Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Trusting Love Enough to Start Hard Conversations

The Rev. Jessica Hitchcock
For as long as I can remember, I have had chosen family members who were Jewish. The Gerson girls and my Aunt Maury were present at my baptism, and the Fink and Hitchcock children wandered interchangeably between our two houses. They are absolutely my family. 

I was gifted with two weeks of study at St. George’s, Jerusalem in May, and while excited, I knew that the trip would force me to stop willfully avoiding tension in relationships I hold so dear. I don’t know how my Jewish chosen family feels about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because we don’t talk about it – and I like it that way. It is easy that way, and I treasure our limited time together. I don’t want to weigh it down with the hard stuff. Especially when life throws plenty of hard stuff our way without taking into consideration the plight of people halfway around the earth.

But I saw the wall. I sat through many checkpoints. I saw the metal barricades limiting the movements of Muslim people in the old city as Jewish people gathered at the western wall to celebrate Jerusalem Day. I saw settlements, which I had imagined were more mobile home-ish, while in fact they are really nice, new construction developments. I saw the stark line between prosperity and poverty, between lush, green landscaping and… the desert. And that line follows religious and ethnic divisions.

On our bus rides through the winding roads of Israel, I was listening to the audiobook “Divergent.” It was a very interesting juxtaposition, hearing about different groups (factions) of peoples who each believe their perspective and approach to be the way to save the world, who each make uninformed gross generalizations about the other groups. Tensions are high and getting higher, and war between the factions seems inevitable. As I listened, I was fully immersed in a similarly stressed environment fraught with misunderstanding and assumptions.

I know that both (or all, because I’m not sure it is just two) groups of people have wronged the other tremendously. I know it would be impossible to look back over each injury and insult to figure out who started this fight. Someone is going to have to be willing to take the last hit while forgoing revenge and restitution. I wish the admiration that would come from collaborating with God’s dream was more motivating, but… I haven’t lost a family member in this fight. And frankly, I am so scared of losing a family member by talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Who am I to ask someone else to risk so much?

As I listened to the radio on the way to church Sunday morning, I heard someone ask Jonathan Haidt, an expert on the psychology of morality, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how we might get people to move. He replied with the same answer he had offered for the entrenched and divisive atmosphere which is crippling the US’s ability to govern ourselves: relationships, not reason; shared meals, not organized debates.

I have the relationships. I am already welcome at the table. I know my Jewish family to be remarkable, kind, and loving. Why can’t I trust them to help me be part of the solution?

The Rev. Jessica Hitchcock is the associate rector at St. Luke's, Bethesda.