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Weighing Our Words

Rabbi Isaac Saposnik, executive director of Havaya Summer Programs, originally shared these thoughts with the Camp Havaya community in an email sent Nov. 13, 2023. 

So much about this time continues to be heart-breaking and soul-rending. Here in the United States, far removed from the front lines, one of the things that has been most painful for me over these last few weeks has been the animus with which members of our Havaya family are engaging with one another – primarily on social media. Safe behind computer and phone screens, people say things in ways they wouldn’t dream of if we were face-to-face. They write in absolutes. They double-down on their diatribes. And they miss opportunities, time after time after time, to pause and say: “I hear you. I see you. I’m here for you.” Even when it is clear to anyone paying attention that the person they’re writing to is in pain.

Those who purport to have absolute moral clarity often tell those of us grappling that, if we don’t share that clarity, we must be morally reprehensible. But that hardly seems right – or fair. Individually and collectively, we are smart enough and capable enough to hold multiple narratives. And if ever there was a time to hold those pluralities, now would be that time.

There’s so much coming at us right now that it can be hard to hold all of it. Where some people are totally sure of themselves, I often find myself conflicted, challenged, and confused.

But there are some things I know:

What Hamas did on October 7 was unconscionable, unfathomable, and unacceptable. 

Not all Palestinians support Hamas.
Not all Israelis support their government.

Far too many innocent Israelis have been killed and kidnapped. Including babies.
Far too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. Including babies.

The occupation is unsustainable for Palestinians.
The occupation is unsustainable for Israelis.

Israelis are in pain.
Palestinians are in pain.
So are the people who love them.

I’m not Israeli.
I don’t live in Israel.
Perhaps I have a voice, but I certainly don’t have a veto.

The longer this goes on, the more people will die.
The longer this goes on, the more anti-Semitism will rear its ugly head.
The longer this goes on, the more fractured and isolated the Jewish community will become.

If this were simple, someone would have already found a solution.

It’s not simple.

We are scared.
Our friends are scared.
Those we “other” are scared.

The ways we’re talking to each other – to people we know and love, people with whom we share so much in common, people of good faith and strongly held values – are simply not okay.
We can do better.

When Reconstructing Judaism says “our love for Israel exists alongside our desire to seek a just and lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians,” they are acknowledging that both of these can (and do!) exist simultaneously. At Havaya, this comes to life in our commitment to providing a space where campers and staff can explore various viewpoints and make up their own minds. We remain committed to teaching and living in honest, meaningful, balanced, and values-aligned ways that embody our abiding love for Israel and, at the same time, hold up the potential for a peaceful path forward.

We talk often about wanting campers to fall in love with Israel so that, when the challenges come, they can grapple with them with clear eyes and open hearts. So here we are. The challenges have come. This is not a drill. We must be clear-eyed about the horrors of war and speak loudly of the imperative for peace. And we must do this with all the open-heartedness we can muster. Why? Because there’s already more than enough fighting in the world; we don’t need to add to it with sanctimonious posts and comments.

A modern proverb, adapted from Danny Siegel: 

    If you always assume that
          the person sitting next to you 
          is the messiah
          just waiting for some simple human kindness –
    You will soon come 
          to weigh your words 
          and watch your hands 
          and attend to your responsibilities – 
    And, if they choose 
          not to reveal themself in your time –
    It will not matter.

We would all do well to heed that advice right about now. We don’t need to have all the answers. We don’t have to agree. We just have to treat each other with respect, with kindness, and with love.

If we can’t do that, if we can’t embody “how we be,” if we can’t share “some simple human kindness” in these dark times, we will have failed as a camp community. And we cannot fail. Because we need each other. Now, more than ever.

The Reconstructionist Network