Apr 26, 2022

By Rabbi Yehudit Werchow

I met Ali and Khaled in the field. The brothers.

We spoke, each to his brother
We were silent, each to his brother
We pained, each to his brother
We listened, each to his brother
We bonded, each to his brother
We shined, each to his brother
And in the field, heart was enlightened
And in the field, a world—created

And in the field, the spring burst
And in the field, the tabernacle
was placed

(The Field, Eliaz Cohen)

Over the last couple of years, I have had the pleasure of working with the gifted Israeli activist and poet Eliaz Cohen while teaching his poems to North American and Israeli educators. Some of Eliaz’s most inspiring poems relate to the transformative work he and his Palestinian neighbors have been doing together for more than a decade. These poems portray so vividly the depth of everyone’s pain and, at the same time, the magnitude of hope that emerges from the sacred work they are doing together. When speaking with Eliaz about the initiatives he is involved in, I learned about the thoughtfulness with which they treat each other, the sensitivity towards each other’s loss and pain, the respect and tremendous commitment for each other’s well-being. These are only a few of the qualities that are at the heart of this unique partnership they’ve built over the years.

Eager to learn more about inter-faith and shared society initiatives and the qualities that contribute to the success of this work, Eliaz and I began studying with Rabbi Tamar Elad Applebaum and Sheikh Dr. Eyad Amer, who are each leading local communities in Jerusalem and Kfar Kasim and doing transformative educational and communal initiatives throughout Israel. Together, we are exploring the origins and meaning of Hope, Roots, Home, Care, Loss, Faith, Education, Responsibility (the quality of how we respond to each other and to the situations we experience) and more. One purpose of our study group is getting to know each other, the stories, traditions, people, and values that our lives are made of and connect us to this Land. We also share the sources that inspire hope in each one of us. Like the words of the Israeli poet Zelda z”l remind us, “our personal peace is tied with a thread to each other’s peace,” and while we are dedicated to strengthening the threads that connect us, we are also exploring what it might be like when more threads like these are created between educators from all faiths across Israel and North America?

We are dedicated to learning about the everyday challenges the communities we belong to and lead are facing, and how to address them. Resilience and Compassion, Courage, Reciprocity and Care are some of the terms we study, as we share what threatens us from within, as well as from external forces, and most importantly what it means and how to affirm with actions our understanding that we are indeed our brothers and sisters’ keepers. As poet Rachel said, is there anything more powerful than “a unified stubborn effort, awake with a thousand arms…to roll the stone from the mouth of the well?” And as we learn from each other’s work, there are many stones that seem to be piling up on the mouth of our wells. While our study is rooted in traditions, we work towards a present and future that embody and are inspired by the qualities we value greatly, and the threads that the educators we work with weave together.

This time of year, we are immersed in messages of freedom and liberation, leadership, and faith, while Muslim communities are commemorating the month of Ramadan. I am thinking of one of Sheikh Dr. Eyad Amer’s teachings about the blessings of Ramadan. “There is generosity in Ramadan, and even greater generosity in God,” says Sheikh Dr. Eyad Amer. When people get closer to God, God replies to the effort by getting even closer to them. This is a powerful metaphor and a measure for the educational work we are committed to doing together.

We hope and believe that getting to know, becoming intimate, with each other and the realities of our lives, as well as the communities we belong to, is a transformative and important step for us all. Real proximity and mutuality will strengthen us and enrich our lives. For the last couple of years, The iCenter has been building partnerships with and learning from organizations and professionals such as the Inter Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues, Mekudeshet and more. We are learning from the work that has been developed, increasing our literacy in this area, and together we are developing this important element of Israel Education.

The iCenter’s Rabbi Yehudit Werchow was born in Argentina and grew up in Israel. She holds a BA in Political Science and Literature from the Hebrew University and a M.A. in Religious Education from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in New York. She was ordained at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem. Previously, Yehudit served as the Director of Israel Engagement for the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) in North America, as the Jewish Agency’s Senior Shlicha for the Reform Movement in North America and the UK, and as the Director of Education for MASA.