A View from the Bleachers: The possibility for miracles in Israeli politics

By Rabbi Steven Garten

I was invited to speak at an Anglican church on the Jewish view of reconciliation for a presentation in a series offered by non-Christian clergy. The request was to present a theological paradigm concerning reconciliation. “Oh, one more request,” said the priest, “could you provide the Hebrew term for reconciliation.

Reconciliation usually means the repairing of a relationship that was once strong but now is shattered. There are many instances in Tanach where Israel and the Deity are in need of reconciliation.

There is no one Hebrew term used to reflect that process. Sometimes, intimate partners faced with challenges beyond their capacities for resolution need reconciliation counselling. Indeed, it is possible that the final step in repentance, Teshuvah, is reconciliation. We know what it is, but what do we call it?

There are a number of phrases in Hebrew that seem to be the equivalent to the English reconciliation. Hashlama means completion, complement, fulfilment and its last meaning is reconciliation. Hitpisut is often the word used for conciliation or rapprochement. Pios is another synonym meaning pacification, appeasement. Of course, one could simply use “rekansile’ashan,” the transliteration of the word into Hebrew. Similar to using transliteration in the siddur, it gives proper pronunciation but no meaning.

I did not find any of this useful so I asked colleagues for help. One suggested using the term tikkun. Many of us know the term tikkun olam from the Aleynu prayer or from Lurianic Kabbalah. In both cases it is usually used to suggest our obligation to heal the world of its broken parts. Certainly, that might work for my presentation. Another colleague suggested sheleimut, wholeness from the same root as shalom. These two phrases brought me closer to the original intention.

Yet, in a conversation with another colleague, we moved away from theology toward modern realities. He informed me that a few years ago, Arzenu, the Zionist organization of the Reform movement introduced a resolution to the World Zionist Organization Congress recommending a reconciliation commission be established jointly composed of Israeli Arabs and Jews. Rather than use the Hebrew translation of reconciliation – since some would argue the conflict remains ongoing – they opted to use the phrase “mutual understanding and justice.” The Hebrew would read in transliteration, “Havanah Haddit v Tzedek.” The resolution passed on June 1, 2016 but Arzenu and its allies are still waiting for the commission to be established.

The resolution calling for the commission outlined the following tasks:

a) Listening to each others’ narratives about claims to the same land with genuine concern, compassion and empathy regarding sufferings past and present;

b) Recommending measures to the government of Israel that would include means to facilitate admission of past injustices that both communities have visited upon the other, and designating suggested means through which past injustices can be redressed and future injustices prevented;

c) Recommending a program of sincere, mutual steps toward peace and reconciliation between the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel, based on equality, respect and mutual recognition.

I am not sure what Hebrew word adequately defines reconciliation, but I do know what it looks like. Were these steps to become the building blocks of a new relationship between all the citizens of Israel, it might look like the “first flowering of redemption.”

Six years ago, the Arab representation in Israel’s Knesset was almost obliterated when the new Governance Law raised the electoral threshold from two to 3.5 per cent, threatening to oust the deeply-divided Arab parties from the Knesset. The law was designed to reduce the number of small parties, which inhibit effective legislative procedures and to limit Israeli Arab representation in the Knesset. The following years brought discord and disharmony to the four Israeli Arab parties.

In the March 2 election, the Arab Israeli parties ran together as the Joint List and won a record 15 seats in the Knesset. In the unstable political environment of Israel that led to three elections in less than 12 months, the possibility now exists for two miracles to occur: a joining of the second and third largest parties to create political stability, and perhaps more importantly, the start of a process toward “mutual understanding and justice.”

Just imagine the symbolic aura that would emanate from a country we love if the Joint List allied with Blue and White to provide services for all Israeli citizens. Just imagine the powerful rebuttal to those who call Israel an apartheid state when a minister of the state is an Israel Arab. Just consider for one moment what pride we who live in Canada would feel watching our beloved Israel begin a journey toward tikkun and sheleimut.