Truth, Broken Hearts, and the Status Quo

Rachel Petroff Kessler
June 17, 2013
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For most of my childhood, what I was taught about Israel was designed to cultivate passionate, progressive Zionism. In college I was determined to attempt to rectify the imbalance and pursued a Middle Eastern Studies major, with the goal of learning “the other side of the story.” I was committed to building an authentic narrative that told “the truth,” but with every class I took, every book I read and every professor I encountered the truth felt more elusive and distant. I grew frustrated and cynical, and tried to care just a little bit less.

When I returned to Israel for a year of graduate studies, I participated in two programs run by the organization Encounter and traveled to Bethlehem and (absurdly enough) East Jerusalem to meet with and hear from Palestinians. For me, this was a powerful opportunity to hear not official histories, but rather personal stories; truths that each individual held close. I am no longer concerned with constructing one ‘true narrative’ that holds all of the pieces together. It is enough to know that my heart is big enough to hold multiple stories, to hear the truths of many different individuals and to accept them as authentic unto their own unique experiences.

Sometimes my heart is stretched so far it aches, and I need the distance that life in America provides to find relief. In those moments, I wonder how peace will ever be possible—how those who live in the midst of conflict can ever relax enough, open their hearts enough, be brave enough to step into a new unknown.

In my more optimistic moments (blessedly frequent), I believe that every conversation, every new relationship, every act of compassionate listening brings us one (small) step closer to a lasting peace. I believe that work being done by young Palestinians and Israelis has the potential to effect real change.  When those more cynical moments take over, however, I worry that we are all guilty of hardening our hearts and deepening our stances, ready to do nothing but maintain the status quo.

But the tricky thing about the status quo is, it lulls you into a false sense of security. You allow yourself to relax, thinking nothing is changing. So you keep your head down, just concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, relieved that nothing has to change and you don’t have to make any decisions. But eventually you have to look up again, and likely as not, you find that nothing around you is as you remember.

My prayer is that even as we wait for a peace that may never come we do so with hope, not resignation. May we all do what we can to build bridges, not more islands, so that when we look up and see that the landscape around us has been transformed, we will be pleasantly surprised.

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Rachel Petroff Kessler is the Family Educator at Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland. Originally from upstate New York, Rachel has worked as a Jewish educator in a variety of settings, including Hillel at Binghamton, Kutz: NFTY’s Campus for Reform Jewish Teens, and Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan. Rachel graduated from HUC-JIR’s New York School of Education in April 2010 with a Masters in Religious Education and was a summer fellow at Yeshivat Hadar in 2009.

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