Last night, I returned from a seven-week trip that changed the way I look at the world on a political level, but also on a sociological and religious level.

In the coming days, I’ll take a short hiatus from narrating on politics and, instead, share some journal entires and thoughts that I wrote while I was in Poland. I’ll also explain the changes in my political ideologies– why being in Israel caused me to move further right or further left on certain issues.

The most important realization I had, however– the thing that kept me open to so many other opinions– is that the world isn’t drawn in black and white. It’s important not to incarcerate yourself in any political or religious box. While I was in Israel, I heard people say things that made me want to punch them. I also heard people say things that made me want to hug them. But regardless of what the opinion was, I learned that I had to keep everything in context: there’s a reason that the man living on the Lebanese border is so right-wing. There’s a reason that the Palestinian man who has been neglected all his life is so left-wing. You have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes– really understand where they’re coming from– before you argue with them (or decide whether or not it’s a good idea to argue with them).

This past Friday, on the corner of Gaza Street in Jerusalem, I met Noam Shalit, the father of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. In an uncomfortable effort to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime moment, I hesitantly walked up to him and asked–perhaps naïvely–what it is that we, Jewish American youth, can do to help his son’s situation.

Noam Shalit turned to me, his furrowed brow frozen in a frown than seemed to encapsulate his whole body, and very slowly shook his head. “Nothing,” he said, almost in a whisper, “thank you for your support.”

Americans tend to have strong opinions about things that we think we understand. And then we make a big ruckus about joining a cause, sell bracelets, ask people to donate money, and the list goes on. Sometimes, however, nothing can be done. My brief encounter with Noam Shalit was a wakeup call; not to the idea that we can’t do anything, but rather to the idea that if we’re going to get ourselves involved and invest time and effort, we should know the realities of the situation and avoid the precarious and all too familiar belief that we are invincible. Because we’re not.

There’s one other experience that should be shared before I write future posts. Last week, early Tuesday morning, my group was hiking up a mountain just outside of Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city. As we were climbing up the final stretch, right when we began to be able to see the Red Sea and the peak where we were going to pray Shacharit (the morning service) we heard a very loud “BOOM,” that sounded like planks being thrown thrown into a dumpster at a construction site. We kept walking. a few seconds later we heard another one. We asked our staff what the noises were and they assured us that it was nothing…that the IDF does special trial runs in the desert all the time and that we shouldn’t worry.

The “BOOM”s that we heard were not planks from a construction project in Eilat. They were two of five rockets that were fired from the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula with the intention of hitting the Eilat area. They were fired with the intention of hitting anything Jewish. They were fired to hit me.

So, next time you decide, like me, that the man who lives on the Lebanese border is crazy and unjustified (which I happen to partially believe), think about how your opinion might be changed if you were constantly under fire from enemy rockets. Think you might be angry?


3 thoughts on “Polychrome

  1. I’ve been following Truth Be Told for a while now, and truth be told i have felt that it was all a little bland and uninteresting. Polychrome changed my opinion completely. It was quite a relief to finally read something that put things into perspective in order to help the reader better understand the goings on in the world. Hopefully the author will continue to write more articles like his most recent work, and I look forward to reading about his (or her [but lets get serious]) future political and personal experiences.

  2. We went to Israel. We visited Jerusalem with our young children. Our guide asked us, “Do you want to up to the Temple Mount?” I think he was surprised when we all said of course we do. Understand, The Wall is a grand retaining wall, one of four originally, that formed the temple mount upon which our Temple stood. Very few Jews ascend, but I believe everyone should.
    We went through security and our guide had his siddur in his backpack. The police took it from him, in spite of his vociferous protests. No, they maintained, we permit nothing that could cause any trouble up there.
    When we walked up the ramp we were very surprised. It’s nice up there. Nicer and cooler than the frenetic mobs below. And there are trees. It was quiet, with a few young Israeli soldiers, a few people going in and out of the Al Aska mosque, an elderly Arab sleeping in the shade, and a few Arabs there to greet us. Not much of a greeting.
    My wife and daughters had to cover their heads and shoulders. A reasonable request, not spoken but hissed at us. Not even a pretense of civility. As the young soldiers looked casually over towards us, we began to explore. To the right was the Great Mosque. We approached and were again “greeted.” Upon beginning to take off our shoes in preparation to enter, we were told that the mosque was closed. Before we could say a word, a couple entered as a man left. It certainly appeared open, with a modest but obvious pile of shoes near the large, ajar door. Evidently it was not open for peeking in either, as I was denied that privilege as well.
    We tarried for some time, as our guide recited history. We stayed on the perimeter as Jews are wont to do, for we don’t know where the Holy of Holies stood, and we are forbidden from treading upon it.
    We began to leave and once again the viper hissed. No, you may not leave that way, you must go all the way down to the exit. Our guide explained that he had left belonging at the security post just below and did not want to go back and forth. No, hissed our greeter. The exit. But…No. Go now.
    The hate was palpable. Instantaneous and intense. And not just from the greeter. Our guide glowed with rage. It was chemical and contagious. I was infected, filled with a loathing that truly seemed to come from my core. Standing near the most holy site of our faith, how ironic that a hatred was awakened in me, the likes of which I have never felt.
    This story seems trivial. We left and there is no denouement. But you need to feel the enmity. It is molecular. A force of nature. Nothing so personalizes things like being there. Better to feel joy.

  3. Wow — that’s just about all I can really say. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your trip, your observations and what you learned about Israel and yourself. Welcome home!

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