July 25, 2002
A Letter from Jerusalem
-- Ithamar Gruenwald
I hope that this finds you well.
I am writing from the city whose name signifies, in Hebrew, wholeness and peace. Today was a quiet day in the city. I even ventured downtown. There are days in which the downtown is a ghost city. No one wants to take a risk. The events of the last two years have seen the city abandon its name, its essence.
I hope that you are still sensitive to the news pouring out of the media. The war causes endless suffering; the Israeli army inflicts it on the Palestinians; the suicide bombers inflict it, sometimes killing whole families and babies in their mothers’ womb. There is no need to repeat it all here. There is a lot of suffering, grief, and bereavement on the Palestinian side. No one should minimize that. The same is true of the Israeli side. The sword of war is blind. It cuts both ways, never sparing one side. Tragically, many of those who suffer are innocent and deserve none of the tragedy that they and their families endure.
The gist of it all is that there is no Israel mentioned on the maps printed in Palestinian geography books, and there is no Palestine in the minds of many Israelis. Praying for peace at such moments puts a challenge to the deity. For His omniscience is not always a guarantee that His miracles are going to work. If I ask you today to share with me a few thoughts on the situation, it is through words of prayer, knowing that they can barely escape the destruction that threatens to overwhelm them with the silence of the cemetery.
For almost two years now, the Holy Land has suffered, bled, and died prematurely. No side in the bitter conflict -- Muslims, Christians, and Jews -- has been spared. Agony and grief are the daily bread of all. When suicide bombers blow up buses, some passengers literally evaporate. A young woman told a television reporter that all that remained of her husband, a young student who used to sit next to me in the synagogue, was the diskette of his last seminar paper. There are similar horror-stories on the Palestinian side, too.
No words can say it better than those of Jeremiah, “For death has come up into our windows” (9:21). Who can give a more shattering expression to agony than the poet who wrote The Lamentations of Jeremiah. He says: “In the dust of the streets lie the young and the old; my maiden and my young men have fallen by the sword; in the day of the anger thou hast slain them, slaughtering without mercy” (2:21). Everyone in the Holy Land -- Muslims, Christians, and Jews -- can share this, too: “My eyes are spent in weeping; my soul is in tumult; my heart is poured out in grief because of the destruction of the daughters of my people, because infants and babes faint in the streets of the city” (2:11).
More than ever I wish to lay at your feet “A Prayer for the Blessing of Peace”, which I wrote in the year 2000, just before this terrible war broke out:
Bless us, our Father, All of us as one, With grace and love, With courage and righteousness, With fraternal compassion and purity of heart; So that we who pray -- Shall no longer pray one against the other; And that all the sons of Abraham, Shall see the virtues of the light That makes peace shine -- Bright, truthful, and blossoming with life.
Ithamar Gruenwald lives in Jerusalem. He teaches at Tel Aviv University, Israel, at the Department of Jewish Philosophy and the Program in Religious Studies. For many years he has been closely associated with the Divinity School, the University of Chicago.