Who is Willing to Destroy a Piece of Their Own Heart?

An excerpt from a talk given at Community Church of Durham, NH

by Joel Berman, Compassionate Listening Facilitator *


We humans have arrived at an unprecedented hinge of history. it’s hard to imagine a more apocalyptic accretion of worldwide catastrophes.

There is so much woundedness crying out for the poultice of compassion. But today I am called to Israel-Palestine.

As a Jew, I’ve been to Israel 6 times. The last four were with an organization called The Compassionate Listening Project, which visits some of the world’s most contentious hot spots with the intention of creating safe spaces for people on all sides of the geopolitical divide to tell their stories.

In 2018, one of the people we listened to - Rabbi Shaul Judelman - told us that despite Israel’s overwhelming military and economic superiority, Israelis are as afraid of Palestinians as Palestinians are of Israelis. Fear in the Holy Land, he told us, competes on a level playing field. How can that be?

In 2016, we met with Anat Hoffman, the director of an Israeli NGO much like our ACLU, who asked our group:

How many of you have Holocaust moments? Israelis have Holocaust moments every day. When we go to the barber and see the shorn locks of our neighbors on the floor, when we drop off our kids at kindergarten and see the little shoes lined up outside the door.

These moments aren’t dying out with the passing of generations. They’re transmitted through shared memory, memorials, mandatory 7th grade visits to Auschwitz, and as we now know, epigenetics. Holocaust trauma is embedded not just in the minds of Israelis but in their bones. The rest of the world may see Israel as mighty Goliath, but Israel sees itself as little David armed only with a slingshot.

In 2019, we listened to Palestinian peace activist Ali Abu Awwad, who told us that the road to a Palestinian state must go through the hearts of the Jewish people, not their bodies. If they see me, he told us, if they know me, they will want for me what I want for myself.

Shaul and Anat and Ali are each saying that there will be peace and security in Israel and Palestine when each side can see the suffering of the other as their own. When a critical mass of Israelis and Palestinians want for the other what they want for themselves, their leaders will follow.