Rabbibrian's Blog

A Voice for Justice and Peace in Israel/Palestine

Living in Jerusalem and Inter-Planetary Travel

Posted by rabbibrian on January 26, 2010

While we are in Israel for the next five months, we are living in a beautiful apartment in Katamon, in  West (Jewish) Jerusalem.  Katamon and two adjacent neighborhoods, Baka and German Colony, have a large population of Americans and other English-speaking Israelis.  In some ways, I feel at home here.  I am very familiar with the area: the synagogues, the beautiful stores, the coffee shops, the bus system. I  know a good number of people in the area, especially in the liberal Anglo Jewish community.  I have always loved Hebrew and am fairly fluent for someone who doesn’t live here.  I enjoy schmoozing with  cab drivers, store owners, people on the bus and enjoy watching the news on Israeli TV and reading Israeli newspapers.  Shabbat is very special, starting on Friday with  the neighborhood bustling with people preparing, the stores filled with challah and delicacies for Shabbat, the coffee shops full with people enjoying their semi official second day of the weekend.  Shabbat day is peaceful, quiet and renewing.

My wife, a rabbi who is on sabbatical from her congregation, is really happy here.  She loves to study and Jerusalem offers so much in terms of Jewish study.  Our daughter is at an Israeli school and learning a lot about Israeli culture.  My oldest son lives and works here and is about to marry a wonderful Israeli woman.

Yet, since I have been here I have the feeling of being an inter-planetary traveller.  Our life in West Jerusalem is totally isolated from the other planet that I visit a few times a week, the “planet” of East (Arab) Jerusalem and the  West Bank.   Almost everyone who lives on this planet, West (Jewish) Jerusalem, doesn’t venture into East Jerusalem, nor into the Occupied Territories.  There are some people who cross over, Israeli peace activists and some others, but for most people on this side, even those in the liberal neighborhood in which we are living, it is another world, another “planet” as far away as Tibet or China.   The town of Bethlehem is no more than 10 minutes drive from our apartment, yet  it feels like another world.  You can live here and never see, hear or think about the Occupation that is just a short ride away.

While I am enjoying being in Jewish Jerusalem, I am constantly haunted by that other reality that most Israelis (and almost all American Jews who visit here) have chosen to ignore.  I am making an effort to go beyond the isolated bubble of Jewish Jerusalem.   During the five months we spend here, I want to learn about Palestinian culture, to cultivate relationships with Palestinians, to learn Arabic, and to advocate for justice for the Palestinians and a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

Living with both realities is complicated, challenging and at times very painful.  When I return from a day in the West Bank, it is hard not to get angry at the wilful blindness of Israelis.  Do they know the reality on the other side?  Do they care?

Gila Svirsky, a longtime Israeli peace activist, just wrote a powerful article that inspired me to write the post.  She ends her article with the following paragraph:

There is a country full of people on this beautiful Saturday afternoon watching the sailboats skim by, driving out to catch the fields full of red poppies after the heavy winter rains, or walking their dogs through daffodils. But they won’t be crossing the Separation Barrier anytime soon to witness the horrors on the other side, and the news on TV in the evening won’t bring that horror into their homes. “What occupation?” is now the most common reaction of passersby to our Women in Black vigil in Jerusalem. For the young, it’s an honest question; for the older, it’s a smirk and walk on.

For the next five months, I hope be an inter-planetary traveller, going back and forth, by bike, by bus, by car and by foot.  I am not sure how often I will be able to cross to the other side, but I hope to do so as frequently as possible. l  I have already learned so much from the journey, complicated as it is.  I am curious to see what the journey will bring.

I urge you to read Gila’s important article.  It is very moving.


16 Responses to “Living in Jerusalem and Inter-Planetary Travel”

  1. You’re right, Brian, it is another planet. Welcome to all those willing to make the trip. Lives (sometimes even our own) depend on it.

  2. Laurence Seeff said

    The “other side”, occupied or not, is no different from many of the cities found in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and others. Perhaps you should save your anger for the leaders of these communities that have blundered and squandered their own people’s existence throughout history, with no connection to any Israeli policy you seem to continuously criticize.

    Laurence Seeff

    • rabbibrian said

      Thanks for your comment. I wasn’t commenting on the situation in Arab countries, although one difference is that problems in these countries are the product of their own societies and governments, just like problems in Israel are in the hands of Israeli society and government. In the Palestinian land under Occupation, it is the Israeli occupying power that has created a systematic discrimination between Jewish and Palestinian inhabitants. You are right, I am critical of Israeli government policy. Having grown up in South Africa and living in America, Israel is not the only government I have criticized.
      Thanks for sharing your opinion. I appreciate the dialogue.

  3. Dennis Shuman said

    I also feel overwhelmed by what is going on in the occupied territories and how most Jews in America are ignorant about or unwilling to look at it. I have to give you credit for trying to stay connected to the Jewish community. If this situation is the culmination of 5000 years of Jewish history and ethics, it provokes in me a distrust of my heritage and it’s teachings. It leads me to believe that all religions, including my own, encourage racism and have become tools for political ends.

    • rabbibrian said

      A few weeks ago I visited the offices of Adalah, a Palestinian (Israeli Arab) legal organization uses the law to bring inequities in Israel to light. We met their only Jewish lawyer, Varda Cohen. One of our group asked her what motivated her to become an advocate for equality.

      She said growing up in Israel at some point she realized that her society was immoral and she had a choice. She could either leave or resist. She chose to resist.

      I think this is the choice we all have. I agree that Judaism is being used to support violence, hatred and racism. I know that Judaism, like all religion, is at its core about love, compassion and justice.

      Judaism has inspired and informed my commitment to justice. My commitment to justice comes in part from Judaism. I could leave and at times I am tempted but it is not a real option. I prefer to resist. It is tragic to see what has become of Judaism. Here in Israel it is assumed that religious people are the most conservative when it comes to the conflict. They are the engine of the settlement movement.

      Thanks for your commitment to justice and I hope you hang in there with us.

  4. Amita Jarmon said

    “Ho.” Brian, you wrote exactly what I felt back in August when I did a 2 week seminar run by Global Majority that took me into Bethlehem, Hevron, Ramallah, several refugee camps, and Bilin & Naalin. I came back to the German Colony and Baka and it shocked and angered me to see life going on as normal in the cafes and shops. People seem completely oblivious to what is going on so close by, largely (although not entirely) as a result of the Occupation. Suddenly all the “Arab houses” in Baka were houses where Arabs had actually once lived and were unable to return after the War of Independence/Nakba.
    I’ve only been in the West Bank twice since August, and only once to East Jerusalem, so it’s easy to forget. When I don’t spend time with Palestinians on their turf, I lose the sense of urgency about changing the situation.
    Also, when I speak to most people who lived here through the 2nd Intifada — including people whom I would consider to be progressive in every other way — I lose clarity about what needs to happen. Obviously, human rights need to be respected. Homes shouldn’t be demolished. Land and water should not be stolen. But one thing I hear a lot of people say, and I think may be true, is that the Palestinians in general (of course there are some exceptions) take no responsibility for the situation they are in. It’s all the Israelis’ fault. I heard a very intelligent woman leader of an NGO in Ramallah say that the Israelis are 100% responsible for Palestinian suffering. It’s hard to work with people with that kind of attitude.

    • rabbibrian said

      Thanks, Amita, for sharing your experience. I agree that Palestinians need to reflect on their own experience but we need to be clear that this is not a conflict between two equal parties. Too many people, including the present U.S. administration make as if there are two equal sides. This conflict is between a superpower with one of the best armies in the world and a physically weak and defeated people. Israel and the Jewish People are the ones with power in this situation. Oppressed peoples definitely need to reflect on their strategies and decisions but it is obscene for those with power and privilege (us) to suggest that their suffering, their oppression, is their fault. The violence of the Second Intifadah definitely made many Israelis less sympathetic to the Paletinians but the Intifadah happened because Palestinians felt desparate as Israel continued to intensify the Occupation. It wasn’t as if prior to the Intifadah, Israel was so eager to make peace.

  5. Dear Brian,
    I lived in Jerusalem as a student from 1969 to 1972. For a time, I lived in Wadi Joz. In the good old days we went to the Golden Chicken and similar places and wandered around the old city. Visiting Israel now, you can’t know that, and Gila, a newcomer can’t know that. It was another planet in the good sense – the beauty of the holy places and the exotic atmosphere of the Suq were a real treat both to tourists and residents. What caused the change? Not evil Zionist warmonger, but PLO terror. Bombs in restaurants and stabbing incidents that made it clear that Jews are not wanted.

    My great grandparents lived in the old city of Jerusalem quite a while ago, in the area that Gila and you probably think of as “Arab” East Jerusalem. They are buried in “Arab” East Jerusalem on Mt. Olives. My mother studied in the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus in “Arab” East Jerusalem. My grandfather taught there. If Gila is interested in peace, she will ask after the peace of Jerusalem. Those of us who were here know what it was like at different times, and know that the city you see – including most of the Arab sections, was developed as the result of Zionist work and investment. When my grandmothers were born in Jerusalem, about the time that Ezzedine al Qassam, the “Palestinian” hero was born in Syria, Jerusalem was still a miserable dump.

    For 19 years Israelis looked out from Notre Dame and through the barbed wire of the Mandelbaum gate to the areas our families had been expelled from on the other side, to the graves of our ancestors.

    Shared Jerusalem would be a beautiful dream, but it will never happen if part of it is under Palestinian administration. The Eastern part of the city will be closed to Jews or Jews will be kept out by terror.

    The security fence that you don’t like has saved thousands of lives, by preventing terror attacks. It is not there because of machinations of an evil Apartheid regime. It is there because it was the only way to prevent terror.

    I was also in Israel before 1967. Regrettably, the Arabs did not hate us any less then. Amman radio, the voice of the Arabs and the Palestinians inveighed against the “Zionist entity.” The conflict did not begin because of the occupation or even because of the war in 1948. The mobs screaming “Edbah al Yahud” were around in 1929 and 1921 and 1936 just as they resurfaced again during the tunnel riots.

    Without Zionism there is no Israel. Without peace, there cannot be Zionism or Israel for very long. Therefore we must all work for peace. But we should not have illusions that the problem can be solved by political approaches such as that represented by Gila.

    Ami Isseroff

    • rabbibrian said


      Thanks so much for your comment. It brought back memories for me as I was also in Jerusalem in 1970-72 and remember eating at Golden Chicken and enjoying walking around the shuk.

      My first visit to Israel was from September through December 67, a time of great joy as we explored the Old City and newly conquered areas of the West Bank.

      Another commonality between us is that my great grandfather after whom I am named is also buried on Har Hazeytim/Mt. of Olives.

      I disagree that the reason for the conflict lies exclusively with the Arabs. Yes, the Palestinians did not want a Jewish State built on their land. Jabotinsky and other Zionist leaders acknowledged that if they were Palestinians they would also have resisted the Zionist movement.

      There are many reports both from Arabs and Jews that before the advent of the Zionist movement, Jews, who were a small minority lived in peace with their Arab neighbors.

      You focus on the horror of suicide bombings but what about the horrors of the Occupation: confiscation of huge tracts of Arab land, home demolitions, lack of political freedom, revocation of residency rights, unequal treatment and on and on.

      As regards the wall, why was it necessary to build it in a way that led to the loss of thousands of acres of land belonging to Palestinians and no loss to Jewish residents.

      No less than Palestinians, Jews have used violence in this conflict and the Occupation is at it’s very core, violent.

      To me, Gila and many other friends in Israel’s human rights and peace community are heroes. They uphold the possibility of reconciliation and peace. I don’t see any hope in your vision.

      I share your hope for peace but I believe it is precisely people like Gila who have upheld the Jewish values of human dignity, equality and justice who are most likely to help us move in that direction.

      Thanks again for your comment and for participating in this dialogue.

  6. Sue Levy said

    Hi Brian,

    I hope you are both energized and renewed in the time you spend in Israel.

    It is sometimes hard, though, for me to read posts from anyone who doesn’t acknowledge often enough that there is a lot of right and a lot of wrong on both sides. Our Israeli family lives in Herzliyah, and they are convinced without a shadow of doubt that it is the wall which is saving their lives. (They aren’t the wealthy yacht owners on the marina.) Perhaps, in time, a government will find a way to do the same thing without a wall. For the moment, I acknowledge the many in injustices and human rights violations the wall is causing in the lives of Palestinians with deep regret, but I find it difficult to say that Israel should not have erected a barrier of some kind. Maybe they could have protected an olive grove for a Palestinian family here or a home there. It’s a terrible way to have to save lives. I don’t usually agree with Ami about much, but I agree with him this far.

    I also agree with those who say that the Palestinians and, especially, their Arab brothers and sisters are taking very little responsibility for the betterment of their own people. When in history has the entire world expected a nation to be entirely responsible for the the welfare of their sworn enemies?

    The election in which Hamas came to power has changed me from the absolute liberal I once was regarding Israel. It adds significant danger and a far more malicious attitude to the equation. I know you are hardly ignoring what that means, but it does sometimes make it easier for me to understand why Israel has taken certain actions no one would want them to take. I can understand and grieve for the innocent Palestinians (and Jews) who suffer at the same time.

    Now, having said that, I have never once disagreed with you or with RHR about the need to work against the individual violations of human rights which Israel has perpetrated. The actions of both the Israeli military and many civilians, especially the settlers in the West Bank, have caused terrible human suffering and have unnecessarily exacerbated which would be complicated enough without their cruelty. I think those who are building new settlements should be carried bodily out of the West Bank. What they are doing is a terrible provocation and a shanda.

    So, there is nothing you can write and nothing Ami and his cohort could write that would not cause me pain. I think we need to begin by acknowledging the very large body of both right and wrong on all sides. Then, perhaps, we can have conversations.

    Shefa brachot,


  7. I am making an effort to go beyond the isolated bubble of Jewish Jerusalem.

    It does take work, but I think it is holy work, and I am so glad you are bringing us along for the ride.

  8. Tuesday January 19, 2010 – Worlds apart in Jerusalem.

    After yesterday’s rains, the sky was blue with magnificent clouds over the hills. Picture the huge majestic skies in “Old Testament” renaissance painting. “Biblical” comes to mind. The air was fresh and clear, the pink stone paths and alleys shining, as I walked from my room on Habad Road in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, through the Armenian and then the Moslem Quarter, going out the Damascus Gate to the “Arab bus station” to catch the 36 blue and white bus to Lazzaria/ El Zarria/ Bethany, a small Palestinian city on the other side of the wall.

    I asked to make sure I was getting on the right number 36 bus – both 36 buses go down the road to Jericho (Joshua….), but one 36 bus goes to one side of the wall and the other 36 bus goes to the other side. I am going to the other side, so its 6 shekels, not 4 shekels.I can go because I have a non Israeli passport. Israeli’s can’t come through without special permission and Palestinians can no longer come to Jerusalem without the same. I feel sadness and despair writing this because I don’t have much hope that this state of things will produce peace and connection between our two peoples. And I am very clear that I have no blame in my heart toward one side or another.

    Thursday January 21: A footnote to the above, written after spending the evening with the Ariel’s, my Jerusalem family ( my niece’s in laws). Over tea and dinner in their lovely home in Abu Tor, I asked them how they feel about the wall. Aaron said, first, that before the wall, they were living with daily random violence and killing. Over 1000 Jews were killed during the second intifada. This elderly couple, Aaron born here, Batya a kibbutz pioneer in the 40’s, couldn’t even live in their own house of 50 years without fearing for their life. They told me about street corners and cafes that I pass everyday where suicide bombers blew up themselves and passersby.

    Two: Aaron said- It’s a border. We are two countres. The Palestinians don’t want to live under our rule ( wevice versa). The wall creates two countries. There are walls and borders between all countries. There are some Israelis who opposed the wall because they said it was giving Palestinians a land and sovereignty. The wall begins the creation of two states, with a border and independence from each other. Each side of the border needs to begin to rebuild and look to the future. Yes, there are hardships, errors, but this is the cost of the violence and instability.

    So, once again, I am blown away by yet another perspective on the situation here. And I am so grateful for the practice time I had at Plum Village before I came here- bringing me to a place where I can live and connect to people and stay in this place of not knowing.

    So on Tuesday, I crossed the border. Lazzaria is where Jesus “raised Lazarus from the dead”. For me, this2 minute bus ride was like going from the first world to the third world. Lazzaria reminded me right away of India- rubble strewn,broken streets, people walking right in front of the bus, shops and stands with lots of goods,the biggest cauliflowers I”ve ever seen, luscious fruits and greens, piles of white plastic chairs, household goods, tapestries hanging in the dusty air, abandoned burnt cars all over, . India without a ton of people.

    As soon as I got on the bus (I am pretty confident that everyone else on the bus was Palestinian) a man leaned over to me and began telling me , in broken English, his troubles. He was clearly sick, his nose running unchecked. Another man, sitting behind me, neatly groomed hair, fancy glasses, well dressed, leaned forward and said to me, in polished English, don’t give him anything. He then asked around the bus for a tissue for the other man and handed it to him and said something to him in Arabic, maybe, wipe your nose. I don’t know, but I was struck by the way people, strangers, talk and connect to each other in both cultures here, and then go back to their individual spaces. A few minutes later, two women got on the bus and two men immediately stood up and gave them their seats.
    I ended up in a long conversation with the second man, Hussein , who is Palestinian, and his mother is Spanish. He is an American educated engineer who can’t find work in Palestine. (I keep meeting Palestinians who have lived in the U.S. at one time or another. I have not recognized any anti American sentiment. Maybe this is because I am obviously speaking to those who know English, but its been a really nice relief and surprise
    Hussein is really interested in NVC and is going to email to me contacts in some NGO’s he knows about. Maybe he will come to the NVC training I hope to give at Al Quds University in Lazria, which was one of the purposes of my visit.

    Massimo was waiting for me in front of the church (tomb) of LAzarus. We took a few steps and a man pulled me over to get on his camel. Up up up I went. Yikes, they are tall –those humps reach the sky–Massimo photographed the event. I’m posting the photos on facebook until I figure out a better system. What a lovely gentle camel this was. Really really tall. I was ready to get down after a turn around the parking lot.

    Massimo then hailed what looked to my untrained eyes to be an unmarked van, which is the bus system around Lazzaria. Fleets of old white vans picking people up, very mysterious to me how you know who, where, when. Massimo is from Milano, and has ben living in Palestine doing various projects sponsored by the Milano government and other sources. He , his wife and little girl have recently been joined here in the flat they are renting by Massimo’s elderly parents from Milano, who are cooking and looking after their grand daughter (more later).We went straight from the camel to the van to AL Quds University, the largest Palestinian university, its main campus here in Lazazaria. . After a tour by a student friend of Massimo, including a visit to the law school’s human rights clinic, we met with the University’s public relations director, a beautiful Palestinian woman, to organize an NVC training there in the next few weeks..
    As part of my presentation to her about what NVC is, I asked her, did anyone say anything to you today that you are upset about. Ight away, she responded, yes, starting early this morning.
    I expected to hear that her child wouldn’t brush her teeth or was late for school or something like that- the usual triggers we hear about in the morning from parents in the U.S. Instead, she said that early this morning the Israeli military entered to the Jerusalem campus of the University ( the only Palestinian U. in Jerusalem),closed the gates and commenced preparations to move one of the buildings. because it is in the path of a road that will connect Jewish settlements with East Jerusalem.
    I don’t know if this was a surprise, if there had been a breakdown in negotiations- I know nothing and still don’t. I have googled this, asked around, no one has heard anything abut this. That place of not knowing.

    I listened to her, and connected with her frustration, her fears, her dreams of creating a safe place of education and safety and dignity, stability.Tthen she said, yes, yes, and what I”m really upset about is that when I called my colleague in Jerusalem, and said we need to do a press release right away, he said, ” I’d like to wait until tomorrow.” She was quite emotional about all of this.
    So I said, “so when you heard him say, can’t we wait until tomorrow, you felt really upset and frustrated?” She looked at me and said, “yes.” And I guessed again, what was in her heart, its so important to you to have support and cooperation in your dream of creating a thriving safe university for Palestinians? yes, yes…..Her body posture changed, she was now looking right at me, and said something like, “wow, this is really good stuff. Now what?”
    I said, well, once you’ve connected with yourself, what’s really painful and important to you about this, you have a choice- you can either look again and see what was important to him about waiting a day- and the three of us brainstormed a bit about what might have been going on for him….or,I added, you may want to express to him how you are feeling and why, and I repeated (modeled) her self connection.
    The energy in the room was so alive- excitement, softening, openness, curiosity……
    Then she said, this can work in families, with everyone.” How could it work for Hamas and Fatah?” She asked me that twice.
    I answered something like I think ultimately this can bring peace and reconciliation between everyone- even Israel and Palestine, everyone. We need to start listening for what’s really important to the other, and find solutions that address everyone’s needs.
    My “plan” today had been to stay away from politics and demonstrate NVC in the context of teaching or family life!
    She then told me she is part of a group of Israeli and Palestinian women who meet every few months to dialogue and that she’d like me to meet and offer a training to them in February. And we also are planning a two part training at Al Quds.

    Then we went back to Massimo’s for a home made Italian lunch, his mother’s home made pizza. I was really excited about this. As we waited for his wife to return home so we would all lunch together, the cell phone rang- it was the director of the orphanage we were planning to visit later. There was an emergency and Massimo was needed.. No lunch for us. Off we went to a building across the road that was the municipal building. We raced up and down dark corridors with stuff piled here and there. Finally, after passing numerous photos of Yasser Arafat, we entered a room where about 10 men and a few women were seated in a circle. A large man with a long bead was behind the desk. We were there to keep the peace for and witness a marriage ceremony between one of the girls from the orphanage and askinny young man. The director of the orphanage, an Italian woman whose life’s work is supporting the children who end up there, had arranged the marriage to get the girl away from her father who, I was told, had abused her and her sister. The two girls had taken refuge in the orphanage ,burns on their body, no teeth ( the woman many years before. She was now19, and getting married.
    The father’s consent was necessary for the marriage and he was demanding a dowry and threatening to kill the Italian women who runs the orphanage. He was demanding that the girl return home util they had a wedding party. The girl refused (I was told this father had raped her, beat her, it gets worse and wrose). After lots of heated exchanges ( of course all in Arabic), and an appearance by the pub lic security chief who, I was later told, said, sign or we wil sign it, the father signed and the man behind the desk- turns out he is an Immam- told us all to put our hands on our thighs and we prayed. I wish I understood the prayer. I heard later part of it was that she would obey him. I prayed for her safety and happiness.
    After more confrontation with the father, it got a bit scary, he left and we went into a roadside coffee shop type place with lots of empty counters and shelves and celebrated with fanta-like drinks and cross buns.
    I took some photos when there were a few smiles. IT was a shocking contrast to the exuberant wedding I attended my first week in Israel, singing, dancing, joy, families overflowing with love, piles of gifts and food and cakes.

    We went back to the orphanage, which turns out to shelter many children ( 35 or so girls) where children from abusive homes and other hardships are taken in. Five girls are there whose mother is about to go on trial for killing the father. He would tie up the mother and have other men rape her for money. I won’t go into the rest of the details I was hearing. It was too much for me. Her lawyers said she has no defense and that there’s no point in trying to get her out of prison because she’ll be killed.
    My overwhelm, helplessness, despair was reaching new levels. The orphanage director wanted me to hear more and more of the story, more and more details of the murder, the abuse… I was giving myself empathy, breathing, connecting with what I could say to stay connected to her, to the girls who were there, to my own intention to be present for the suffering I encounter here.and also to take care of myself by air, space, rest. I managed to excuse myself, spent a few minutes brainstorming about returning to do some singing with the children, got on the 36 bus, came back to the Old City and got into bed, feeling sick and despair about the pain and suffering I had witnessed.

    The next day I had a long breakfast with my new NVC sangha buddy Hagit. Hagit is an NVC trainer here, a former Israeli police officer who got to travel around with Marshall Rosenberg when he had a contract to work with the Israeli police. Hagit’s really got it! And I am so blessed to have her as a friend and colleague here. Over the famous Israeli breakfast she listened to my despair and shock at what I had seen, and through that I reconnected with my excitement over the other parts of the visit, and together we share excitement that I am able, as an American, to get NVC in the door to places that she can follow up with after I leave.
    After breakfast, I went to a study class with Sarah Yehudit- the topic is “You are what you hate” Call me by my true names came to Elayne’s mind. I’ll end with that:
    This poem by Thich Nhat Hanh embodies the essence of what he calls “interbeing,” the innerconnectedness of all things.
    Call Me by My True Names
    by Thich Nhat Hanh
    From: Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh

    In Plum Village, where I live in France, we receive many letters from the refugee camps in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hundreds each week. It is very painful to read them, but we have to do it, we have to be in contact. We try our best to help, but the suffering is enormous, and sometimes we are discouraged. It is said that half the boat people die in the ocean. Only half arrive at the shores in Southeast Asia, and even then they may not be safe.
    There are many young girls, boat people, who are raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries try to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continue to inflict much suffering on the refugees. One day we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate. She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself.
    When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we cannot do that. In my meditation I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, there is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we may become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.
    After a long meditation, I wrote this poem. In it, there are three people: the twelve-year-old girl, the pirate, and me. Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other? The tide of the poem is “Please Call Me by My True Names,” because I have so many names. When I hear one of the of these names, I have to say, “Yes.”
    Call Me by My True Names
    Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
    because even today I still arrive.
    Look deeply: I arrive in every second
    to be a bud on a spring branch,
    to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
    learning to sing in my new nest,
    to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
    to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
    I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
    in order to fear and to hope.
    The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
    death of all that are alive.
    I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
    and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
    to eat the mayfly.
    I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
    and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
    feeds itself on the frog.
    I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
    my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
    and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
    I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
    who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
    and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
    I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
    and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my
    dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
    My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
    walks of life.
    My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
    Please call me by my true names,
    so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
    so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
    Please call me by my true names,
    so I can wake up,
    and so the door of my heart can be left open,
    the door of compassion.
    Thich Nhat Hanh

  9. Marlena Santoyo said

    Dear Brian,
    amazing- the dicodomy of experience there for you & your family. already taken, but remembering the title,” the good, the bad & the ugly”.

  10. I toured Israel in 07 with Interfaith Peace Builders. We stood Friday with Gila Svirsky, Women in Black. David Neuhaus an old friend originally from South Africa was there.

    We began Bubbes and Zaydes for Peace in the Middle East vigil ,noon Fridays,19th and JFK (Israeli Consular offices Philly) informed by Svirsky. We were delighted when Marlene joined us a few weeks ago. We have posters and many people take our handouts. You can find us on line at our website.

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