Rabbi Miriam Berger

Rabbi Miriam Berger

By Rabbi Miriam Berger

Whenever I talk about the possibility of peace in Israel, some Jews say: “But you are so naive, rabbi. Don’t you realise they hate us and don’t want peace?” I am sickened when I see people sharing bits of the Palestinian constitution or other documents to “prove” they, whoever they are, hate us because I don’t know what this achieves.

There are, however, beacons of hope, places where Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs coexist, live together, learn together, thrive together or simply see themselves as part of the same community, rather than in opposition.

I know these environments that work in a microcosm of one school or one neighbourhood don’t always translate so smoothly into a wider context, but they do give us a glimmer of hope, a model of how community could be.

It is why the arson attack on Hand in Hand, the bilingual Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem, was so shocking.

The disgusting graffiti that accompanied the flames saying “death to Arabs” and “down with assimilation” delivered a resounding message that building high walls around ourselves is not about security but about pure hatred for the other.

The overwhelming message was that people don’t even want the hope of peace. My hope is that this awful attack achieves the exact opposite of what the arsonists have in mind, that rather than achieving destruction and the end of co-operation, it raises the profile of this school and of other similar organisations striving to model working together towards peace.

My hope is that donations flood in from Jews around the world, struck by the pictures of the devastated kindergarten, wanting to encourage the initiative to rise from the ashes with expanded capacity and extended capabilities providing an even greater opportunity to reach out to others in society who want to support coexistence. “There is no coexistence with cancer” read the graffiti – but what is “the cancer”?

It wasn’t the Arab families attending that school, nor was it the concept of giving everyone a voice, which was equally valued.

No, the “cancer” is the hatred ingrained in a society frightened by the possibility of any kind of peace. We still feel the pain of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. Let’s make sure there is always a place for hope in Israeli society.

• Miriam Berger is rabbi at Finchley Reform Synagogue