why not?), at a big picnic on the other side of a bridge. You could call it (if you pardon the pun) a big « Bridge Game« . You might remember the French movie, Le Dîner de Cons (the English title of the movie was Dinner Game), which was about inviting an outsider to dinner only to use the alleged hospitality to ridicule and demolish another person.
I do not know what words could convince Sayed Kashua to stay and still believe, perhaps, that the time is not right for words but for actions: it is also the name of the parasha we read this Shabbat in all the synagogues of the world: Devarim , speech … but also deeds. A single word to say and do. Moses at the foot of the promised land, says to his people: go ahead and do not be afraid. Something awaits you on the other side. A sort of biblical echoing of a famous Hasidic proverb:
Kol haolam Koulo gesher Czar meod, vehaikar lo lefakhed Klal : « The whole world is a narrow bridge. The key is to not be afraid. »