Aqua Aerobics at 11:00 AM today (December 3) has been canceled. Those registered will receive a credit for today’s class. For more information, please contact Cheuk Wai Ngou-Ng, Aquatics Coordinator, at CNgou@14streety.org or call 646-395-4316.

To Be Free And At Peace

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Dear Friends and members of The 14th Street Y,

When I decided to become a Shaliach, an Israeli relationship-building emissary, I knew that missing home would be a challenge. I didn’t even dedicate a second thought to what would happen if there was a war, or an escalation. No one wants to think of such disasters.

Over the last couple of days Israel yet again has become a war zone. I’m not interested in talking about politics with you, I simply want to share my personal experience. This week I have lived in profound fear for my grandmother’s and best friend’s lives. They both live in southern Israel, which was bombarded by hundreds of rockets launched from Gaza into Israel.

During these strikes a man was killed in his own house by a rocket. Even more unbelievably, this man was a Palestinian building contractor who worked in the city of Ashkelon in Israel. When I heard someone was killed, and all I could think was: “what if that rocket had hit my grandma’s or best friend’s house?”

And as a former facilitator of an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue group, I know personally people from the other side of this conflict who share fears I have from war, and yet also share hopes for peace.

This is not the first time the conflict in Gaza is escalating, and as an Israeli I am experiencing it now for the fourth time in my life. However, this is the first time I have felt so helpless, because I am not in Israel.

As I am writing these words a ceasefire has been achieved, yet the fear of a returning war, of more bloodshed and violence is still alive.

Even with this hard story, it’s important for me to let you know that life in Israel is remarkably good. I had an amazing childhood and I have good friends and memories from my home city of Jerusalem, and from other parts of the country, the south included. Israel is a normal country to live in, until it’s not. It’s a peaceful country to live in, until it’s not.

After years of being in dialogue with Palestinians, I have learned they perceive the source of danger very differently from me. If I fear rockets being launched from Gaza, they fear Israeli soldiers. In other words: for some, it was a challenge even to speak with me, since I was once a soldier. I never shot anyone nor stood at a checkpoint. I was a journalist who wrote about the life of soldiers in the Israeli Army, as well about the Palestinian perspective. I wrote an article about the poor humanitarian conditions in Gaza. I wanted to expose my Israeli friends to the other side, and understand we are impacted by each other’s suffering.

I have learned from my Palestinian co-facilitators that their hope for peace is to build islands of cooperation in an ocean of conflict. Their hope comes from personal connections with people who share the same aspirations as them: the will to live, and live good lives. Even now, there are Israelis in southern Israel who still maintain connection with their Palestinian friends, colleagues, or workers from Gaza despite the growing difficulties. I learned from this that in spite of the very complicated political reality, my hope for peace still remains. “You’re naive” some people tell me, “because you want peace while the reality shows there is no chance.”

Peace has always been the aspiration of Judaism. For me, Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) is the most Jewish thing there is. Maintaining hope, to be free from violence and uncertainty as free people in our own country, is the deepest Israeli value to me.

I wish this to happen in my lifetime: to be free and to be at peace. I wish for me and my dialogue partners to know that our grandmothers and our best friends are safe.

If you want to want to ask questions and learn more about what’s happening, to do a project with me to support kids under fire, or to make time to meet with me, don’t hesitate to contact me at: Shaliach@14streety.org or on Facebook.

B’shalom (with Peace),

Ophir, Israeli Community Shaliach (Emissary) at the 14th Street Y