Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Greater Sum

Today, I spent the better part of the morning with a young friend,  studying TANYA, a book of Jewish wisdom, for a class of the same name.  My friend is Jewish. I am not.  Our rabbi/teacher is based in Israel at the Conservative Yeshiva.  She posts the relevant texts, translations, footnotes, and study questions.  We study together and post our responses in an online forum where we “meet” our classmates who are scattered around the world.

My study partner (my hevrutah) and I are in deep waters. Neither of us has enough Hebrew to be comfortable with the Hebrew references.  We are both neophytes in the exploration of the nature of the soul.  We have lots of questions and not very many answers – and yet we learn from each other and through each other as we explore together.  A deep love and respect is growing between us.

I have been pondering the dynamic process of learning together.  What we experience  is greater than the sum of its parts.  With our teacher’s guidance we do, indeed, come to greater understanding of this complex text, but the greater learning is intangible and un-nameable - - there to be enjoyed and not questioned over much – as though to examine it too closely might cause it to evaporate.  How does one speak of soul connections without sounding a little “woo-woo”? 

Over the weekend, a guest speaker at our local synagogue introduced us to a wide variety of joint Israeli and Palestinian/Arab and Jewish grass roots efforts at building understanding and creating peace.  We learned about Israeli and Palestinian children creating art together; learning how to literally dance together – -ball-room style;  learning and performing chamber music together - - all in camp settings dedicated to the process of getting to know one another as human beings through the learning process.

The speaker showed some amazing photos of  “the last day at camp” from each of several camps across a year.   Without exception, the photos defied the viewer to identify who was Palestinian and who was Israeli.  The group photos were just that – joyous photos of communities of kids who had spent time together, learning new skills, sharing art and dance and music.  Behind the scenes much dialogue had occurred as kids got to know each other as human beings.  There were social and political and spiritual challenges to be encountered and transcended.  Pain and fear and distrust were present as the inevitable guests in any inter-cultural effort at creating greater understanding between humans in conflict. 

And yet, for brief spaces in time - - the length of a summer camp program - - creativity, cooperation, spontaneity, laughter - - all symptomatic of a burgeoning humanity, ruled the day.

The kids who participated in these programs may or may not have opportunities to provide leadership when they returned home to their own communities.  That remains a huge question mark.  But seeds for a more hopeful world were planted.

My young friend and I are so different.  We have to span a 40 year difference in our ages.  We come from vastly different backgrounds –hers Jewish, mine Christian.  She is a risk-taker. I am risk averse.  We have very different educational backgrounds.  I have raised a family and she is a single young adult.  But when we sit down across the dining room table from each other to learn about something new and challenging  all of that melts into the background and we create something new and beautiful as we study and ponder and question together.  This feels very much like peace-building to me.   I wonder if this might be  the “greater than the sum of its parts” phenomenon  that could account for those joyous last-day -of –camp photos - - photos of beautiful kids of diverse backgrounds who have spent time together creating more than just art and music - - building peace together.

Vicky Hanjian

No comments: