Observing Shavuot and Nakba Day Side by Side

From Executive Director Shuli Dichter, on the occasion of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot and the Palestinian commemoration of Nakba Day falling this year during the same week. Translated from Hebrew.

According to Jewish tradition, on the holiday celebrating the first harvest of the year, the people brought portions of their harvest up to the Temple in Jerusalem. The gathering of people from all over the country in and around the temple is described in early Jewish texts as a great social and political happening. The “tax” of products was a progressive one: richer people gave more and poorer people less.

This year, the Jewish holiday of Shavuot falls at the same time as the Palestinians mark Nakba Day (Day of the Catastrophe). This week we see again the old black and white and gray photographs of deported families, on foot, in trucks, in small boats out of ports; Palestinians leaving for their own diaspora. And those who remained inside the borders of Israel staying in their Arab towns and villages, bringing in refugees from other Arab villages.

Today we also see new photos, of Syrian refugees in tents, food being handed out by the U.N., photos of people losing their homes, living in insecurity.

Yesterday I participated in a class on the Nakba at Hand in Hand's Jerusalem school, where students told stories they learned from their grandparents. These stories are not from ancient texts, but come from living memory. How does one reconcile the happy celebration of the Jews with the knowledge of the destruction marked by the Palestinians on Nakba Day?

The proximity in dates of these events is painful, and it forces us to bring these two narratives together, one next to the other, to examine and not shy away from looking at them. In the streets of Israel and in the media, unfortunately, there is an almost complete separation between these two experiences, between these two peoples. The Jewish public in Israel does not know about, recognize or feel what the Palestinian public is experiencing during this time. And the Palestinians do not understand the symbolism of the Shavuot holiday and the celebrations that accompany it.

This week, I can only wish that everyone will have the ability to empathize with the pain and experience of the “other." I wish for the day when we can all bring harvests and “sacrifices” and gifts into a common public space and a culture that includes both of our peoples. Where we can hold onto our memories, on the one hand, and build a common future, on the other.

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