During this past week, Israel and Jews around the world celebrated its 60th birthday while Palestinians commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Nakhba (the “catastrophe).” A complicated anniversary to say the least: for Israelis Yom Ha’atzmaut marks the moment of their liberation; for Palestinians, it represents the commencement of their exile from their land. How on earth can we reconcile such a profoundly contradictory milestone?
A verse from this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Emor, might be instructive:
You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly — Leviticus 27:20
As we generally tend to regard the olive as a symbol of peace and tranquility, it is rather jarring to read that only “beaten olives” were considered fit for lighting the lamps in the Tent of Meeting. Rashi points out that this Hebrew term, “shemen zayit zach katit” refers to olive oil that was obtained from the first pressing, which yields the purest form of the oil and is free of external ingredients. (Even today, the term “first cold press” designates the purest form of extra-virgin olive oil).
Perhaps we can take our cue from Rashi’s insight that from oppression can come purity. Perhaps the best way to rise above the cognitive dissonance of Yom Ha’atzmaut/Al Nakhba is to support and celebrate the instances in which both peoples are rising above the intractability of the conflict to promote coexistence in their land.
In this regard, I commend to you “Planting Justice: Two Trees Initiative,” a new campaign sponsored by Rabbis for Human Rights – North America that will support the re-planting of olive trees in the West Bank as well as in impoverished Jewish neighborhoods in Israel. I’d like to suggest that efforts such as these offer us all a more fitting way to commemorate this painfully complex anniversary – by helping to pursue the dream of justice for Jew and Arab alike and to the nurture the possibility of peace and reconciliation.
(I’m thrilled to say I am currently joining the national board of Rabbis for Human Rights – North America – an organization whose work I have long admired. I hope you will consider adding RHR-NA to your list of organizations eminently worthy of your support).