Swords Into Plowshares

As your board president, I am now midway through my term, and it has been both a privilege and a learning experience to be so involved in the leadership of our open, inclusive and creative Jewish mountain community.

Behind the scenes, as with any organization of any size, there is a lot of time, thought and elbow grease that goes into keeping the gears going, and there are just so many people to thank. I am grateful to our wonderful board of directors, our administrative staff Leah Conner and Elizabeth Moore, our gifted and inspiring Rabbi Jamie, our education director Tara Saltzman, and to all of the other congregants who contribute in so many ways, big and small, to foster and sustain our unique Jewish experience here at CBE. I want to extend a very special thank you to Dan Herman, my highly engaged vice president, who is an endless fount of support and wise counsel, and who will be serving as our next president a year from now.  I truly feel that I am among friends here, sharing a common vision of what a small, energetic and engaged Jewish congregation can be and can do.

We have a new board that just began in July, and I do want to extend a warm welcome to Ken Schneider, Anne Wolf, Sheri Pinsonneault and Kate Olson, who have offered their valuable time and talents as our newest board members for this next term.

We may view ourselves as a small Reconstructionist congregation tucked into the Colorado foothills of Evergreen, but we are also part of the worldwide Jewish community of 15 million souls.  By percentages, we Jews are a tiny fraction of the world’s population, but we are a noisy tribe of some consequence, as we have been for millennia, and we tend to play a role on the world stage well out of proportion to our size as a people.

This year, we have once again seen tragic violence erupt in our small slice of the Middle East, between Gaza and Israel, leading to near-open warfare with many lives lost.  At a recent Saturday ‘bagel table’ discussion with Rabbi Jamie, a number of us shared varied perspectives and differing opinions on the nature of this conflict, how and why it developed, the politics and history behind it, vigorous debate regarding who bore the most responsibility, and a discussion of this latest conflict’s relationship to the more longstanding obstacles to peace in the Middle East.  With the shared understanding that the complexity of the situation had no obvious answer within reach, we all seemed to agree that a central part of any solution had to involve interfaith outreach, person to person, community to community, and hopefully, eventually, nation to nation.

Towards the end of our discussion, I recounted to my synagogue friends a powerful dream I had had a week or so prior.  My alarm had woken me up at the very end of the dream, and I thus remembered it vividly in its entirety.  It goes like this:

I was with a friend up in the mountains at the synagogue, and it was a quiet summer day, with just the two of us there, working.  Then, a man and a woman appeared, their young daughter with them, and they were a poor Arab family from down the street, a sort of dusty mountain road in the foothills. I can’t recall what they needed from us, but they felt compelled to walk into the synagogue and ask for our help.   My friend was busying himself getting the necessary things together to help them, and I was chatting mainly with the father, a small middle aged dark-skinned balding man with glasses in a suit, and we provided them with what they needed from us.

Then, the mother, a dark middle-aged woman in a hajib, began to speak about what ‘your people are doing to our people’, how horrible it was, how unfair, how evil we were, and there was just so much anger and animosity as I realized that they were Palestinian Muslims.  While she was talking, with me just listening, the young girl suddenly turned to me and asked me if she could hug me.  I immediately said yes, and we both stood up and hugged each other tightly.  As we hugged, I jokingly said, “The last one to let go wins”, and we just continued to hug for a long time as her parents just watched quietly.  We finally stopped at the same moment after such a long embrace.

I then spoke with the family, mainly the parents, about how there were indeed terrible things happening between the Jews and the Arabs, and how it breaks my heart as well, since we share a common ancestor and are cousins to one another.

They then took their things, left the synagogue down the dusty path, and after a few minutes, the father returned with a small container containing pistachio treats, which he offered to us as a gift for our assistance.  He was tearful and thankful for our help and wanted to apologize to me for his wife’s angry words.   I once again told him that we are related, we are cousins, we are family, that we share a common ancestor, and I told him: “It is not your people and my people.  It is our people.”  By this time, I was tearful and he was softly weeping, and my alarm went off, waking me up.

These powerful images stayed with me throughout the day, and I felt the need to share this dream with co-workers and friends, much as I am sharing it publicly here now with you.

I realize that we live in a complicated world, filled with inequity and hatred, violence and fear, kaleidoscopically complex politics, existential threats to the Jewish state, and longstanding cultural, economic and religious differences.  I recognize that these problems are extraordinarily difficult to even describe and define properly, let alone to begin a meaningful process to resolve them.

I also believe that the only path forward begins with a sincere attempt by each of us to strive to understand and embrace the other, surely with a clear-eyed look at the dangers we face, but with the realization that it has to begin person to person, then community to community, and then, hopefully and eventually, nation to nation.

I end with Isaiah:

“They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, and they will no longer learn the ways of war.”

May it someday come to pass.

L’Shalom,

Hal Stein

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