In the Jewish tradition, our first words on hearing of the death of someone are usually Baruch Dayan Ha’Emet, Blessed is the True Judge. It reminds us that we may not know why, but our friend has been taken. We give up our questions to a higher power.
Today, I learned that a friend here in Jerusalem from the creative-activist communities, Ester Karen Aida, passed away. Her funeral will be this evening, as I write this. In 2018, I published some of her poems on my blog, Meta/ Phor(e) /Play. Karen, as I knew her, contributed to The BeZine starting in 2021, when I invited her to send her words and art to us. Her most recent contributions were in this summer’s Waging Peace issue—an important theme in her activist and creative work. Her writing and artwork added strength, beauty, and compassion to each issue in which it appeared.
I first met Karen some years ago at a reading in an art gallery in Jerusalem, which had been organized by our mutual friend, Lonnie Monka. She was in a wheelchair, but active, engaged, and cheerful. We spoke, finding common ground in our creative work and activism. We both had trained in Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC) techniques. And we became friends from that conversation.
We would see each other mostly at poetry events. We kept up in email and on Facebook. She was making progress with her ongoing health issues, from wheelchair to walker to cane. I gave her rides home from some of these events, after she moved to a neighborhood near mine. She supported peace in the region here with words and deeds, helped individuals in need, and encouraged NVC training. She also supported accompanying and traditional health practices (aka alternative) to work alongside of Western medicine.
She was a dynamic, compassionate, and strong woman. She leaves grieving family, friends, colleagues. I am still in a bit of shock at the news. Not long from now, I will get ready to attend her funeral, drive across Jerusalem, and join the mourners.
In our Jewish tradition, the family will sit Shiva for 7 days. It is customary to sit with these mourners and listen to their sorrow and their memories as they process the loss. The stories they tell preserve their memory in our hearts. May it be so for all who knew and loved Karen, that her memory be for a blessing.
Those who visit to comfort the mourners say, when we leave: Ha’makom yenahem etkhem betokh she’ar avelei Tziyonvi’Yerushalayim, In this place may G-d console you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
In my body rattle the dead
like beads shook-up with longing
in Rachel’s ovaries.
Oleander, calendula or olive,
Only the living sow memory,
open their eyes each dawn
to scan the fields.
I buried a tooth for every
kindness I recall.
In the days between Yizkor
and Yom haZikaron, some being
of smoke fills my throat.
Is an organ implanted in a
body, a tree’s grafted limb?
What is your heart’s fruition?
Ima from Kafr Qassem,
where exactly are you now,
I think I should ask your
home-town Sheikh, who wrote,
organ donation will be halal.
I ask my heart: do you hold
two souls? We’ve cradled one
another, not months, but years;
should time condense to tissue,
This, then? —a culture unfolding,
beating its wings, in another.
—and we all hold our parents.
Do I contain four souls—
No, her parents—six?
My heart is splitting
This heart—what does it mean to you?
like rain pelting earth
When that had done rattling
in my head, I asked my heart
how do you feel?
She burst into streaks of water,
throat of smoke: my kids—
How old are you now?
What have the years been for you?
Who has cared for you?
We used to tell
the younger ones, stay together
and take care of each other
But our children begin
by scanning the fields
for a few stalks of kindness.
In January 2017 I went to Beit Jala, a Palestinian town close to Bethlehem, for an International Intensive Training of nine days, to study Non-Violent Communication. NVC, the brain-child of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, is known as a ‘language of the heart’ which enables compassionate connection with oneself and others.
It’s also a set of skills including both careful listening, and advocacy for one’s own needs. The training session I attended was designed as an experiment in living and working together, and I’ve wanted to recount to you a few of the moments during that time that stuck with me, from nightmarish—in prolonged awareness of suffering and bloodshed—to inspiring.
I’ve been thinking of the painful social rifts both here in Israel and in the US. The problems can feel hopelessly complex when considered strategically, even as a lot of people are working very hard to solve them. And yet it seems strange now in the telling: I confess to feeling low because this international group I only just met has dispersed. We flocked and clumped at the coffee urn or on the stairs, padding out of our rooms of a morning in the guest house together. We challenged one another to expand our minds and hearts- not self-consciously, it happened simply, moved by one another’s stories and the practice of active listening. Given the reality you report, this sense seems—with a rush—all the sweeter.
I need so much to try to understand what has made our close group connection possible.
Given that I’m a woman close to 50, pushing a walker, I was oddly at an advantage in a group of strangers who want to begin to understand each other- for the part of our group under the age of 30, they must know I won’t actually tell them they should wear shoes on the cold tile– but I wanted to. It was easy to connect with the middle-aged Palestinians, some of whom are community leaders, and many of whom are not new to Non-Violent Communication. When I asked how their neighbors take to their chatting up Israelis, several replied, I am respected within my community.
Our informal conversations take place in Hebrew. Not my native tongue, not usually theirs. It’s amusing and frustrating by turns. And in that initial brokenness there is less of the extraneous. Like having a speech impediment, the only thing worth the effort, at length, is to speak one’s truth. If our conversations are a walk together along a path, we are three faces with one seeing heart between us, we’re the lame, ancient ones of Rabbi Nachman’s Tales.
“ —Is that what you mean?” The careful attention and constant feedback required just to get my friend’s literal meaning straight proves a good model: I am also learning to check whether I accurately get what she feels underlying her words.
My question as to how others will be received at home is also background to something I don’t completely understand yet for myself. I made a choice as to how to present myself which I had not thought out carefully before arriving at the conference.
I am part of a small minority of relative liberals in my neighborhood, a National-Religious community within a more-traditional area of Jerusalem. When I voice views that are inclusive towards Arabs, neighbors often want to re-direct me into awareness that it’s a harsh reality: they want to kill us. Or, the ‘silent majority,’ they’ll say, if it exists, has no power over the brainwashing of Hamas. As voiced on my street these are not usually angry messages, nor vengeant. I too, do not want to perpetuate these images by stating them—it’s that it is crucially important to hear in them real fear, and concern for safety. Possibly there’s a subtext too of despair expressed as cynicism? What’s going on with those people on the other side? There is no one to talk to.
It’s both their steadfast hope in some unknown other ‘to talk to’- a commitment to the human spirit, together with the vulnerability of this position; and the taking up of individual power by no longer being silent, that causes me to feel that I’ve stumbled upon a cadre of heroes in the Palestinian women and men clustered in stuffed chairs in the Talitha Kumi hotel lobby.
Well, there I was, at a training group of roughly 100 people. And while in my daily life I’m humored by my community of religious zionists, here I was part of an even mix of Palestinians and Israelis, plus some who are neither, some who are both- with two other observant Jews. And there were a few Israeli settlers. I was one of the closest, for having spent seven years in Tekoa, and in belonging to a community which believes that God, through history, having returned the Jewish people to our homeland, is the beginnings of an eschatological shift toward humanity’s redemption. (Does it need saying? —there is no Jewish scriptural source and no commandment which requires excluding groups other than Jews from living in modern Israel.) The only voice in the room courageous enough to speak for the Jewish ancient love for the Land of Israel, and their right to belong here, came from a liberal Jew from Australia; how could I Iet him unpopularly represent us, alone?
After he had led the way I told our group, I expect that the Palestinians did not come to a non-violent communication session to speak only to those who agree with them- what kind of training would that be?
Later I learned that there is a phrase, “eating humus together,” which the activists-among-activists use for a sort of complacency that can develop among left-wing Israelis and Arabs.
The skills that we have been learning do not focus on debating our ideologies. I think you got it: a path of the heart—in any case I would be at a loss in trying to think my way out of this wet paper bag! How remarkable that these same Palestinian friends, some of whom have spent years in Israeli prisons, are still talking to me at the line-up to the coffee urn.
I feel confused because while my religious lifestyle may look outwardly extreme or dogmatic, I don’t resonate to those descriptions, but to the ethical concern I have seen in Jewish tradition, and the spiritual wisdom of rabbinic tradition. And now I have a bunch of people who may think I’m a radical ideologue of the right, yet I spend most of my time when the Arab-Israeli conflict hits the news, debriefing my children in the face of strong judgements they hear around them.
As I say, many of the senior Palestinians who attended, are focused, committed to using NVC in communal life. Economic factors and peer pressure can both be prohibitive. Some of the Arabic-speakers already use NVC regularly and teach regional workshops in the skills—in Mazen’s case, also from his home. He and one school principal—whom I admire for her measured words—have been involved in NVC for some  years.
If the factors stacked against them for the Palestinian participants cause them to be present in a more concrete way, for other participants, the deeper needs that brought them here vary. There were Jews from around the world, and very altruistic Americans and Europeans—8 individuals who were not Muslim, nor Jewish—these people often brought the particularly calm wisdom of distance. Many Israelis hoped to use NVC to enrich their personal lives, make like-minded connections, even as they too feel the day-to-day pain of the conflict here.
You may be wondering at this point about something that made me uneasy—it does seem a tremendous luxury that there were folks, I for one—who do experience NVC as personal enrichment rubbing shoulders with people who came here out of a sense of emergency conditions in the streets. A Palestinian community worker remarked, in our closing session, on this gap that we all had simply lived with until then without comment. In NVC form, he looked deeper into this potential grievance to see a need, and express his hope: that there will be a time when bloodshed is not a topic of discussion at such meetings, and Palestinian villagers too will have the relaxation of mind required to nurture the self.
I feel I’ve given you mostly lite sociology, not the personal stories that make people real to each other. I haven’t yet adequately conveyed a few of the human stories that, by the workshop’s end, would fill me till I felt I would brim over.
One of the first days of the Training. I meet Ayat, a self-possessed woman in jeans, a hjiab, blue eyeliner. We’ve broken into smaller discussion groups; our prompt is “Trust and Creativity.” She begins, “there is deep trust among my family. They trust me to travel to this conference, far from our very traditional village.” As I unpack all that this may imply, I wonder, is Ayat married? Does that figure in?
In this group of eight women, Ayat and I seem to be the most traditionally religious. In a sense the odd ones out. I decide to tell the group how my 13-yr-old was invited to the writing workshop her instructor now gives for adults, an hour across Jerusalem by bus. I tell them how I’m so careful to explain (when the time comes for parent-teacher meetings) that I went in person to check out the other students. That I insist my daughter calls me when she gets on the bus, each direction.
Yet, still, I see something draw back in her teacher’s face. We don’t do this in my community.
What precautions do we take to protect children, and which to protect the needs of women? Which needs of women?
When I was growing up on the East Coast of the US, when you confessed your challenges or fragilities among other women (or at least commiserated), you bonded. As our session comes to a close, I raise my eyes to those of Ayat, who does not see me. If you recall your honky-tonk—this is what’s running through my mind: “everybody loves me, baby/ what’s the matter with you?/ What did I do/ to offend you?”
I want to mention the Bereaved Families organization.
It was shared, life-shattering pain- not a pissing contest, not comparing Nakba vs Holocaust- that Rami and Bassam were there to communicate. Shared pain brought them to the conclusion that violence must not continue.
As a parent, coach or teacher, and any who devote themselves to nurture minds and hearts—there’s a certain maturity of perspective that one may find unfolding within. It’s something like this that had entered the room. Rami Elhanan’s 14-year old daughter was killed in a cafe bombing, but he wants to offer a message that it’s not anti-semitic to disagree with policies of the Israeli government. He describes that it’s his very Jewish upbringing that prompts him: Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.
For Bassam, just as he fights now to create something positive of the memory of his 10 yr-old daughter, killed by a stray Israeli bullet, he is equally fighting this new path of peace for the lives of his five remaining children.
Many of the questions from listeners related to the personal conversion for each, as individuals, of anger and pain, at once private and collective, to a constructive driving force to end war. A movement of hope, when after losing a child, we wondered whether it would be possible to get out of bed in the morning.
On his virtually alchemical conversion, he says, My hatred would have destroyed me. I do this foremost for myself.
It wasn’t the first thing that came up, but in the course of conversation with our group, Bassam told us that after ‘graduating from prison’ he went on to a Master’s degree in Holocaust Studies; he visited the camps in Europe and wept there. He had wanted to understand the enemy so as to ‘conquer the enemy within.’ To be clear about this, We are doing this work to have a reason to get out of mourning. We are doing this to give meaning to meaningless killing. Not to hug each other and eat humus together. This he asserted before an audience half of which reclined on mattresses and reed mats, one striped shawl nestled upon another like a pack of drowsing puppies.
Bassam told us, it’s not a selfless love of the other that motivates him. I won’t offer you a blow-by-blow of the ten minutes of what I would have to call respectful tension when the discussion did turn directly to the political, to atrocities; there were queries and perspectives by Israelis and Jews from around the world—the 60-person group was able to maintain order and desire to hear out all sentiments until Bassam clarified that it was not his intention to compare our suffering. All this was going on in English with simultaneous translation to Arabic. It was indeed easy to become momentarily confused. If it had been the orientation of the group to take offense, we would have found a way.
Ayat spoke, and I had it in me to listen. Yet, later my mind- dull- refuses to recall her precise words. I think I hear: ‘The horrors the Israelis have inflicted and still inflict on the Arabs are incomprehensible. It is not possible to compare any other suffering to that which Palestinian mothers have experienced.’
Such bald judgements are rarely articulated in the environment of NVC, and my mind feels like I’ve walked into a tree. I turn to the person next to me. I briefly mime a hammer-blow to my brain, and then a forward movement of my heart. He is another new friend, a middle-aged Palestinian; just now he’s returning a look as if his understanding includes me, then splashes outward to every tile of the floor.
Our facilitator, a senior NVC trainer from Seattle, had asked the group beforehand to be mindful of the tools of NVC throughout the talk. We are learning to steer away from mental sparring in private and group interactions, toward a learnable skill of listening from the heart. The idea is to search for deeper human feelings and needs underlying the messages so often couched in divisive words.
One parent told Rami, “My daughter chose National Service rather than army service, in line with the way we had raised our children. Then my son chose combat duty, and I prayed every day that he would neither be killed nor kill anyone… yet it happened too, that my soldier son encountered a disabled Arab man who kept missing his bus, because others would crowd ahead of him. He helped the man to his bus, and continued on with him until he reached his village.
It was Bassam who responded. For four years I feared for the life of my then 13-year old son, who wanted revenge and threw stones. I prayed he would not be shot. (Bassam’s son did eventually join his father in non-violent activism.) I felt as I listened that Bassam connected with this father’s worry. And with a certain frustration tinged with helplessness.
Rami, in closing the presentation: At any moment your bubble might burst.
I wonder: can the polarization in the USA feel so harrowing to you, too, as to be overwhelming?
I’d like to hear what you have to say about this business of ‘hugging each other and eating humus together.’ My personal take is that there’s a place for this- our conversations, this letter- the NVC training was at times a kind of family feast, and I think we need this too to sustain ourselves. It makes me wonder if Bassam’s strident tone voices a common need that we do not stop there, it’s not enough.
We have divided into “home groups” of six or seven to discuss whatever may be spilling over in us personally. There are three Israelis in my group and four Palestinians, Ayat among them. Doron says, about Ayat’s earlier assertions: I found your words really hard to hear, but I appreciate that you’re not being ‘fake nice’. I’m impressed by your authenticity.
A Palestinian friend quickly explains that Ayat is new to NVC; in his view she expressed herself through indictments of Israelis out of a lack of skills to do otherwise.
It takes a few minutes to find a translator to render “authenticity”; “tzidik” sounds to my ears, like the Hebrew for “justice.” Doron is making clear efforts to offer this positive feedback to Ayat. I am reminded that until this outburst Ayat has spoken very little. I recall my heart pounding a few times when I felt a need to speak before the larger group. To draw attention to myself—I found this excruciating. I sense the force of emotion required for Ayat to stand and speak. When Doron’s affirmation of her directness and honesty registers with Ayat, her face relaxes and breaks into a smile that’s both a bit awkward, and warm. I haven’t seen it until now.
From anecdotes like these, I had wanted to draw observations about conditions that make it a little easier for us to meet each other, whatever the nature of our rifts… small notes such as how it was that when I confessed to Shiran (precisely in saying goodbye!) how moved I was by her care for my kashrut needs, I was rewarded by a flood of her personal stories.
Thursday nearing day’s-end, we discuss plans for Friday. There will be a Muslim contingent leaving for an hour to worship at a nearby mosque, while sessions will continue as planned in their absence. (Possibly the delicate accommodation of Islamic, Jewish, Christian and any other religious observances seemed such an enormous task- one best avoided?) A few women arrange to light Shabbat candles during the short afternoon break- at 3:30, it will be an hour earlier than necessary. But each training session is important; we make small adjustments where possible because we need one another for this work of the heart.
Friday morning I awake knowing there will be no time to shower and change just before candle-lighting. I prepare before leaving my room. I’m dressed to the hilt, wearing a BoHo dress from an ultra-orthodox shop and garnets—to breakfast in the dining hall.
Time for the first session. I sink into the anonymity of a row of seats in the main hall. Within a medicated brain-fog, my norm til noon, I’m sipping coffee. Movement to my right, dark fabric against my upper arm. Ayat is in the chair next to me. Her dress is sprinkled with cross-stitch Bethlehem embroidery, delicate and intricate, one page of an antique dictionary. The seeing is a hearing: hours of patient handwork, and deeper, the old language of craft that bespeaks time’s stretch beyond one lifetime. Beautiful, Jamila, I tell her. She has on sequined, gold-tone platform shoes. She indicates that this dress is her mother’s work, and yes, it’s in honor of Jumma, Friday.
You start to lose track of which language you use between you, or whether there have been words.
After you asked whether there had been a women’s march in Jerusalem, and virtually the following week there was a much more immediate response in Jerusalem to the immigration ban, I thought, huh, sloggy empathy? or simply that we emotionally prioritize what feels closest?
I want to play out the workings of that in slow-motion because it seems useful to observe.
I am so far away from you, in the Middle East, that tomorrow these events will surely affect me but there is a lag—it seems as if they don’t actually touch me in the moment that they come down for you. (On a deeper level I believe that what hurts one of us or one group hurts all of us: Karma or Midda keneged midda.) In cases where I may not feel a spontaneous movement of the heart I have to actively imagine with my head before it trickles down to my heart- this is actually the process that I have seen in the best of liberal thinking and that it seems to me you have trained yourself in, for decades. (Empathy as spiritual or moral imagination?) I don’t know why I am such a slow learner in its broader implications. More on that momentarily—just now I register your anger.
I have been wondering if my own anger in my local example of Israeli society, would feel more alive in me if I were still now living in Tekoa, where just down the road, youths bombarded drivers with rocks the very week of the training, and a soldier killed a 17-year old. (So often it’s our young men who pay the price when our collective anger torques through their bodies.)
But I haven’t lived there in seventeen years. Our conflict in this region feels so old. At times, endless. It’s now partly my own life experience that prompts my awareness of the self-preserving disjuncture of my heart from the ‘other side’. If I observe then feel this, it allows me a trickle of empathy even toward those who are not committed to non-violence and who would kill my sort of people.
This doesn’t imply a new identity as a self-hating ____ (Jew or liberal or whatever one may be), only a more flexible, expansive identity, and an awareness that we have the capacity to contain one another’s anger and other hard and soft emotions by being present to them in stillness, and we will not be burnt up by them.
I don’t mean to suggest that if we simply listen to each other, we will all agree, but that by focusing on needs rather than strategies, our emotional investment shifts to mutual respect and care for understandable needs.
At times during the training sessions, running through my head: why did it take so long for me to join you?
—here is a group who wants to connect from the heart in our common humanity.
Where was i?
I needed to care for and protect my family.
I am a father, I am a mother; sometimes ‘my family’ was so narrow in scope. And I had not enough of a trait deemed essential by the Mishna (Ethics of the Fathers), that of “haRo-eh et haNolad”, foresight as to what will come to pass, born of my attitudes and actions, or lack of them. How long it took for me to exercise some historical-spiritual awareness. Most of my own lifetime. The examples of Palestinians who feel existentially threatened by an opposing group yet who chose non-violence and dialogue after prison, inspire me. When I hear you sensing your own radicalization, it concerns me very greatly: you’ve cared for the seed of my possibility for empathy by the example of your own long commitment to activism on behalf of those unlike you. So beautiful—that core seems to attest what the human heart makes of any -isms, only flimsier or rougher clothing.
The sheep floated on the blue, etched on the cloud’s sphere. In the short time that I wrote my story in the sky, they had reshaped into vapour, then pelted down. The rain fell over a garbage dump of a used plastic pond. Children of the narrow alley played in the rain as they crossed it precariously over the wavering surface. The only way to decipher a pond underneath, was by the liquid walks of the nimble feet.
Eight, seven, and nine, the children tiptoed. Only their parents knew their names. They were headed towards a destination—a balloon factory. Hired to make party balloons of many colours, blue, yellow, pink, and red, they made a rainbow of balloons and stacked them up in a corner. Balloons, to be used for birthday parties.
They held the rainbow in their palms, but never had the opportunity to use any for birthday parties of their own. After a grueling shift of making balloons all day, they returned home with a few in their hands. But they flew away. They chased them but they went too high, lost in the sky. Walking the same liquid walk, over the pond, they came back to the alley. Each day, abundant balloons were made to last a hundred parties. They gave hope and joy to the many thousands who were born with a rainbow band around their heads.
The children were soaked in the rain. They crossed the hazardous pond balancing themselves on plastic. The last of the rains withered the lambs away from the blue—a balloon in its own right. The children ran along the alley under this blue balloon. This was a good day, they thought. Because their mothers were home and they could smell the cooking. The four lambs bleated at their respective ratty doors. They cried out—we are home. The mothers let them inside. Their dry mouths spread to hungry grins. Sons and mothers greeted one another.
“How was the day?” mums asked.
“We almost held the rainbow right here in the middle of our palms,” they said.
“Meaning?” mums asked.
“We chased some balloons at the plastic pond. But we lost them in the sky, along the way.”
“You couldn’t bring any home?” the mums asked.
“No. But it doesn’t matter,” they said.
“Why not?” mums asked.
“Quite simple. We went. We returned. We see you. You see us. What more can you ask for?”
The lambs were back, dissipating once again. This time, they left their signature in the silent bleat of a contrail across the serene blue sky.
…is an Australian novelist born in Bangladesh. Her historical fiction,The Pacifist, is a Drunken Druid’s Editor’s Choice and an Amazon Audible bestseller. Gatherings,is nominated for the James Tait Black Prize for fiction. Her short fiction has won in The Waterloo Festival Competition, Academy of the Heart and Mind contest, A Cabinet-Of-Heed Stream-Of-Consciousness Challenge, shortlisted, finalist, nominated for the 3xbotN, Pushcart, Publication of the Month, and Honourable Mention. Also, critically acclaimed by Midwest Book Review, DD Magazine, The Wild Atlantic Book Club to name a few. She is a juror to the KM Anthru Award, Litterateur RW Magazine, and featured writer on Flash Fiction North and Connotation Press. She has published books, articles, essays, and short fiction in international magazines, online, and in anthologies. Her works have been translated into German, Greek and Bangla.
Author’s Note: One of the oldest anthologies of world literature, the Hebrew Bible reflects the human search for meaning in an uncertain world. Themes such as the struggle to understand our mortality, our social responsibilities towards each other, and how we cope with trauma, infuse these mythic narratives.
Many readers are familiar with the character of Aaron, the brother of Moses. Few are acquainted with the story of his wife, Elisheva, who is only mentioned once in the Hebrew Bible. The story below is a modern example of a literary genre known as midrash, an imaginative elaboration of the original scriptural text. This midrash deals with an episode in the life of Aaron’s family when he assumes a new position of leadership on behalf of the people as the High Priest. The story takes place in the desert, after the people have fled from Egypt, received the Torah, and constructed the portable sanctuary. It is written from Elisheva’s point of view.
Stepping inside the courtyard of the holy place, the curtain flap open in the wind affording a brief glimpse of bronze and golden objects twinkling inside the tent, little lights flickering in the gloom. The brush scrapes the ground as I sweep up the accumulated ashes into a heap and stoke the dying embers, their carnelian glow once more flaring into life.
This coming back, this returning to the refuge of my skin, my hair, my lungs, my heart, my limbs, and my joints. Sensations arise in the space within the sanctuary’s bounds, my breath comes and goes, my body settles in as a part of the sanctuary’s covers, beams, poles and sockets—all part of this sacred, intricate design. During our spinning and sewing and forging and hammering, I had got up to tiptoe around, gazing in wonder at the fine linens of the tapestries and special garments, the smooth contours of the tent structure with its furniture inside and the radiant golds, blues, purples, reds of these creations which seemed to be springing from some other place.
My husband has been chosen to stand at the entrance where life meets death. After all our upheavals: the plagues and portents, the running in terror with just the clothes on our backs, across the sea, desert, mountain, the crossing, surviving, climbing. I suddenly aged, deep lines dug ditches around my mouth and eyes, my hair thin wisps of silver down my back. Heat blazing, heartbeat sprinting, joints creaking and then a blanket of fatigue overtook my bones. I ran out of patience. All these years I have channeled my energy into looking after our children, providing nourishment. And I helped with the birthing of hundreds of babies, looking after the other women of the camp, and reaching for them in turn for support.
Despite everything, Egypt beckons to me in my dreams. The ravaging furnace burning down on us, the shuffling dust of the alleyways and the wooden table where we ate and sang together in secret. They still travel with me. I hear the echoing voices of my parents, the jovial chuckle of my father at some tiny delight, a child showing a magic trick.
In this new desert land of our becoming, our grandchildren are starting to forget the language of our oppressors. Soon the camp and our own ancient language will be all they remember.
Yet in the freedom of the camp, I have become heavy with sadness. Two of our four grown sons have grown distant. Recently Nadav and Avihu began to remove themselves from the camp, offering sacrifices many times a day. They spend hours discussing minutiae of legal precepts with each other. They no longer sit with me, and they don’t want lovers or families of their own. They would rather be shut away discussing the vessels of the sanctuary. I feel a creeping dread as something stirs within my entrails. I wake often in the early hours.
Where is Aaron, my husband?
There was a terrible incident. He fashioned a golden calf when Moses was gone too long on the mountain. Afterwards our people carried out a mass slaughter. The loss of life, the blood, the agony was unbearable.
We rarely speak of it but when we do, Aaron looks away.
“Why did you do it?”
“I was scared.”
“The people’s distress and fear.”
“Why were they distressed and afraid?”
“The terrifying silence, the emptiness, the feeling of abandonment. Moses was gone so long, and they needed reminding of the essence of things, the candle within. They needed comforting.”
“So, you tried to comfort them?”
“Yes. I thought the golden calf would lift their spirits, create some holiness. I hoped it would remind the men to be like your nephew, Betzalel, our great architect, who channels divine inspiration into his art. The men would also remember they are made in the image of the divine and would return to the work of our holy community, dedicating themselves to the Great Mystery. So, I tried to fill them up with confidence and good feelings, the food and song of celebration. But it turned out wrong. The filling up was a mistake. I tried to do the work of creation for them. This gift, something separate and apart, was a solid object of cold, dead metal which had no room for holiness inside it. Now thousands of people are dead and it’s all my fault.”
Outrage. We couldn’t hear anything in the cacophony of crying. Deafness descended and panic set in once again, reminding us of Egypt.
Aaron told me he will always love me but now the air where once there was a singing robin is void of our voices. We have created a masterpiece of muteness, Aaron and I, a duet of noise and silence.
Aaron has to atone and then perhaps we can start anew. He and all our sons have to repent, to stay in the confines of the sanctuary for seven days in quiet solitude. Seven days of returning. Returning to the space within. They are encouraged to dwell inside and tend to the sanctuary with intention renewed, planting seeds for our future.
And after they left for the sanctuary, the rest of the camp has been full of busy activity, people rushing about getting things ready for the consecration of the priests. A jumble of jars of flour and oil and the bellowing of bulls, shrieks of lambs, jostling in pens outside the precinct.
Aaron left and I was alone. Silence entered our tent. I regretted not going to stay with one of our daughters-in-law and the grandchildren. I watched the migrating birds flying away, the pepper specks disappearing until the vault was empty.
They’ve been gone seven days already. Last night the sun chose its room and prepared to retreat into bed for the night. Dusk settled and I was open to all of evening, sleep overcoming my eyes, indigo.
Then suddenly in fright, it came to the fore. Tranquility no longer, no more. The darkness descending, the plummeting chain. I awoke there on the floor mat of my tent, heart pounding.
I had dreamed of grabbing and grasping, many people around me desperate, needing to be filled, imbibing until drunk and vomiting. And the earth, enraged, had swallowed us up and spat us out. And all the while the messengers, the angels danced at the gates of the garden, hot and sweating, with their swiveling swords.
We had fled, down valleys and across streams, where beasts live beyond park and pale, amongst the craggy rocks, lurking treacherously behind desert brush. There in a cave were souls curled up on the ground, slumbering, awaiting their turn like scorched seeds waiting for the rains to come.
And as the dream continued, only half alive, my veins constricting and my breath rattling in half a lung, I heard something. A small voice in the night crying for my attention, a new mother in labour. So I fled faraway to the other side, beyond where the horizon meets the edges of the earth to the outskirts of where women’s memory resides.
While my sisters and daughters talked of rupture and absence, our bodies were joined to our mothers’ bodies and those of our grandmothers. And the stories we told, our tears somehow became forgotten in the pain of childbirth. They rise up sometimes in other dreams, struggling to be heard and seen above the comings and goings, the babies’ cries and the pots and pans. They drop back down underneath the embroidered covers, burrowing.
Now so suddenly and brutally awake, shaking off the sticky cobwebs of dreams, I get up and go outside to a wide-open night sky and a bony moon. The walk is lonely, past thorny bushes black at this time of night, then the sandy earth beneath bare feet. Coming down an undulating slope, there is the glow from the sanctuary.
Someone is looking out, returning my gaze, a movement and a glimmer. Between the flaps of the awnings a presence lingers, peering from her bedroom out into the night. Her eyes open wider, and I see the two onyx stones. And a wind blows through the courtyard of the sanctuary, the curtains momentarily sway, and I see a swell within her, she is with child. New life within her shifts its tiny limbs. There is another ripple of wind, and the linen fabric of the enclosure settles once more under the restful dreaming moon.
The sky is going grey. Aaron and our sons bide their time in the sanctuary precinct, reminding me of my monthly time in the women’s tent. Outside the camp for seven days, bleeding out the beasts of sacrifice, they too are humbled. Seven days finished, echoing the seven of fullness, like the promise of a pregnant belly.
So as not to wake anyone, I tiptoe around the courtyard, peeking behind the drapes. There they are, all tucked up in their blankets, my husband, my grown boys. Calm, harmonious rhythms of breathing in, breathing out. Such love for that smooth, bald head, those lines around his crinkled eyes, all those whispering sighs. Here is the abundance of roots deepening down and branches reaching up, sap rising from my tending and protecting.
Turning and looking around, here again is the wondrous architecture of the sanctuary and I wonder about the placement of furniture in this impermanent home.
So too I wonder about the hidden secret place, and I start to wander, to look for it. Ever so quietly, smelling the sweet frankincense and myrrh, I run my hands over the smooth gold of the candelabra.
Then I see it. The inner curtain. I peek round it and see gazing winged angels, their eyes beholding each other with tenderness and passion.
Suddenly I am transported back to Egypt. I am in my mother’s clay brick house, but she is not there. I touch her robes hanging up to dry, and, parting them, I find something behind that I have never seen before. A golden door is set in the wall. I open it and an underground tunnel leads me all the way along its twists and turns to a cave with a warm, round, bubbling brook at its centre.
I blink, and once again find myself in the sanctuary, touching the inner curtain. The first threads of sunlight appear on the rosy strips of tapestry and light up the acacia and bronze. I hurry out, quietly, quietly, back to the courtyard and look up at the full array of colors filling the firmament.
I need to get home to the camp, to prepare celebratory cakes and return later for the festive occasion. Soon we will be a family of priests, chosen to serve in the sanctuary and there will be rejoicing and feasting.
Slipping towards the camp now, long nightdress damp and dirtied underfoot, needing a wash. Plans formulate, the mind steadies for lists and busy-ness once more. The daughters-in-law will arrive soon with the children. Cleaning, clearing, chopping, baking, feeding, holding, caring.
Before I reach the top of the hill, he calls my name: “Elisheva!”
My name, yes, my name! Elisheva. It means my God’s oath, or my God is seven.
I look back towards the sanctuary.
Aaron is by the entrance, smiling: “Seven days are complete, my love, my bride. I’m about to take my oath of service and we will be reunited again.”
Here he is at the entrance to the sanctuary, waiting for the Divine Indwelling to call to us, to meet us.
And a still, small Voice can now be heard, barely audible above the desert wind.
“How will I see you?”
“We’ve been searching foreign lands our whole lives for signs and wonders.”
And the Voice asks: “How will I hear you?”
“We couldn’t hear each other. We couldn’t hear above the cries of our people enslaved next to the mighty river. We had been deaf, under water.”
And the Voice asks: “How will I touch you?”
“Our skin was like the scales of a fish, floating dead in the Nile.”
And then the Voice tells us: “I’m waiting for you to be more intimate with Me. Return and listen, feel my pulse, sing prayers in my holy space, pour out your heart, wait for me.”
As the blue brightens and the air is turning, lifting me into the morning, I see the bull. Once a calf, now transformed and grown, destined for sanctification on the altar, a transformation into smoke and suet. They will pour out its blood. What a sacrifice, this perfect life to be taken, this valuable possession, so that we may live.
And I turn away from the pungent smell of burning animal brought on the wind. Aaron’s shame disappearing in smoke. The bull diminishing, my heart heavy for the breaking of life but now remembering our wedding; how I had looked at the smashed glass and became conscious of our flaws, the messes we make. Each created thing has its place and time.
Now the bull’s life-force is being released, the germinating seed is cracking open, roots traveling inwards and burying down, down, down and sprouts stretching upwards. My grandchildren come and they cling to me and together we see Aaron re-emerging.
The preparations are finished, the washing, the anointing and here he is, here he is, here is Aaron coming out in his glorious vestments. The excited whispers of the crowd grow as we look on.
A butterfly emerges from its chrysalis.
And I am a part of it, too, I am there, a part of two, the other ear, thumb and toe anointed in oil.
And I am a part of my sons, too. They emerged from my womb.
My heart listens for the footsteps, the life of the fire dances within and without, awaiting; the back of my neck, the insides of my wrists, my thighs, my palms, my nose, my lips anticipate your taste.
We sing together inside our sanctuary.
Inside you will see and hear and touch, in here, we’ll find part and parcel of Us, you and me, and me and you and this vanishing view.
The scarlets, blues, purples of this garden, these embroidered robes, the golden sunlight engraved on the head-dress, the gemstones, the flowers glittering and glorious and dazzling. The bells and the pomegranates and the vegetation quiver and breathe their aliveness.
You emerge and, my love, I emerge, and the butterfly, my love and I can feel it in our bodies and we can fly.
And the garden sanctuary beckons, its warm earth, delicate rains, vast expanse of air, sun, almond blossoms, and the nothingness and the everything within.
…grew up in London and earned a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Edinburgh University in Scotland. After completing legal training at the University of Law, she worked in family law in London for a few years. During this time, Deborah went to Jerusalem on a ten-day trip where she met and fell in love with her husband, who happens to be a Rabbi. They got married and Deborah moved to Jerusalem. There she worked as a yoga and mindfulness teacher while mothering their three rambunctious children. Since 2020, Deborah has been living in New York. She is currently teaching mindfulness and pursuing graduate Jewish Studies with Spertus Institute.
no babies cry,
birds don’t fly.
rains don’t fall,
cats don’t call,
no sound at all.
trees don’t grow,
it doesn’t snow,
cars don’t go.
GOD is not there
to hear our prayer
and doesn’t care.
and the World expires?
What was it that led them
thus – round mounds of green
like tiny hills, beasts with
two backs. I envision them,
smooth bodies slick with wet,
the male clinging to her
smaller frame. Above,
the moon unfurling rivulets of light
their shadows cast along the way,
twines and twangs, huddled in
a soldier’s march.
I stop and wonder,
a witness above the pond.
They’re gone now, only clouds
of pearls beneath the surface:
life, translucent eggs. We are barren,
no part of us to be left behind -
we hold on to each other anyway,
time against flesh, its universal.
But here, those spawns will emerge
despite remorse or love.
Cyclical. Persistent. We fade away.
*Amplexus is the mating embrace of frogs and toads
Evidence of Survival
Grass sways gently
in the currents, lithe
and golden. In autumn
you slipped away:
indentions left on flesh,
phantom pains, in place of hugs,
maybe we expected this to happen.
The anger, your restlessness
turning up. It’s uncertain
how we’ll grow, difficult to imagine
the people we’ll become. Now that
we’ve been uprooted, what will be
the best environment? Above the surface,
tender shoots capture precipitation,
suggesting sustainability, evidence
that we have the ability,
to absorb more than we imagined.
in the city
laid tame by
Early evening shadows
reveal our stripes
by bent blinds.
Every corner of
our corporeal landscape
left hungry by
Instead, we continually
birth our faith,
Mating season returns—
we’re fully aware
and we’ll become
Too beguiled to budge
and find another,
our bodies create
a different beast—
we brave our future
and wallow in our lonely
This is an anonymous submission by a Palestinian, after the shooting of a young woman near an IDF checkpoint — via Ester Karen Aida
I feel angry at the tyranny of injustice and darkness on our lives.
I feel angry at the lack of hope.
I feel angry because the value of human life has become zero. Decided by a distressed or terrified soldier at a checkpoint.
I feel angry that most of the peoples of the earth enjoy freedom and my people are occupied and enslaved.
I get angry when my life or death is decided by an extremist and spiteful.
I feel angry at the spread of racism and hatred.
I am angry that I am being targeted because of my national and religious affiliation.
I don't hate people but I feel let down.
I hope that the humanitarian principles of freedom, justice and sympathy will prevail throughout my country, a freedom that does not differentiate between a person and a person because of their national, religious or sexual affiliation.
Another anonymous submission by a Palestinian — via Ester Karen Aida
We will keep knocking on the doors of your hearts.
Cover art: Still Life with Goldfish and Lotus Kat Patton Digital Image
The theme for the summer issue of 2021 is Waging Peace through Common Ground. To wage peace by common ground, we must develop empathy. We must learn to see each other, hear our words, and feel our emotions. This is the work of us as individuals. And we have to then find the links that would allow us to work together on common ground for the common good. And among the pressing common goods that need working, next to and intertwined with social justice and climate change, is peace.
In the past weeks war broke out again here in Israel. While the leaders of Israel and Hammas may demonstrate little empathy for the other side, the people do feel empathy—especially for the children killed, for the children hiding in shelters in fear on both sides. For children missing childhood. Ameen al-Bayed, a Palestinian, and Ester Karen Aida, an Israeli Jew, contribute essays that demonstrate and call for empathy. Both do work in Non-Violent Communication. Other contributors address the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as well. And still other contributors address a range of topics related to waging peace—from mental well-being to social justice to the environment and more—and the need for common ground.
Finding common ground does not mean agreeing with objectionable, unethical, or criminal ideas and behavior. For me, it means using empathy to understand another person or group of people where possible, and recognizing what beliefs, experiences, and goals we have in common (among other possible commonalities). Before the the war here in Israel a group of political party leaders with seemingly little common ground began forming a coalition, which they completed after the ceasefire. This week a new government was sworn in to replace Benjamin Netanyahu, after 12 years.
For the first time an Israeli-Arab party has joined an Israel government, with a cabinet ministerial post as part of the deal. A far-right religious party leader will have the first term as prime minister in a power-sharing agreement and a centrist party leader the second. The party has left-wing Meretz and centrist-left Labor parties, a strong secularist party and the far-right religious party. This is also the most diverse cabinet in history. Besides unseating Netanyahu, which they succeeded in doing, what could they have in common?
Bret Stephens, a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post and now a columnist for The New York Times, suggests today (15 June) that they have formed a truly democratic coalition built on creating a functioning government that will work together to run the state. They have chosen a pragmatic solution to assure that the government of Israel can move on from a divisive politics headed by Netanyahu to a pragmatic politics. Each party had to let go of platform planks and ideological values while negotiating core issues of the most immediate concern. This is finding common ground.
The government hasn’t been sworn in for even 48 hours as I write this. Its experiment may not work. Possibly, though, this historic government will help a divisive, “blood sport,” politics move into a more inclusive and practical politics that can compromise in the areas we don’t have in common while focusing on moving forward on those areas in most need—our urgent common ground:
May peace prevail on earth.
—Michael Dickel, Editor
With the first issue of our eighth volume (year), you may have noticed some changes. Most of the changes are tweaks here and there to the visible look of the pages. One very visible change is the Table of Contents below. Using a technical, behind-the-scenes tool of WordPress, the entries in our ToC are now automatically generated. As we learn to use the tool better, we will refine the formatting.
Also new since last issue, there is a button at the top of the ToC for browsing the whole issue. If you click on that, you will arrive at the “Cover.” As you scroll down, you will see this Intro and ToC again. However, keep on scrolling and you will be able to see all of the pages of the journal. Just keep scrolling to keep reading.
And, in case you want to come back to the ToC, you will find a button to do just that at the bottom of each content page—it is a small version of Kat Patton’s wonderful cover art.
During this year we will continue to work on the look, feel, and design of The BeZine. This is how we are working to sustain the Zine, in hopes that this will make a better experience for you, our readers.
What is the magic answer to the thorny questions that it seems have resonated throughout human history? What can individuals do to move us toward a genuinely lasting peace on this sacred Earth of ours; on this, the only place that we and foreseeable generations have to live? What can we do to make us honest and worthy of the quest? It seems instead that we prefer the old formula that promises to advance us toward yet another round of talks; another ‘agreement’ that so often it turns out is not worth the paper on which it is written. Wherever we look in the world, this pattern repeats itself. Yet, after another round of protests, of raising funds to help the beleaguered and vulnerable local population, we in the affluent West sit back in our comfy armchairs, consuming our unnecessary little pieces of luxury … and I am no exception to this!
Once again, in the past month, the hornets’ nest has been well and truly stirred between Israel and Palestine; stirred by fear, anxiety and anger; by Lord knows who. Which party, which troublemakers, which gang, which international sponsor, who has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo … of division, conflict and any hope there may be of unifying the nations? As ever, the previously drawn, well established lines have been punctured and drawn into question. There is now another, yet it is always felt, fragile truce. The circumstances of this, as with all conflicts, is fraught with complexity, with entrenched views and attitudes, with ideological positions, with stubborn refusal to yield their politically, geographically and materially sensitive attitudes and policies.
We have spent a year fighting a common enemy, which for a time brought us together in our common cause to survive. How astonishingly resilient and industrious are those ordinary people, the medical professions, scientists and all those involved in enabling that survival. But as the black veil of this hidden, insidious enemy is lifted from our eyes, once again, sadly, we begin to see the all too familiar lines being drawn. The rifts between nations, territories, communities, even families, re-emerge.
There is therefore a question that needs to be asked: where is that elusive quality of humanity, that emotion that makes us glow and renews and binds our spirits? Where is Joy?
A unique relationship between two spiritual leaders from different religious spheres, those of Buddhism and Christianity, His Holiness the Dalia Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu can provide us with some answers. That Joy is a by-product; a by-product of what, I hear you ask? It is not easy in a life driven by material rather than spiritual concerns, but a solution is possible simply because the human character is such that we are capable of achieving great things in times of great need and a will to make changes to our personal and thereby collective lives. Practising the ‘Eight Pillars of Joy’ is the action we need that will give rise to this elusive by-product of Joy.
In their book of long conversations on the subject of joy, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu developed some guiding principles, which they summarised rather happily as “The Eight Pillars of Joy” …
Perspective – there are many different angles
Humility – trying to be humble and modest
Humour – Laughter is much better
Acceptance – the only place where change can begin
Forgiveness – freeing ourselves from the burden of our past
Gratitude – appreciating what we have and life itself
Compassion – affirmation by meditation, prayer and fasting
Generosity – unconditional giving can be a source of ultimate Joy.
Achieving this and feeling the resultant Joy in our hearts and minds, I cannot see any other result than one further by-product, which is Peace.
There is evidence in this issue of the BeZine, as you might expect, in Corina Ravenscraft’s poem, “Asking for a Friend”, which cleverly moves from the ‘I’ to the ‘We’, from the personal to the collective, and on to a compelling final question. In the Joe Hesch poem, “Holding on to My Last Breath” he too hits home with the message that before we can wage peace collectively, we have to find it within ourselves. Then there is an essay on non violent communication, by Ester Karen Aida, which challenges us to address our seasoned prejudices by asking questions of each other and focussing in on our inherent truths. And there is so much more to bend your minds to thinking in completely different ways.
Wherever we are in our personal struggles … we need to take the first step and start today.
Smoke rises on both sides
of the border.
Plumes of smoke unfurl
into a blue sky over Gaza.
Ribbons of smoke curl upward
over Tel Aviv.
The sound of sirens blare,
hearts pounding seek safety
before the next bomb falls.
Where did peace go?
Wasn’t it here a moment ago?
Brothers at War
My Israeli brother,
why can’t you
After the smoke clears
and the bombs stop
falling, I will still
be your brother,
my hatred of you
for not seeing me
You are still
Why do I feel
like I’m talking
to the wind,
that no one
than I can
over the sound
that you don’t
you are killing
your own brother?
How do you spell
love, brother? Can
you tell me? Or
doesn’t the word
exist in your
My Palestinian brother,
why can’t you
After the sirens
fall silent and
your rockets stop
hitting our homes,
I will still be
no one will
Why can’t you hear
what I’m saying?
Is it too much
to ask for you
to open your
ears and hear
my words, my
wish that one
day we might
talk to each
other like a
brothers, if there is
such a thing.
That one day
we might stop
trying to kill each
other and listen
to what each of us
has to say?
How do you spell
Can you tell me?
Will we ever learn
to trust each other
long enough to see
the love in each
is the author of Writing Yoga (Rodmell Press/Shambhala) and editorial director of The Jewish Writing Project. He received his BA from Columbia University and his MFA from Vermont College. His poems and personal narratives have appeared in Soul-Lit,Poetry Super Highway, Atherton Review, Elephant Journal, Blue Lyra Review, Tiferet Journal, Hevria, Poetica, Jewthink, The Jewish Literary Journal,Mindbodygreen, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and elsewhere. He lives in Sarasota, FL.