The mission of the Community Relations Council (CRC) is to respond on behalf of the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine to incidents of anti-Semitism and bigotry, to foster relationships and understanding between the Jewish community and our fellow Maine ethnic, religious and geographic community, and to be a pro-Israel voice.
For those within our community who are interested in Israel, Wednesday, March 30th, was a special day because the JCA, through its Community Relations Council and its Hillel, sponsored two quite amazing events. What was amazing was not so much the content of what the speakers had to say but rather, the variety of our community members, about 80 of us, who came to one or both of the programs. Both speakers, one Israeli in his 40’s and a celebrity in the music world, and the other, a Conservative movement American Rabbi in his 60’s, commented on the vibrancy of our Portland community. It is true that people came from around the state to attend these programs and the Hillel program drew students from USM, SMCC, Bates and Colby. I will try to summarize some of the interesting insights our speakers presented, but it is a very important takeaway to note that our JCA community draws from so many different demographics within Southern Maine.
Rabbi Lucas focused on the emotion that sometimes governs conversations about Israel. He noted that we need to look for common ground rather than simply waiting for an opportunity to disagree with what another person has said. He noted the work of the Hartman Institute in Israel that has offered programs to rabbis in one cohort and to Muslim leaders in another. He noted that when we as Jews talk about the significance of Jerusalem to us as a People because it is our holiest site, we don’t necessarily recognize its significance to Muslims in that we point out that is their third holiest site. Rabbi Lucas told us a story about a Mulim leader who arrived and couldn’t wait to go pray at the Al Aksa mosque. His point was that the third holiest is still very holy and it’s all in one’s perspective how one values another viewpoint. In this connection, he noted that opinions seem more important than facts. One other story he noted was a rabbinic one concerning a cloak: when two people come to court insisting that each owns the cloak and the other took it, what is the judge to do? No one can get perfect justice if there is no proof regarding the rightful owner. One is left to tear the cloak in half, a solution which benefits neither party, or, one can sell the cloak and give half the proceeds to one litigant and the other half to the other litigant. According to his viewpoint, one can “be right or one can have peace.” From comments made in response to this story, it was clear that there were mixed responses to this viewpoint among audience members.
The evening program had a totally different energy. Younger people in the group were excited to meet the lead singer of the Israeli band HaDag Nachash, Sha’anan Street, who had just arrived via Milan in Portland. He began by telling us, “Living in Israel is a struggle. It’s not easy to be an Israeli; it’s harder to be a Palestinian, but it’s not easy to be an Israeli.” He also noted that everyone who lives in Jerusalem is a minority, whether they’re secular Jews, ultra-Orthodox or Palestinian. “Somehow,” he said, “they manage, they find common ground.” Even though he acknowledged the struggle for everyone, he expressed the belief that “deep down, we know it’s going to work out somehow.” In addition to speaking with us and answering questions, he also played some of his music via YouTube.
Interestingly, in response to a question, he said that his children attend an Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem called Hand in Hand. It is relevant to note that among the JCA’s many recipient agencies is the Hand in Hand School. His reference to and support of the program suggested that the families that send their children to these schools, 600 who attend in Jerusalem and smaller numbers that attend two other programs in different locations, are working to raise Arabs and Jews who will be able to communicate well with and understand one another. It was a moment to feel our connection from Portland with programs of this type in Israel.
Two different programs, each with much food for thought. It will be interesting to see how we are able to continue the conversation. Please be in touch with your thoughts!