Op-Ed: Our Response To Collective Tragedies – Choose Life

By Eliana Rudee

When I heard the tragic news that Naftali, Eyal, and Gilad had been found murdered, I was with 33 American and Israeli peers at a business workshop in Jerusalem as a part of the Core18 social entrepreneurship program. After one of the Israelis in my group announced the news, all of those in the room began to grimace, whisper to one another, and contact their loved ones.

The lecturer, an Israeli, continued just a couple minutes after we heard the news. But everyone was still researching articles to find more details, texting, and whispering to each other. Nobody could focus, and the lecturer did not seem to understand how traumatic this news was for the group. After an American in the group suggested we take a moment of silence and then a break, an Israeli said, “What you have to understand is that this is very sad, but it is normal for us. We have to live with this.”

As an American in Israel, I was surprised at the range of responses of this news. While some met the collective tragedy with reluctant acceptance, others outpoured with emotion and anger. For some, the reluctant acceptance acts as a defense mechanism to deal with the frequent tragedies that would otherwise emotionally exhaust the Israeli nation. For others, taking action was the response chosen to address the pain of loss. Taking action can be healing, but that depends on the course chosen.

A Rabbi leading our group reminded us that our program, which focuses on Jewish social entrepreneurship, is exactly the appropriate way to channel our trauma. We must take action to heal the Jewish world and promote peace.

Tuesday, July 15th marked an important day for this collaboration. On this day, Jews fasted for the 17th of Tammuz, a day of mourning and fasting that commemorates the destruction of the Temple and the breaching of the old city walls. Also on this day, Muslims fasted for Ramadan, subduing their bodies to reach God-consciousness and purifying the heart and mind of sin. These mutual fasting days gave us an opportunity to stop looking outward for revenge, and begin to look inward at how we can use collective tragedy for good. A joint Arab-Jewish initiative called “Choose Life” has facilitated just this—their Facebook page called for a mutual hunger strike against violence. Their page states: “All over the country joint events will take place in the afternoon, of Jews and Arabs, secular and religious, Israelis and Palestinians, to talk, learn and pray. At the end of the events, when the stars come out, an Iftar will take place, a mutual breaking of the fast. We invite you to share, to fast, to look inwards and to initiate a “Choosing Life” event where you live.”

At one of the Choose Life events in Jerusalem, a Rabbi read letters he had received from Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. He said that in one letter, a man wrote that Hashem and Allah (which are one in the same) did not give us the land so we would kill each other.

A Muslim man named Faisal echoed the Rabbi’s thoughts and spoke about how a lot of the violence in our world occurs in the name of religion. He argued that people need to stop hiding behind religion, because the Muslim and Jewish religions do not support killing innocent people in war.

During this time of revenge, bloodshed, and fear in Israel and the Palestinian territories, it is vital, now more than ever, to channel our collective tragedy into a time of positive and shared initiatives. As Winston Churchill once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. As so many people experience loss in this time, this situation has the power to either motivate peace, or motivate even more hate. It is the way that we deal with collective tragedy that will decide.

Eliana Rudee is a contributor to the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied International Relations and Jewish Studies. She published her thesis in Perceptions and Strategic Concerns of Gender in Terrorism. Follow her @ellierudee.

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