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  • Writer's pictureIOWA Project

Healing in Sivan

Updated: Jun 11

By Sam Fine


This Sunday, I will graduate from NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change’s professional fellowship, a cohort I’ve been part of since November 8th, 2023. And next Tuesday night marks the beginning of Shavuot. The convergence of these two moments feels profound as I reflect on my journey over the past eight months. 


I initially signed up for this fellowship to learn tools for better navigating conflict, harm, and difficult conversations related to Israel/Palestine discourse. This space became a lifeline in the aftermath of October 7th, offering me 21 new friends to walk alongside in this devastating and alienating chapter. 


Our time in the cohort was immediately impactful. At our first retreat in November, we began talking about what it means to be Jewish and Muslim, about Israel and Palestine, and dug into tools from Resetting the Table like active listening, following the meaning, and leading with curiosity. I quickly realized how much I had been existing in an echo chamber of American Jews who shared my political views, without the nuance and perspectives of Muslims, Palestinians, and Israelis. Alongside these realizations, my cohort members and I were building deep relationships with one another. 


Our second retreat took place in January, and it was a container fully focused on talking about Israel and Palestine. Tensions and emotions were high from the start. The fear of antisemitism and annihilation of the Jewish people had been a palpable thread up to this point, and came to a head as we discussed October 7th. We spent most of that day talking about Jewish trauma, fear, safety, grief, and pain. And we stayed there, without also talking about Islamophobia, anti-Arab racism, anti-Palestinian racism, and fear since October 7th. 


Then a Palestinian and Muslim cohort member asked, "What will it take for us to move on to October 8th?" I first understood that question as directed to our group and that particular moment, but it was much bigger.


It was a question that cracked something open in me that I hadn’t quite realized— many in the American Jewish community are stuck in the trauma of October 7th, and I was not honoring or validating that reality. I was also not seeing that my Jewish cohort members and I were dominating the space on this retreat day, overshadowing the pain and trauma of our Muslim siblings. The pain felt by Jews in my cohort and the wider Jewish community is not leaving space for the trauma and pain of others, including Muslims, Arabs, and Palestinians. I realized I had been moving in autopilot, a trauma response of my own, diminishing space for everyone to grieve and heal. All of these responses are valid—and alongside them, the horrors continue. 


The remainder of that retreat day continued to see Jewish fear and pain dominate our cohort's discussions. The space it took up was needed to keep moving forward—and it meant that the pain of our Muslim cohort members had less space. It meant that we didn't fully explore their experiences of Islamophobia since October 7th or address the ongoing mass violence and suffering in Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank. There were whole conversations we did not get to have that day, which was a tangible, felt loss. 


I’ve noticed this imbalance in our cohort mirrors the dynamic of broader society. When there are instances of antisemitism, they need to be addressed, and at times, that addressing can take up so much space that other conversations are completely derailed. For example, this happens when we (in the Jewish community) need to have certain things named before we are willing to engage in any conversation about the Palestinian experience. When we need to hear Hamas condemnations, recognition of the horrors of October 7th, and rising antisemitism before we can acknowledge the suffering of others.


Of course, these condemnations of antisemitism and recognition of Israeli suffering are important to name to feel safe or comfortable. For a variety of reasons, including internal divisions in our own community, we have not had the appropriate and needed space and community to grieve and heal. This grieving is essential to respond to antisemitism in a right-sized way, and to make space for other's grief. In the eight months since October 7th, over 34,0000 Gazans have been killed, with more killed every day. We must make space to grieve this immense loss too. Otherwise, we miss out on healing, connection, and understanding. When we don’t acknowledge one another’s pain or humanity, we are missing out on a chance to move forward, together, with space for us all.


Photo of a corner of the meditation space with various objects including two lit purple candles, incense, a shofar, prayer beads, and a poster dedicated to Vivian Silver and Refaat Alareer. At the top-center of the poster, it reads, “We bear the witness, and we grieve together.” Behind the cut-out window is a small olive tree.
Photo of the grief and meditation space at NewGround's symposium on May 19th, 2024.

In our final project together, our cohort hosted a symposium to share our learnings and experiences. Two cohort members, one Muslim and one Jewish, put together a space for grief that struck the balance I’m naming here. The meditation space, set in a courtyard, was decorated with prayer rugs, pillows, and various objects including candles, incense, a shofar, prayer beads, and a poster dedicated to Vivian Silver and Refaat Alareer. At the top-center of the poster, it reads, “We bear the witness, and we grieve together.” Behind the cut-out window is a small olive tree. I feel emotional thinking of this space, thinking of all of the grief and all of the loss. And that our grief, our loss, our pain, can all be held. Together. 


This Shavuot, I’m reflecting on how this fellowship has taken me on a spiritual journey, filled with so many lessons, much like this season between Pesach and Shavuot. And I’m thinking of the healing our Jewish community needs to move forward to stand strong in our values of justice, and dignity for all people. A tradition of Shavuot is Tikkun Leil Shavuot, the custom of staying up all night studying Torah. Some view this tradition as a time to mend the fractures in the universe that allow for so much suffering and injustice in the world, and that engaging with Torah allows us to heal and recommit to tikkun olam. Whether you take part in this tradition or not, may this Shavuot be a time of healing, the pursuit of justice, and a time to step onto new, fertile ground. 


Chodesh tov,

Sam


 

Sam Fine is the Communications and Development Director with Kirva, based in Los Angeles. She is a storyteller, visual artist, graphic designer, and organizer, and is inspired by art's transformative ability to influence social movements and drive change. Sam graduated from NewGround's professional fellowship on Sunday, June 9th, 2024.

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