Toward Softening

This is a hard time for our people. The hardest in my lifetime.

I believe that Israel has a right to exist and to defend itself, and I believe that there are existential threats to Israel’s existence right now. Some days I respond from my outrage and terror; I feel urgency to “set people straight” about facts, history, and definitions.

At the same time, these words of 20th-century Israeli poet Yehudah Amichai haunt me:

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring

How can both be true – that there are right answers and clear moral imperatives to defend our people, and that there is lived truth in others’ perspectives? (Israeli author Etgar Keret powerfully expresses his version of the tension of opposites in Israel in 600 Words or Less.)

I have spent so much of my life practicing (often not succeeding) open-hearted listening, giving the benefit of the doubt, and responding with curiosity to what I disagree with. Can that strategy be wrong now, with so much at stake?

I am a living pressure cooker, with warring inner inclinations: to definitively make my case for supporting Israel in all the ways they are wrestling with this trauma; and to listen with curiosity to my beloved community members, whose values and intelligence I respect, whose politics feel threatening to me right now.

Adding to the energy of opposition, digging into being “right” – even if I am – doesn’t seem fruitful. Amichai’s poem continues:

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

Gardeners know we have to turn up the soil to plant seeds that will grow. Perhaps if we are brave enough to allow the full range of our feelings (I’m often not) we might soften. I believe we have to do whatever it takes to allow ourselves to soften, water the soil with our tears, and be human together.


A non-Jewish progressive activist friend called. She listened to my distress. She said, “We stand with the Jewish people.” I wept. Is what she said so much to ask?


From this softer place, I remember: it’s not either-or. The unbearable tension has given way to a knowing. My questions shift: How can I help? Where can I be of service?

Amichai’s poem concludes:

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

Doubts and loves make space for a whisper of hope in the place of all this destruction. I weep for all the destruction, Amichai’s house and its inhabitants, for all the traumatized children of war.

My doubt: I do not know what the best war strategy is for Israel to rescue the captives and stop the terrorist attacks. My love: I love and support the people of Israel to do the best they can, as they are actively wrestling with grief, rage, and all the moral complexities of this horrific situation. My prayer: May I respond to what arises in my life with kindness, in support of relationships, in support of shleymut, wellbeing.