Transcript- Mending our Broken Hearts with Rabbi Sharon Brous

Hadar Susskind  00:07

Hello, good afternoon, everybody. I'm Hadar Susskind, the President and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, thank you for being with us this afternoon or morning for those of you who are in California. I am really, really excited for our webinar conversation today. In a moment, I will introduce our wonderful guest. But I'm going to take a moment, as those of you who are veteran APN webinar goers know, this is the part where it takes a minute for everyone to sign in and I get to partake in the wonderful Washington tradition of filibustering for a minute or two. So, yeah, see Sharon's new, she hadn't heard that one before. Some of these people are rolling their eyes. They're like, yeah, we know. Again, thank you everybody. Thank you for being with us today. This is going to be a really, really exciting conversation, I have been looking forward to it. I know some of you have probably read not only Sharon's book, which we will talk about in a minute, but her op-ed in the New York Times and seen her on many other things including Oprah's book list this last week. So I realize the APN Webinar, Sharon, is perhaps not at the top of your list of big events, but it's at the top of my list of big events, so thank you for being with us. Again, before I do the introduction, I'll just quickly go over logistics: this webinar will be recorded, so if you want to hear it again, if you want to share it with friends, you will be able to. I remind you all that if you do have questions, feel free to ask them at any time throughout the webinar and we'll get to as many of them as we can. The way to do so is to use the Q&A button at the bottom of the screen, not raising your hands, not typing in the chat, use the Q&A. And Sharon and I will address as many of those questions as we can. So, with that, I want to say hello and welcome and thank you to my friend Rabbi Sharon Brous. Sharon needs very little introduction, but you're going to get a little bit from me because I can't help it. I'm sure all of you know, Sharon is the founder, the senior Rabbi at IKAR in Los Angeles. She has written an amazing book which we will talk about in just a moment. But even before this book, Sharon has really become one of the leading not just Jewish voices, but moral voices in our nation. And we've known eaach other for a while, but a moment that always sticks out for me, Sharon, is 2013, when you spoke at the Inaugural Prayer breakfast when President Obama was inaugurated. I was lucky enough to be there at the National Cathedral for that event with some friends and colleagues, listening, and it was, I think, as President Obama had wanted it to be, an interfaith, ecumenical event, obviously, but still, we were sitting in a cathedral, and it felt very churchy. And for those of us who that's not our background, until Sharon got up and spoke - it was just incredible to hear you and see you up there with the president, bringing your voice into our national conversation. And you've only continued to do so in the years since then. So thank you, Sharon. In a minute I promise I'm going to stop talking and turn it over to you. But first, folks this is Sharon's new book. Very rarely do in our webinars do we hold up books and wave them and say you should buy them, but you should buy it. And I was telling Sharon before we went on, I'll just be honest, I don't usually select books from the spirituality section in the bookstore, that's not my regular reading. And this book has both brought smiles to my face and made me weep multiple times. So thank you for sharing this with all of us, Sharon. And with that, I just want to turn it over to you and say hello, welcome. Please just tell us a little bit about this. We'll dig into details. But start, tell us about the book.


Rabbi Sharon Brous  04:07

First of all, Hadar, thank you so much. I'm so happy that you asked me to be part of this conversation with you and with this beautiful community. I'm grateful to be with all of you. So thank you, everyone for showing up today. The essence of the book on one foot is that we are living in a time of great brokenness right now. We are suffering from an epidemic of loneliness, of social alienation, of isolation, of political extremism, and of real ideological division in our families, in our communities, in our country, and in the world. And we desperately need to find our way to one another in celebration in sorrow and in solidarity. And so the book is written rooted in Jewish wisdom but it's really intended for a broad audience and I think is finding resonance, hopefully, among people even who don't share this tradition. I chose the word "amen" because that is one of those words that really is sacred in many traditions. We say, Jews say amen, Christians say amen, Muslims often say ameen. And so this is a word that has an echo through many of our faith traditions. But the idea is the power that each one of us holds, especially in a time when we feel so helpless and so powerless, to say "amen" to another person's experience, to see them in their pain and in their joy, and to allow ourselves to be seen the same, and then to stand in human solidarity with one another.


Hadar Susskind  05:41

Really, you know, I don't know when when you started writing the book, and I know you've been thinking about it, at least according to the book, for two decades -  But I can't imagine a more necessary time for it. And it is, like you said, it's the world we live in overall, but particularly as I - you know, sitting here in my APN office - the world that we as Jewish community leaders, we as people who care about what's happening in Israel, are living in right now that is so full of trauma, and so full of pain for so many people. For Israelis, for Palestinians, for everyone who cares about either or both around the world. It's, you know, it's a very, it's a very difficult moment. And I think, again, I'll just speak for myself, I guess like, I didn't know how much I needed this until I started reading.


Rabbi Sharon Brous  05:50

20 years, yeah.  Thank you. Hadar. You know, look, I really did write the book in another world in many ways, because the whole world changed three and a half months ago. I closed the manuscript a year ago. And if I can just take a step back for a minute, I'll give you the kind of central image of the book that I keep connecting back to in every one of the eight chapters, because I think it'll be helpful for us as we discuss the book, and I'm seeing these beautiful circles behind your head. It's a circling image, it's an image that comes from the Mishnah, the Oral Torah, the oral law, that that was codified around the year 220 CE, so very ancient texts, that was speaking of the practice of going up to visit the temple in Jerusalem. And when folks would go up for pilgrimage, they would ascend to Jerusalem, ascend the steps at the temple, they would enter the courtyard and they would turn to the right and en masse, they would circle all the way around the courtyard. And then they would exit essentially right where they had entered, except, the text says, for the brokenhearted. For someone who's brokenhearted, they would still go up to Jerusalem, still climb the steps, but they would turn to the left when everyone else turned to the right. And like we do when we are in pain, it would feel for them like the whole world was moving in one direction and they in another. Except instead of being abandoned and watching people retreat from them and pull away from their pain, in the courtyard, the holy work that was done is that the Mishnah says, the people who are walking in the direction of the folks who are okay that day would look into the eyes of the bereft and the bereaved and the ill and say, "What happened to you, ma lach? Tell me, what's your story." And the people who were wounded would say, my heart is broken because my loved one just died or because I feel, you know, abandoned by my family, or because my partner just left or because my kid is sick, whatever the pain is that we're holding. And the people who are going in this direction, instead of avoiding them, or glossing over the pain, would look at them and say, "May you find comfort in this place, may the one who dwells here hold you with love, may you feel wrapped up in the embrace of community." It's such a powerful psychological insight that the rabbis were holding, that they understood that neither of those parties, neither the bereaved nor the community, want to be having that interaction in that moment. Because when we're brokenhearted, we really want to pull away, because we don't trust that we're going to be held with care. But instead, the tradition says, you root yourself in a community of care, place yourself in the circle of care so that you can be held. And the people who are doing just fine, this could be the greatest day of their life. They're on spiritual pilgrimage, it's like Mecca. I mean, they are so excited to be part of this sacred ritual, but all of a sudden, there's this brokenhearted person coming toward them. And I imagine they must be like, "seriously, I have to go take care of this guy right now? This is the peak moment of my life!" But the answer is, yeah, that peak moment is only possible because you're taking care of someone who's brokenhearted. And so they craft this beautiful ritual that's really been the heart of my rabbinate for 20 years. And what I realized is I wrote the book at a time in which both I personally and I think our American Jewish community, especially white Jews in America, were really trained, you know, to walk to the right and to - you know, as a rabbi pastoring to a community - to look up and see who needs help, who needs support, who needs love right now and how can I help them? And as a community of relative privilege in America to be able to say, "how can I be a good ally? Who can I stand with in the battle for a just society?" And then after October 7, just so many of us felt like we were moving in the other direction, and, you know, needing the support and the love and the care from from the rest of the community. And I myself also became a mourner because my father died just before Rosh Hashanah, so I'm also turning to the left. And so in many ways, I'm orienting now from the other direction. And when I went into read the book for the audible, for the audiobook, I was really worried. Like, I wrote the book going this way, what if the book doesn't work going that way? And it does, which I'm relieved by, because otherwise, you know, you shouldn't buy the book. But but the reason why it works is because it's ancient wisdom. Because the rabbis who wrote this ritual, who wrote about it, they understood a lot about the human condition. And they knew that sometimes we're going this way, and every one of us at some point will be going the other way. And so I feel really moved by the way that they held and created time and space back then, as a kind of offering for us in this time of so much heartache and distress and anguish, especially right now.


Hadar Susskind  11:19

Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, I'll take the risk here and speak for probably everyone who's on the webinar today, that post-October 7, regardless of which direction we were coming from on the sixth, almost everyone feels like we're going to the left now. And I think we feel that as individuals, and I know all of us have been struggling to feel okay ourselves, and to help our families, our loved ones, our friends, our colleagues feel okay. And I think as we've looked for that broader community, and who's still coming from the other way, for me, there's been a lot of good and a lot of positive and a lot of support. I think there are a lot of questions from the American Jewish community right now too about who is who is making up that community and how are we feeling about it. Again, I know you wrote this, mostly, you know, the stories in here are about individuals, about people dealing with mourning, with loss with sicknesses, all these other things, and also moments of joy. But as we're talking about, we're experiencing that as a community now. And we're responding to that as a community, we're responding to that as institutions. I want to say, you know, separately from the book, which we were happy to have you join us and talk about today, I just am thankful for the response and the leadership you've demonstrated about how we are responding post October 7, and how we're talking to our own community, to ourselves and to our colleagues. You know, does the experience of this book, of writing this, of living this, is that influencing the way you're responding now, post October 7?


Rabbi Sharon Brous  13:02

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I will say, I felt what many of us felt after October 7, I felt incredibly lonely. I was really struck by the voices I did not hear reaching out and just saying, "Is your family, okay? You know, I know your brother and his kids live there. Are they okay?" We have built really beautiful relationships and alliances over many, many years in the movement spaces. And we call each other whenever anything hard happens, and I just heard more silence than expressions of care, and it was incredibly painful. And I was really struggling, because I realized that there was the anguish and the sorrow and the horror of what actually unfolded on October 7. And then there was the sense of a little bit of abandonment, like, are we holding this grief alone as a Jewish community? And then immediately, as soon as I could identify that feeling as loneliness, I thought, okay, you just wrote a book about loneliness, right? Like, the whole book's not about loneliness, but it's essentially about the fact that we are relational creatures and we fundamentally depend on one another. We want to be seen  and we need to be seen, we want to see and we need to be seen. We live in relationship with each other, and the greatest gift that we can give each other is holding each other through the most challenging and painful moments of life. And if that's true for individuals, that is also true for us as a community. And so it helped me understand what the framework was, for this moment. I know loneliness, I can speak to loneliness. And so how do we hold a collective and communal loneliness? So one of the pain points of loneliness is that we now know that loneliness is a sensation that happens to our spirit that like most sensations, when our body experiences pain, is trying to signal to our brain that we need some thing that we're not getting. As Dr. Vivek Murthy says, loneliness is the gap between the relationships we need and those we have, or the presence we need from others and the presence we have. So the thing is, when you feel pain from touching a stove, it signals to your brain: pull your hand away, because there's danger there, and that could save your life. But when you feel the pain of loneliness, it does the opposite. It's really warning your brain: you need social connection, you need relationships. But what it does is it instinctively pulls us into retreat from others. It makes us not want to go toward others because we feel hurt and offended and sad, and we feel like they don't want us there anyway. And so what we have to do is something very counter instinctual when we're experiencing personal or communal loneliness, which is actually lean into relationship. And we saw that happening in our Jewish community in such beautiful ways where people were like, I'm not getting it from my colleagues at work. And I'm not getting it from my allies in the racial justice space. And I'm not getting it from here, and I'm not getting from there, so I'm going to find it with one another, leaning into relationship in that way. And I think many people said that that was a lifeline - I felt it was a lifeline, our Jewish community was a lifeline during that period. But it also made me reach out to people who I was hurt by and try to reestablish connection and try to say, hey, like, I'm hurting over here. Where are you? And Hadar, one of those people was a Palestinian friend of mine who lives here in LA, who we've spent decades building relationship. And I was really hurt that I didn't hear from him, honestly. And I reached out several days after October 7, just to say like, we're in relationship with each other, we don't disappear from one another in hard times. But I didn't say that I just said, I'm thinking of you, how's your family? And he said that he had lost two members of his family and Gaza that day. And I just realized, like, our sorrow is not the only sorrow in the world, and our broken hearts are not the only broken hearts. And if we can find a way to meet sorrow with sorrow, then we can recover each other's humanity on our own. And that really is the message of the book, can we find - can our broken hearts find our way to one another? And I know that not everybody is able to do that yet. When we're in Shiva, when we're in the deepest and most acute mourning, we're not looking to build bridges. We are staying at home and taking care of our hearts and being taken care of by loved ones. But you have to get up from Shiva at some point. And at some point, whether the distance is time or the distance is real, like real proximity - meaning I'm gonna be able to get up before my brother who lives north of Tel Aviv will be able to get up, because he's still living deep in it and I'm not, even though I think about it every minute of the day - then we have the bandwidth to walk around the block and see the other people who are also grieving and see the other people who are also living and loving, and see the bruises and the beauty of the world. So if we have the bandwidth to engage, we must engage because these bridges and human connections are the only way that we're going to be able to heal as a society.


Hadar Susskind  14:17

Seems trite to say amen. But you know,


Rabbi Sharon Brous  17:39

It's not trite though, it's not trite. It's very powerful to say it. Yeah.


Hadar Susskind  18:13

It is. Look, I just, I mean, I have, as I'm sure many of you on this webinar with us today, you know, I've had the exact experience of Palestinian friends, whether you know, here in the US or there and reaching out and who's reached out first and who reached out again. And I had some who I was in touch with, you know, in October, who I haven't spoken to in a little while now and reminds me that I need to do that again. Because we are going through our own challenges and our own mourning and and so are they, and they're overlapping and they're connected.


Rabbi Sharon Brous  18:47



Hadar Susskind  18:48

 Uh oh, Sharon, can you hear me?


Rabbi Sharon Brous  18:50

I can hear you. Can you hear me?


Hadar Susskind  18:55

You got me. Okay, good. We froze for a second, but -


Rabbi Sharon Brous  18:59

 Sorry about that.


Hadar Susskind  19:00

Maybe it was me, I hope. But one of the questions that's come up in the questions here - and again, I encourage everyone to use the Q&A function - you know, as we think about this on the communal left, you know, why did it take the horrendous events of October 7, for us to walk to the left? You know, what is Jewish tradition and scripture have to say about that? And I'm taking that - and you take it however you want - but really, on the communal level, as we think about the work that we at APN and you in so many ways are engaged with around Israel and Palestine, around trying to find peace and, you know, a better future there. Obviously, October 7, in horrible ways, is a turning point. But what's, you know, why did it take that for so many of us to make that decision to go left?


Rabbi Sharon Brous  19:55

So Patricia, thank you for that question. I mean, first of all, as Hadar already pointed out, we're all walking our own path as individuals and then as members of a broader community. And so there are many people in our community who were walking to the left before. But what I was suggesting is that at this moment, in the 21st century, many American Jews were -found ourselves over the course of the last couple of decades in a position where we had relative social safety, and we had relative privilege compared to many in this country. And so we were in a position where our moral responsibility was to look up and say: how can I use every spiritual, financial, material and other resource that I have to help amplify voices of people who otherwise might not be heard and to really be strong allies in the fight for a more just and loving society. And I think that that remains the case now. But what I experienced after October 7, and what I think many Jews have is, for the first time in many of our lives, a true sense of vulnerability. I believe that the tipping point for antisemitism in the United States was not October 7, I think it happened in 2017 with Charlottesville. I think that was a moment many of us started to think like, oh, there's a path to the left here, and I might be walking on it. Even still, and I think that was reinforced after Charlottesville by a number -


Hadar Susskind  21:30

Many times unfortunately


Rabbi Sharon Brous  21:31

by a number of violent episodes, by a spike in antisemitism across the country, etc. And something different happened on October 7. I felt it, I felt that for so many people in our broader Jewish community, there was this sense of real, true personal vulnerability, as a Jew. Meaning I am feeling my Jewish identity in a totally different way now than I did before. And this is something that Ezra Klein and I talked about on that interview, not to drop the Ezra Klein interview here, but I'll just mention it. Because it was something that he pulled out from one of the sermons that I gave in the aftermath, where he said this is the reason that he called me, because I was talking about Avram ha Ivri, the moment that Abraham became a Hebrew, was the moment that his family member, that his nephew had been abducted. That's the first time in the Torah that he is identified as a Hebrew. He's many other things before that. He's a father, he is a husband, he - actually is see a father? He's not a father yet at this moment, but he's a husband, he's a businessman, et cetera. But he is not an Ivri, a Hebrew until the moment that this is taken from him. And I believe that something similar happened to a lot of Jewish people, especially American Jews, who again, came from this position of relative social safety and privilege before, that, we suddenly felt like, oh, my identity is part of what brings me into the left side of the circle, rather than the right. And so you know, look, I was recently speaking with a very prominent psychologist who's a professor and she shared that when you don't have social safety, it's very hard to experience empathy for another. If you don't feel safe, it's really hard to open your heart. And I also believe that we can match vulnerability with vulnerability. And there's even a chapter on that in the book, that when we go to a vulnerable person, the only way we can really meet each other is if we can attach to our own sense of vulnerability in the world. And so this moment of our Jewish community, many in our Jewish community, feeling like we're turning to the left should not be a moment for us to disengage from the work, but actually should help us empathize even more deeply if such a thing is possible. And I get that for many people who are at the deepest and most acute trauma right now - trauma, grief and fear - it is extremely difficult to be on the frontlines of that bridge building work. But for the rest of us, if we can, we must.


Hadar Susskind  24:14

Yeah and I think like you said, everybody is in their own place on that sort of continuum and will get to, hopefully, will get to the place where they feel they can do that in their own time. You know, I think it's fascinating. I mean, you mentioned Charlottesville, obviously, we had for years of the previous administration, let's just call it that, with so many events there and including, you know, so many direct attacks on Jews, on synagogues, Tree of Life, you know, so many other things. And yet I agree with you that in some ways, what happened on October 7, not here, but in Israel, made people fear for their safety in a different way. Even though there were literal murderers, you know, in attacks on Jews here in America. And some of that, I think is the scale, but some of that is obviously people's deep connections, personal in so many ways to Israel. But I think a lot of it is also what you were talking about before, is the responses here in America. That, you know, so many of us, I think expected and people have grown up and lived in a world where you thought if you would see such a horrible thing like that happen, then it would just be very clear that everybody would be with you in unequivocally condemning that horrible thing. And we would move forward together supporting each other. And, you know, needless to say, that, I think is not the experience of our community in this country post-October 7, and it created a different kind of eye opening moment where we're looking around, like you were saying, at people we thought were friends, people we thought were were allies. And, you know, I spend a lot of my time telling people that I don't feel like I've been entirely abandoned by the left, right? I've had many, many friends from, you know, very prominent ones, members of Congress, etc, down to all kinds of other people, including Palestinian Americans, but from all sorts of backgrounds, be there for me and be very supportive. But it's also true that that's not been universal, and it's something we all need to reckon with now.


Rabbi Sharon Brous  26:23

Yeah, I think that's right. And even in my first sermon right after October 7, when I was talking about this sense of existential loneliness, and the fear - the feeling of abandonment that so many of us felt, I also said, we have to know that we have not been entirely abandoned. My congressperson called me four times the first week to just check in on how's your community doing? Are you okay? Our district attorney called, I mean, we had - and a lot of friends. And so I think that sometimes the silence is louder than the voices of compassion and love. And so we have to also, we have to also recalibrate a little bit. And I was and am very pained by the by the people who did not - who had so much moral clarity when it comes to so many of the conflicts in the world and who really, I've been, you know, we have stood side by side through some of the hardest things that our country had faced. And then they're literally on the other side of this, like in terms of justifying the atrocities that were committed against my family and against our family. And so that's so painful, and that is not everyone. And I think it's important for us to recognize that. And I also, Hadar I'll also tell you, what I, you know, I believe that part of the - what we're seeing among many Israeli Jews and many Jews in the diaspora, this sense of kind of exasperation, that people aren't empathizing with our family when we've been victimized. And I also see in our Jewish community, that there's a lack of empathy toward toward Palestinian innocents who are suffering terribly in this time as well. And I just, I keep asking myself, how is it that a people that knows the pain of being totally marginalized, and even having atrocities against us be celebrated, that we can't just expand our heart a little bit more to see the, you know, to see children who are dying, who are Palestinian children who have nothing to do with Hamas. And so I just want to keep - I really believe that the work of a pastor, of a rabbi, of a priest, you know, our work is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. And right now we're in a big "comfort the afflicted" moment, because our people are really afflicted. But we have to always remind ourselves of the uncomfortable work too, which is, you know, we still must not rest until there is peace in this region, until there is a just future for all of the people who live in this region. And so I want to make sure that we are not falling into the same trap that we see many people fall into when they create false binaries about whose humanity matters more and who do we grieve and whom do we not see or grieve at all?


Hadar Susskind  29:12

Yeah, and, you know, Sharon, this is one of those spots where I think the personal and the communal overlaps or parallels the political as well. It's something that, you know, we at APN have been dealing with, as everyone has, over these past few months of, of course, the horror of what happened on October 7. And, you know, we know we're all we're all sitting here, I mean, last night, I went to bed, having heard from my nephew, who's a soldier in the IDF right now, that something terrible had happened in Gaza, and there were many soldiers who were killed. We didn't know the details yet and we all, you know, woke up and saw the details today. And that can't be our whole view, right? Our work - our organizational work - but I believe our work as people who work care about peace, who care about a better future, has to encompass, has to be able to look at what's happening to Israelis and Palestinians, and have to get past what I think is the, frankly, the failure of many, many - not every - but many of the organizations in American Jewish life, who, especially in times of conflict like this, ended up playing the role, I think, of really just, you know, trying to score points for their team. Saying "we're right and they're wrong," and "they're the worst," and "everything we did is justified and everything they did is bad." And, you know, I can't count, I don't even want to think about, how many times in these last few months I've said to people who have been sharing things, whether it's on social media or otherwise, that are false. And I've said to them, look, there's enough very real horrors happening on both sides that trying to make the other side look worse is not helping anybody here, and that we need to work as communal organizations, as communal leaders, we need to be able to open our hearts the way you were talking about. Because this is not a, you know, a football game or a basketball game that's going to end with a score where one team wins and one team loses. This is millions and millions of people who are going to have to live together going forward, in one way or another. And that's challenging. And, you know, certainly I don't have any simple answers as to how to make it better, but there's no question that our function has to be to try to find the shared humanity.


Rabbi Sharon Brous  31:29

Absolutely, that's right. And I mean, I'll tell you, every time I hear a report of another soldier that dies, I have this as a practice now and sadly, a daily practice, where I look at their picture and attach their name to their picture. And I try to just take a moment in my busy day and imagine this 26 year old who studied robotics, who's now, you know, who's now dead. And then I think, when you focus so deeply on, you know, on each and every loss, and each and every person, not only does it, you know, kind of bore a hole, it hurts the heart, but then to realize that every single person who dies is an entire world. And these are the folks that are my brother's neighbors, who, you know, whose names I'm hearing about? And what about all the Palestinians who are dying in this war and whose names I don't even - I don't know when may never know. And so, like, are they less human? Is it less of a human human connection? And so I really believe that this kind of tribalism - I write about tribalism in chapter eight. And let me just say, it's not a grief book. This is not a grief book, though there's a lot of grief in it. It's not an Israel book - as one of my friends pointed out, the word Israel does not appear in the index of this book. A couple of stories are set in Jerusalem, but it's not about Israel. But it is about it is about our humanity in this moment and what it would mean to turn to one another with compassion and empathy and with curiosity. And so like, this conversation is very much a part of the conversation around the book. But in chapter eight, I speak about tribalism and what it means to be attached to a tribe. And in many ways, tribes are wonderful. We have this tribal connection where we actually can access a sense of community very powerfully and very naturally, and tribes are a biological reality. I mean, that is what we understand from science. And there are limits to tribalism, because the science shows that the more deeply attached we are to our own tribe, the more indifferent we are to people who are outside our tribe and even the more hostility we might feel naturally toward people who are outside our tribe. So what we have to do is honor our tribal connection, and at the same time, try to counter the instinct to abandon the people who are outside our tribe, because they are also human beings. And I can't bear it when other people consider my family and my circle outside the circle of human care and concern. So I am certainly not ready to do that to any other people.


Hadar Susskind  34:14

I mean, and I think that's just the basis of this right, is yes, you know, we have our connections, our tribalism, as you talked about it, and I think that that's important and embraced. I often talk to people about, you know, why I do this work, how I came to this is because, you know, I come to this connected to Israel, I'm not a Palestinian, that's not my starting point in this conversation. But I come to this caring about the future for Israel and for the people of Israel - Jewish, Muslim Christian, Druze, Bahai, whoever else I'm forgetting. But also the Palestinian people because they are intertwined, and they are part of this same story, and there is no good answer that includes one of these peoples over the other. I think, you know, the question - I can't help it, this was just mine - as I'm reading your book, which again, is so deeply personal, I am trying to - not trying, I'm just doing it - extrapolating it to sort of the organizational level and the communal level, and how are we finding those partners and those allies when both we are feeling alone, and we are feeling abandoned, but also when they are feeling that. And I think, some of the most interesting conversations, just reality checks that I've had with people in the last few months, with some Palestinian American friends, where I said to them, you know, American Jews are terrified right now. They're, you know, our community is fearful for our individual personal safety: ourselves, our families, you know, here, much less there in Israel. And American Jews are feeling politically scared, as we see people out there publicly cheering on the atrocities of October 7, or, you know, varying degrees of that, we're not feeling the political support that we expected feel. And I had a conversation with a friend who looked at me just dumbfounded, and said, "What are you talking about? The president's doing everything you want, Congress does everything you want." And it wasn't in a conspiracy "Jews control everything" kind of way. It was just: look what's happening, we can't even get Congress, you know, to say "stop killing Palestinians." And he said Palestinians are abandoned by the world, you know, the UN tries to do something in the US vetoes it. And it was this, I mean, the two of us really sort of stopped and looked at each other like, wait, how do we both, not just personally, but communally, feel this way? Like, we are both, you know, righteous and wronged, but also threatened and unsupported and we're having these parallel conversations. And it was actually, it's very powerful.


Rabbi Sharon Brous  37:04

Yeah, I, you know, when a Palestinian colleague of mine posted something last month, that said, it was a pretty aggressive post kind of criticizing, you know, America and this response, and really people who've placed themselves in movements for justice, and then are not supporting justice for Palestinians right now. And the person wrote, you know, like, essentially, "you're all useless, they could come for me and kill me right now and you wouldn't even care. Like, none of you would lift a finger to save my own life." And I saw it, and I thought, that's exactly how I feel. That's exactly how I feel right now. It's like, I felt like, oh, god forbid, you know, attacks on Jews in America and people are like, well, the occupation. You know, it's almost like, I think that that sense of vulnerability is something that we actually share, like that post actually made me feel closer to the experience. And, you know, this is something that I've been thinking about for some years. Essentially, what you just said Hadar that, whenever I talk to Palestinians, and the more I talk to Palestinians, the more I feel when I hear them talk about their yearning for home, about their sense of abandonment. That they've been abandoned by the world, nobody cares about them, they have to fight for themselves, because nobody's going to fight for them, their sense, their need for self determination. The more I hear a Palestinian speak, the more I think, oh, there's a people in the world who is uniquely situated to resonate to what you're describing and empathize with it, because that's our experience, too. And isn't it you know, some kind of sick irony that the people who in this world are actually oriented toward one another, on the basis of shared experience in the world, are actually the people who you know, who are in eternal conflict, or hopefully not eternal, but in such terrible conflict with one another. So when I see people, like, our friends at Standing Together, you know, on the streets in Tel Aviv, right now, I think: oh, that is the way. These are folks who have found their way to one another, even, by the way, in the midst of the trauma and the grief and the fear and have said: there is another way, we have to build a third way. These false binaries are only harming all of us, there is a just future and we're all going to be living in it. And kind of calling all of us to lift our gaze and say "you know what, we need to be more imaginative, more creative, like what are the craziest ideas out there?" Let's talk about them and see if they might be possible because as you've said, you know, there are millions of people there who aren't going anywhere. And so we've got to figure out how we're going to live together. And let's let's have that conversation.


Hadar Susskind  39:53

Yeah. And I think when you talk about the craziest ideas - it's funny because I think the prescribed range of ideas in which we are, you know, allowed to think about and talk about in terms of the political space, is so very narrow now. And it's been narrowed by governments, it's been narrowed by our own community and community leadership over, you know, years and generations here, where we think about, you're talking about the the one community that should be most attuned to their challenges and their suffering. And it makes me think about, you know, years ago, I was part of helping organize the Save Darfur Coalition where the Jewish community for, you know, sort of no obvious reason, and in hugely disproportionate numbers played an important role there. Or going back to fighting apartheid in South Africa, where Jewish community institutions were so engaged. I mean the Jewish community has historically been there for so many communities that were not intrinsically connected to us. And yet for very obvious reasons, in this case, we, you know, are just pushed towards separation and opposition. And I'm talking about even here in the United States, much less, you know - there are examples, our friends at Standing Together and others who are organizing and working for a different and a better future there. But I think about how little American Jewish organizations and leaders - again, with some exceptions, but few - really deeply engage with and work with Palestinian American, Arab American communities, where we have let ourselves be divided by the politics, and let ourselves, you know, sign up for our individual teams, rather than finding ways to come together.


Rabbi Sharon Brous  41:33

It's interesting that you say that because I think a lot about what Bryan Stevenson teaches about proximity, which I think I quote somewhere in the book, that you can't understand a person unless you get proximate with that person. You can't, you can't fight for a more just world unless you're proximate with the people who are being hurt by the injustice. And I love this image from the temple, because what it's about is actually getting proximate with people. It's about seeing people and connecting with them. And you and I both have friends who are Palestinian American and also Palestinian, not American. But when you don't have relationships with people, you can't - all you can do is imagine them, and it gets even harder to imagine them in a positive way. But all you can do is assume, make assumptions about how they feel about everything and not connect with their humanity. And so what does it take for us to actually get proximate with each other and be willing to see one another and grow in relationship. Now I will just say, it's a very hard time to start building with new relationships right now. But please, God, this war ends soon. And we'll be able to start to do the work of healing which we so desperately need. And you know, and I think we should really prioritize the work that organizations like NewGround here in Los Angeles do, which is Muslims and Jews finding their way to one another. And they're not all Palestinian Muslims. But it's run by Aziza Hasan, who is Palestinian, and maybe you saw an article that she and Andrea Hodos were in early on. They did a beautiful piece about them in the New York Times, and it was essentially about how their relationship - they keep finding their way to one another, even in the midst of conflict, because their relationship is really rooted in shared love and mutual concern about the world. And I feel that it is of the utmost priority that we that we invest in those relationships. I also - it just occurs to me, there was an article when the wall was built, so many years ago, during and after the Second Intifada. I think Ethan Bronner wrote a piece in The New York Times about how one of the casualties of the wall would be relationship building. That Israelis and Palestinians would really not encounter one another, because they live literally on different sides of a wall. And that we learn each other by being in relationship, by having somebody - you're on a joint work project, you ask how their family is, they tell you how hard their life is, they tell you what their fears are, what their dreams are. And you know, once these communities were really separated in this way, it became it became very hard for those relationships to develop. So all the more so when there are opportunities to build relationship, I think we have to. And it's not an accident that Standing Together grows out of relationships between Israeli Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel and others who are also a part of the the sacred work there. I really see that as an imperative for us.


Hadar Susskind  44:37

And there's no question, just going back to that article for a moment, that that's been true. I mean, there are all sorts of different reasons, good, bad and ugly, that, you know, the government took those decisions. But I mean, I can tell you, you know, as somebody who used to live on a kibbutz in the north, where workers from the West Bank would come to the kibbutz, and people from the kibbutz would go into the villages there, and that stopped. And you have a whole generation of Israelis and Palestinians now who, you know, for the most part only know each other, from checkpoints, you know, from one holding a gun and both being scared of each other. And that has been extremely, extremely damaging. You know, one of the pieces Sharon, that this was making me thinking about was sort of the metaphor of family, our different extents of family. That if we and the Palestinians are cousins, you know, it's one thing to have a challenging relationship with your cousin and over there it was difficult sometimes, and you know, sometimes you're together, sometimes you're apart. But as you get into the the immediate nuclear family, all the more so. And, you know, we have - not that this is news - but we have a new level of challenge and difficulties within our American Jewish community, and how do we relate to people who may actually literally be our family, as is the case for some of us, you know, who've got very different views on Israel and Palestine and the future? And as that becomes, you know, more and more stark, I mean, I have literal relatives whom, you know, I've had very different views from them for a long time, but it's been easy enough to try to ignore those or not talk about them. And now in this moment, when for so many people it's the only thing anyone can talk about, it becomes the central central organizing force, the central driving force. I think we have a tremendous amount of work to do to bring that empathy and that understanding within our own community. I'm wondering, are you feeling that? I mean, IKAR, you know, is a wonderful and unique place. I'm sure you do have political diversity there, but probably not as much as everything in the whole of our community. But how are you feeling that and seeing that in your own community?  Well, you just jumped ahead of what was gonna be my next question. So I was gonna say, we're talking about all of these pieces, and how do we engage with this? Also, I just have to say, I think the "curious to furious" is really good.


Rabbi Sharon Brous  46:50

Yeah, for sure. I mean, this threatens to completely tear apart our Jewish community, there's no question. And I'm just gonna go back to Ezra for a moment, because he had, at the beginning of our interview, this incredible analysis that he offered, where he was speaking about the generational divide on Israel. And I just thought this was very profound. He said, you know, for my parents generation, Israel was the David to the Goliath of the Arab world, this incredible miracle that it even existed, and, you know, the tiny force, the few against the many. By the time, you know, you and I are really kind of coming into relationship with Israel, Israel is much, much stronger, power is much more entrenched, but striving, really striving for peace. And the Oslo years, for me, were really definitional in my own - that's when I spent my first lengthy periods of time in Israel, in the 90s, really, when Israel was striving for peace. And then there's a whole generation that was born, my children's generation, who saw Israel as strong and powerful and not striving for peace. And that's part of the differentiation between the way that, you know, the generations are seeing it - do you see Israel as fundamentally fighting for a better reality, or not? And I think that these many, many - you know, the endless reign of, you know, the Prime Minister, really has created for many young people an impression that Israel has the power, entrenches in the power, and has no interest in letting go of any of that land or power. And that's really hard. And I do see that this is hurting us, it's actually tearing our community apart, it's tearing our families apart. So here's the way that I've been thinking about it. And I have to continue to say this out loud, not only so that others will hear it, but so that it can be reinforced for me, because I keep also forgetting it and needing to be reminded. I envision human relationships in kind of Venn diagrams right now, like, I didn't whiteboard this for us. But like there are these two overlapping circles. And very often, we find ourselves at the outer edge of our views and the outer edge of another person's views. And the other person is morally repugnant to us because of the way that they are articulating or even just seeing a particular issue or conflict. And I really want to push us to actually go to the overlapping place in these circles rather than pull ourselves out to the outer edges. Because when we when we look at the overlapping space in the Venn diagram of human relationships, we probably have a lot in common with most people. Not with everyone, because there's some people who just, you know, whose views are so extreme. But with most people, we probably at least share some core values. And so when we sit down at the Shabbat dinner table, or when we go to, you know, when we when we find our way to one another in these moments that can become very tense, instead of immediately pulling back to "Well, you hold this and I saw that you posted this" and you know, "How could you see that?" and, you know, like you're either a terrorist or a genocider. I mean like they're the worst words, they're the worst possible words. So can we instead just pull into the center a little bit and see - I'm not talking political center, I'm talking about the center of that diagram where we actually can see each other like, "It feels like you're really scared right now. So am I. It feels like you are really traumatized by what's going on, or what went on, and so am I. It feels like you're really worried about the future, and so am I." Can we meet each other there, and allow ourselves to lean into that kind of relationship, enough so that we then have a little bit more curiosity about one another, and can start to engage each other with a little bit more from a position not just of hard strength, but of soft strength, like, "I can see that you're finding yourself on a different piece of this than I am." And actually, the message of Chapter Eight of the book - which does a lot of the work that you're talking about, moving from the personal to the collective, and the societal, and the, you know, broad communal. But I mean, the message of Chapter Eight - it's called Wonder, and it's about curiosity. It's: can we get curious about the other, and when I'm here and you're here, we are not curious, we are furious. But when we're both here at that kind of inner circle, where we both just want our kids to grow up in a world where they can thrive and be safe and live in dignity? Well, then we can get a little bit more curious about each other. And I believe, I argue in the book, that that kind of curiosity is absolutely essential to the reclamation of compassion and empathy. And ultimately, you know, relational healing. I just came up with that, I'll write it down.


Hadar Susskind  50:17

I know, it's very good. But I mean, really what I was thinking about, and then you went right into it, is, you know, how do we take the lessons of this? How do we take the morals of this? Which, yes, Chapter Eight gets into the organization of, but to me, in reading this, it's really just, it's about how do we relate to each other? Right? How do we engage with people who are in pain, who are mourning, who are in need? How do we also remember to bring joy into our interactions? How do we take care of ourselves? All of these pieces - I'm just thinking about, you know, in the work that every single person on this webinar, and everyone who's part of our community is doing right now, of trying to be okay, post October 7, trying to help our families and our friends and our loved ones and our communities and our institutions, and all of that - how do we take these messages and, and really apply that and translate that into this?


Rabbi Sharon Brous  52:48

Hadar, we have to know that we feel incredibly powerless right now, but we are not powerless. We are not powerless. And I mean, for many years, I have had beloved colleagues, and I myself have wanted to throw my hands up and say "Oh my God, the discourse in the Jewish community is completely missing the point." At some point, we have to move from criticizing the discourse and just create our own discourse, right? We just have to say the things out loud, which is what you've been doing and, you know, what NIF is doing, and what and what T'ruah is doing, and J Street and others and what I'm trying to do. Instead of just saying, "I can't believe that they're not talking about XYZ," just talk about XYZ. Because the fact is, what I'm finding right now is that I really believe that the overwhelming majority, the overwhelming majority, is right where we are, right? Like actually sees and appreciates and understands the the the necessity for the State of Israel: the role that it played historically for Jews who needed a refuge and a safe haven, and a place for Torah to thrive and for Hebrew literature and for art and for culture, and sees the humanity of the people who live in that land, and also desperately wants and will fight for a just future for Israelis and for Palestinians in that land. And so if that's where most people are, but that's not where the discourse is, then we just need to shift the discourse. And when the discourse - I mean, part of what we've seen in the last couple of months, is that the Overton window on the public discourse, the street discourse has shifted so dramatically that that in some ways - I mean, there's a whole new language now to describe, you know - the accusations are so dramatic, it's the worst. Again, the worst possible words that can be said are being said about this. And so we see that it is possible for people to shift the discourse. If they can shift that discourse so dramatically, we can shift the discourse to a much more responsible, morally centered, Torah-informed Jewish values-driven conversation. We can do that and we must do that, and with every webinar you're doing that, with every sermon, I'm trying to do that. And so I feel that part of this is about us recognizing that as powerless as we feel, we are not powerless. We can use words in a way that help people understand that false binaries do not help the people of the region, that this this victim-villain narrative is not is not helpful. And that actually, when human beings die, it is a travesty, regardless of which side of the border they live on, and that no liberation movement can grow out of atrocities and annihilation against civilians. And that we, Israelis and Jews, are not safer when when a very right-wing, hardline, ultra-nationalist messianic government has visions of enacting a war in Gaza that's going to lead to a total reoccupation of Gaza, that does not make us safer. And so I think instead of us throwing our hands up, we just have to reinforce the language that we want to be heard in the public space, and use that language. And finally, I'll just say - and I wrote an essay about this a couple of days ago in the Times - that another piece of the response, other than just using our public platform to change the discourse, which I didn't speak about in that in that essay but believe very strongly, is that this image, of the kind of circling and seeing, is a reminder to us that even when we feel powerless, we can see one another in our pain. And we can turn to one another with love and empathy and say, "ma lach?", what happened to you? And we can even turn to people who don't see the world the same as us, and we can turn to them too and say " lach? What does the world look like from your perspective?" And that is a response to our sense of powerlessness. That is what fills us with an opportunity and an ability to actually make a dent in the darkness right now. And I think that that is that that is really a call for our time.


Hadar Susskind  56:50

Beautiful. You know I had something else I was going to say and I don't want to say it now, I want to end on that. And I just want to thank you for being with us today. I want to thank you for this book. Again, for those of you who might not be looking, Ori had posted earlier the the link to the book. If you want to go ahead and buy it, I strongly encourage you to to read it. And Sharon, just thank you for, you know, your work and your voice and being in partnership with us on this.


Rabbi Sharon Brous  57:21

Thank you. And thank you to all of you standing in the breach. I hope you all find strength and comfort.


Hadar Susskind  57:26

Thank you to everyone for joining us and we will see you again another time. Bye.