Dear Distant Cousin,

I am not Palestinian, I am a member of the very much assimilated American Jewry. I know I am not part of the group that you extended your invitation to write to. I am sure that you have received dozens of gushing responses from people like me who think that maybe if they make peace with you they can make peace with Israel as a whole. I am writing because I know that even as a member of the Diaspora I have an important role to play, and it is critical that Jews around the world understand the problems that face our nation.

 I am not religious. My parents like to say we are more Jewish in descent than in practice. Though they were brought up in fairly religious Reform households, they did not bring me up that way.

  I got your book as a gift from my grandparents. I do not think I would have found this book or felt comfortable reading it otherwise.

  I did not think a whole lot about my Jewish identity until this year. For some reason it seems like a bigger deal that I am Jewish now than I got used to. Maybe it is because I am older and am technically an adult by Jewish law.

  I am in my freshman year of high school in a Southern city that does not have a whole lot of Jews.

  Being Jewish is a weird type of minority to be. Because I am not religious or externally Jewish there is nothing to distinguish me from everyone else. People will say things without knowing I am Jewish that they would never say if they knew. Most of the time they will assume that I am Christian, like the other white people. When I tell people I am Jewish, they think of either two things: Hanukkah or Holocaust. Then they will try to tell me a “Jewish” joke that I will not think is funny. From that point on I am the master of all things Jewish. No one can believe that I do not like latkes.

  Most of the time I am the only Jewish kid in my class. I have always known I might be the only Jewish person some of these kids might know and actually get close to. But how, as a horrible example of a Jew, can I represent an entire culture?

  I want to be a better Jew but I do not know how to start.

  I have two half-Jewish friends (does that make one full Jewish friend?) who are much more religious than I am. When I have tried to explain my anxiety about my Jewish identity, they both looked at me with expressions of mixed pity and disgust. Sometimes it seems like no one cares whether I am religious or not.

  I am part of a club called Great Decisions at my school. A professor from a local college comes once a month to teach us about a global issue. Two months ago, he talked to us about the Middle East. We mostly learned about Syria and the Kurds, but towards the end we talked a little about Israel and Palestine. One girl, whose parents left Palestine for America asked a lot of intelligent questions, mostly about Israel’s defensive actions against Arab nations by separation of Palestinians.

  After the meeting I ran up to talk to her. I told her I appreciated her questions. Then I told her that Israel was so defensive because the Jewish people still felt vulnerable. She then said that the Palestinians still felt a connection to their lost homeland and freedoms.

  I walked away feeling further from her than ever. I wanted to use that opportunity to try to make a little peace but I just ended up making the wall thicker. I wish that I could replay the moment and instead tell her that I recognize the legitimacy of Palestine and am ready to make sacrifices. I should have told her that I believe that things will get better and improve and that if we work hard enough maybe even in our lifetimes. There are so many things I should have said.

  I wonder if she meets anyone else who can tell her that they want to work towards peace. I hope she does.

  I realized how little I actually knew about Israel and Palestine. I read my history textbooks, which were vague, and glossed over it. The Jewish history books in the house were all too one-sided. I read some pro-Palestinian websites online, but they all seemed extreme and made me feel incredibly guilty. The pro-Israel propaganda made me feel good but I knew it was not the whole truth. Everything I read made me less satisfied.

  Your book made everything a lot clearer. Besides the facts, it shows the emotional appeal to both sides, reminding the reader that there are real people on either side. The ways to realign our mindsets and retain hope made me feel like I could see a peace in my lifetime.

  I think this quote from Maria Rosa Menocal’s book The Ornament of the World pretty much sums it up, “the inevitable tensions between our desire for cultural coherence, on the one hand, and the excitement and vitality of contradictions in ourselves and in our midst, on the other.”

  We all want to get along and appreciate differences and try new things, while still maintaining our own traditions. Syncretism and assimilation come hand in hand, and no one wants culture to be lost, but what if it is the price to pay for peace?

  Somehow, in Israel and Palestine but also global humanity, we need to find an equal balance.




                                                                                                                  Jordan G from the U.S