On Visit to Israel, Learning That Words Alone Can’t Solve Conflict
Over winter break, I participated in Yeshiva University’s Solidarity Mission to Israel. The trip was jam-packed with information about the Arab-Israeli conflict, and experiences that highlighted how Israelis are working to rise above the turmoil and trauma of terrorism day after day.
We heard from journalists and organizations dedicated to truthful reporting. We learned about an integrated Arab-Israeli school aimed at nurturing coexistence, and we heard from activists who encourage Arab-Israeli dialogue.
Again and again, we discussed the power of dialogue, the impact that words can have on the conflict. Many of the speakers framed the message even more directly: this immense conflict can be solved with words if we can discuss the issues rationally.
So why can’t everyone just sit down and calmly discuss the situation? Why must the issue be so heated? Why can’t both sides recognize the other and move on from there to create a solution?
It seemed so simple. That is until we were immersed in the emotional aspects of daily life in Israel that makes the conflict so real and so complicated.
On January 18, 2016, Dafna Meir was killed in her home in Otniel by a 15-year-old Palestinian terrorist. Dafna’s 17-year-old daughter, Renana, described the event, including how her mother died heroically, preventing the terrorist from removing the knife from her chest so as to save her children from a similar fate.
On January 20, our group of 20 Yeshiva University students visited the Meir family’s shiva house (house of mourning) to pay our respects. We split up between Mr. Meir and the children who were sitting upstairs, and Renana who was sitting downstairs.
Upon entering the house, we anticipated the feeling of mourning to envelope us, but it seemed to lift as we continued downstairs to Renana’s room. Just two days removed from witnessing her mother’s murder, she sat there greeting guests in good spirits. We laughed as she relayed to us her conversations with Bibi Netanyahu and Naftali Bennet. She asked us questions and told us about her hopes for being placed in Tzahalia, a pre-IDF learning program for young women.
We answered. We listened. We laughed.
What can you say when words are inadequate?
We could not say that we understood. We did not.
We could not say that it would be okay. We couldn’t possibly make such claims.
So, we just sat. We talked. We engaged her as much as she desired.
Numerous times, she expressed how impressed she was that we came from America to visit the shiva house. She was impressed with us. I was so much more impressed with her.
What can you say to someone who has experienced everyone’s worst nightmare?
What can you offer someone who will never get back the only person she truly wants to speak to? What can you say when words are inadequate?
Nothing. Sometimes, there are just no words. There are no answers.
But, as I discovered in that room, there is hope. I was inspired by that daughter mourning her mother. A young woman who somehow still got excited when discussing the IDF unit she hopes to join. She lost so much but was prepared to give so much more.
She didn’t express despair. She didn’t offer excuses. She simply discussed her preparation to continue living life in line with the values her mother had emphasized.
I learned an incredibly impactful lesson that day: Words fail.
We had no words to offer. Nothing we might have said could have changed anything. Nothing we could say would make the pain disappear.
All we could do was sit and be present. Because the true nature of solidarity is to come together, to offer a shoulder to lean on and a listening ear, even (perhaps especially) when there is nothing to say.
Hudy Rosenberg is a native of Queens, NY and a junior at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women.