I’m not sure when I first learned that Nakba Day existed. I didn’t grow up with any real awareness of it, except that we (the community where I grew up identified strongly enough with Israel that “we” seems like the right word) had enemies who considered Israel’s Independence to be a bad thing. My father was born the year after the state of Israel was born, and he was raised in a neighborhood of Holocaust survivors. Israel was something fragile, and precious- something good had finally happened for the Jews. I was raised with my father’s fear in 1967 that when General Nassar said that he would drive the Jews into the sea, he would actually succeed, and I was raised with my father’s elation and pride when Israel did not let that happen. I was taught that Jews should always know how to fire a gun. (Oops, I still don’t).
Nakba Day came gradually into my consciousness, and even more gradually into my calendar. (I wasn’t even sure which calendar at first- I mark Israel’s memorial and independence days on the lunar Hebrew calendar, but Nakba day is the day after Israel’s Independence day, but on the secular, Gregorian calendar. This year, that overlapped with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, causing some ceremonies to be pushed forward, so I might not be the only one confused.)
The more people I meet (and our hospital draws a diverse crowd), the more it becomes clear that history is complex, narratives are complex, and motives are complex. But complexity does not mean that nothing is clear. People lived here, and they fled during a war, and they weren’t allowed to come home.
I know a man, and his grandfather was exiled from Beer Sheva to Jordan. His family remained behind, and he was never allowed to return. I think he would have been proud of his grandson, who is a teacher, and his great-granddaughter, who wants to go into high-tech.
It’s easy to lose oneself a bit under the politics, the identities internally assumed or externally imposed, and the narratives, both official and unofficial. I was touched to wake up on Holocaust Memorial Day and see a news feed full of Palestinians and Iranians also marking Holocaust Memorial Day, and I realized I wanted to say something on Nakba Day (though you can tell I didn’t finish it in time). It seems important that those of us living in and benefiting from the state of Israel spend a day recognizing the loss that that caused others, and that that loss is still ongoing in many ways. Commemorating Nakba Day this year felt right, and as it meant stepping outside of my own identity, my own narrative, I wanted to write something that was in the voice of my own tradition. I drew on material from synagogue prayers, from songs around the Shabbos table that spoke of return from exile, and from readings from the Torah.
It wasn’t easy to write- it meant putting aside fears I’d absorbed about the idea of Palestinian refugees returning, “Will they kill us? Will the good things that have been built here be destroyed? Will the Jewish people end up in exile again, and will we survive that?” These are fears that I was raised with, that a lot of the Jewish community was raised with.
I set these questions aside, not because they aren’t important, but because the act of listening alone, even when it’s not comfortable, of feeling each others’ pain, and admiring each others’ strength, changes us and changes what is possible, and allows for the possibility of a future that is not a zero-sum game. I want options beyond one “side” winning and the “other side” losing. Some things are easier for me- I’m not a policy wonk, I’m a medical student. If I make it through medical school, if Palestinian refugees are allowed to return and I’m still here, my role would be the same: to take care of anyone who comes through the door.
A Jewish Prayer for Nakba Day:
Our God, and God of our ancestors, who answered Abraham when his son was bound on the alter1, who remembered Sarah’s prayers in her tent for a child2, and who found Hagar in the wilderness on the road to Shur3, and who heard the cries of her child in the wilderness of Beer Shava4, may He remember our Palestinian brothers and sisters who were killed, who were expelled, who fled, who were not allowed to return home, and those who are still at risk of losing their homes5. May their prayers be heard so that families be re-united in the land of their ancestors, and they can return in happiness to their land and in joy to their homes6, in the cities, in the villages, and outside the villages. May they dwell securely in the land7, without fear of being uprooted, and may they be free to go up to Your holy city8 and may we all dwell together with righteousness and with justice and with kindness and with mercy9. Help us all to have compassion for one another, as it is written, “and I will take your heart of stone, and replace it with a heart of flesh10.” and we will say, amen.”
אלוהינו ואלוהי אבותינו, שענה לאברהם בעת שנעקד בנו, שפקד את שרה בפתח אהלה, שמצא את הגר במדבר בדרך אל שור, וששמע את זעקת בנה במדבר באר שבע, זכור נא את אחינו ואחיותינו הפלסטינים, שנהרגו, שנעקרו, שברחו, שנאסר עליהם לחזור אל בתיהם, ושעומדים היום לאבד את בתיהם. שמע תפילותיהם לאיחוד משפחות מופרדות באדמת אבותיהם, והחזר אותם לבתיהם, בערים, בכפרים ומחוץ לכפרים, שנאמר “בשמחה לארצך ובששון לעירך.” “וישבתם על הארץ לבטח “, באין חושש שייעקר, “ולעלות בשלום לעיר קודשך, ותן שנגור ביחד ” “בצדק ובמשפט ובחסד וברחמים. ” הנח עלינו רוח אחווה וחמלה, שנאמר “והסרתי את לב האבן מבשרכם ונתתי לכם לב בשר .” ונאמר “אמן “.
1. liturgy, days of awe.
2. Genesis 21:1
3. Genesis 16:7
4. Genesis 21:14-17. Beer Shava is not a typo, but both the masoretic pronunciation here, and also contains elements of the modern Hebrew and Arabic names.
6. liturgy, days of awe.
7. Leviticus 25:18
8. A traditional name for Jerusalem that is identical to its Arabic name.
9. Hosea 2:21
10. Ezekiel 26:36
I’d love feedback on it, both on the content as well as on the specific construction and grammar (most especially in the Hebrew). Discrepancies between the Hebrew an English can be attributed to the limits of my Hebrew. Feel free to share, and share widely, if you feel moved to.