Word of the Week

There's More than One Perspective

Guest commentator: Kevin Hagan

Narrative . . .

It’s a word that I venture to say is rarely used in American society.  However, since our arrival in Israel only 48 hours ago, it seems to be the word of the day – or two days, as the case may be.  Narrative it seems is the defining issue of the day.  The Jewish community has one and the Arab community has one; however, the difference between the two is monumental.    As someone who holds a Master’s Degree in International Affairs, I’ve spent my share of time over the years studying the conflicts of the world.  While I have to confess that my life’s path has taken me out of the arena, I did spend nearly a decade managing conflict resolutions programs in the US.  I thought that with my basic understanding of International Affairs and conflict management techniques that I would at least have a strong sense of the situation as I had learned it in school and through the media.  What I learned upon my arrival in Jerusalem shook everything I knew to the core.  Touring the old city and seeing the proximity of the Dome of the Rock (important to the Islamic faith) to the Western Wall (important to the Jewish faith) and then ultimately their relation to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (important to the Christian faith) – gave me pause to wonder – how on earth do we ever expect all these religious groups to get along when some of their most holy sites literally rest upon one another?

As the only non-clergy member of this group, I also have to confess that I was a little intimidated to be meeting with all the religious leaders that we have seen the last two days- remarkable Rabbis and Imams who want to do the hard work of peacemaking.   It seemed that after meeting with them that only one thing is standing in their way of being successful…..that narrative.     It was only after listening to the term “narrative” over and over that I realized that each group, the Jews and the Arabs, have a painful and powerful story to tell about how the actions of others have affected them, taken their families away from them, taken their land away from them, and taken their dignity.

Today, I experienced a profound understanding of the Jewish narrative as we toured the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.  I’ve visited Holocaust Museums before and have been to Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps, but this visit was different.  This was personal.  I walked through the museum today paying acute attention to Rabbi Rob and the grief that he was experiencing as we made our way through the museum.   It had a profound impact on me and gave me a much deeper sense of the Jewish narrative.   Tomorrow we attempt to experience the Palestinian narrative as we travel to a refugee camp and spend time in the West Bank.  My guess is that from everything I ‘ve heard thus far from the Palestinian perspective, that  it will also be a tough and profound experience which leaves me to wonder…..if I can be so affected by the narratives, how can the people who live in them every day rise above them?