A Life-Changing Experience

On Sunday, April 28th, I had a life-changing experience. I attended the pro-Israeli rally that was held in Hartford on the steps of the Capital. I approached the rally with one other person, Becky Maran, with a banner that said something to the effect of, “Jews for Palestinian freedom and a free Palestinian state” (this is not verbatim). I was extremely nervous going into a crowd of Zionists (both Jew and non-Jew), but felt comfortable enough, being Jewish myself, that I would be able to at least engage in dialogue with my own people.

This was not the case. As soon as Becky (who is also a Jewish person) and I unfurled the banner, we were swarmed with a few people who had no interest in dialogue with us, who cursed at us, spat at us, and threatened to physically assault us. Both of us attempted to engage these people in dialogue, but again, we were met with hostility and closed ears. I even told them that I was a Jew and that I had every right to be at the rally, and that there is NO united front against Palestinians within the Jewish religion.

One man claimed that he was going to punch me. I didn’t remember what I said, but he then said that he was going to get the cops to come over, which I was (for the first time) happy to hear him say. As soon as the police came over, they provided us with protection, because the hostility did not end. I was very sad to see that the people that I was nurtured by could be so callous and so pig-headed. I was even more hurt, when I was told that I was not a Jew, because I differentiate between Judaism and Zionism.

Becky and I stood there with the banner singing Jewish songs (which angered the crowd even more), still getting stares, being spat at and screamed at, and for the first time, I realized that I was in the minority of opinion at a rally. I’m used to being hated for my political beliefs, but I have to admit that I don’t think I’ve ever been more frightened in my life. At one point, I looked over my left shoulder and saw some faces I recognized from Wesleyan University, but I wasn’t sure if they had come to support the pro-Israeli rally or to support us. One woman asked me who we were with, and I told her that we were alone. She then said that they were here with us! I can’t tell you how happy I was to have another 15 people right next to us with beautiful banners and leaflets, and willing to stand up for justice with us. It was just one of those moments that I will never forget.

The rest of the rally was made up of empty speeches. My own rabbi that I had grown up with, spoke. He has had a lasting impression on me throughout my life. The two things that I learned from him, throughout my education are: 1) As a Jew, I should question everything, even the existence of God; and 2) As a Jew, it is my duty to create a “caring and compassionate society.” Well, it seems as though only one of us has fulfilled his words. I support a free Palestine, because I question the morality of Zionism (which is NOT the same as Judaism), and because I will not stand by, as so many people did in Europe while my family was being killed, and let any other people be slaughtered and oppressed. If I stand by and let this happen without standing up, then I will be those people who kept their mouths shut while we burned in death camps.

I want more than a Palestinian state, though. I want Israelis and Jews worldwide along with Palestinians, Muslims worldwide, and Arabs, to be able to reconcile differences that we have fought over in the past millennium. We are too close to each other, in proximity, in faith, in struggle, to be enemies. Creating a Palestinian state will not be the end of this conflict. Many Israelis and Jews will still hate Palestinians and vice versa. If we cannot create a dialogue around the world, alongside the creation of a Palestinian state, before too long, we will all be at war with each other, and what has that ever accomplished?

I spoke to my mom last night- we had a very long conversation about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I know how difficult it is going to be to reconcile differences and for both Jews and Muslims to both feel safe in the same region and on the same planet. I feel as though I have made very important connections with my Muslim brothers and sisters, and I look forward to those relationships flourishing as we fight for common goals. I ask people, however, to try to engage American Zionists and American Jews in dialogue also, because they will never understand why we fight oppression if they are only hearing one side of the story. While I understand that Zionism equates xenophobia and therefore is the enemy, I can’t escape the thought that so many Zionists don’t even know what they support, because they’ve been brainwashed (by many people) to believe that one culture, or one people is more valuable than another. This teaching can be undone.

I came away from the rally yesterday, realizing that the Judaism that I grew up with was not what I perceive it to be today. Nothing changed with the religion. I changed. I have a better understanding of what it means to love my neighbor, and I will keep on fighting oppression wherever I see it, whether it’s in the form of anti-Arab/anti-Muslim/anti-Palestinian sentiment, anti-Semitism, or the oppression of any people anywhere – I will fight alongside my brothers and sisters.

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