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Reflecting on Sympathy in Israel & Palestine

Written by Leah Nussbaum
June 22, 2017

On Ramadan, it is especially important to sympathize with one another as we build community and friendship. I’m thinking of a moment where I struggled but learned to find sympathy. I spent the past year in Israel, in my first year of study to become a Rabbi. One day, I went with a couple friends to Hosh Jasmin, a Palestinian owned meditation center and restaurant near Beit Jala. I was in awe with its beauty and character. I met a young Palestinian man named Bashar who and invited me and a few others on a hike. We stopped to make tea along the way. Bashar told me that he has the key to his grandmother’s home, which was taken from his family during the war in 1948 when the Jewish state was created, and he wishes his family could return. Present day Israel does not feel like home to him, as it’s somewhere that rejects him. He longs to have place he can live amongst people of all cultures, including Jews.

I thought of Belarus where my family was persecuted with pogroms at the turn of the century. Unlike Palestine for Bashar, it is not a place my family wants to return. Instead, Israel is one of my homes and the home of the Jewish people, I explained. I stubbornly highlighted the points that made it difficult for me to sympathize.

We discussed the children, those with no choice but to be born into the conflict, whether they are Jewish Israelis or Palestinian Refugees. Bashar and I both care about those who are struggling, and especially about youth. I thought about Bashar’s story of his grandparents being forced to leave their homes as children. “How would anyone get the Israelis to leave without violence or force?” I asked, “what if the children didn’t want to leave?” Bashar thought for a moment. He said, “Probably, I would bring a giant boom box and play really loud music outside the house. Then they would leave and everyone would dance together”. I laughed at the thought of it. I wish everyone could get along simply through dancing together and rejoicing in peace.

The idea of coming together is central to Ramadan. On this month, people gather with family, friends, and strangers, to share meals together and break the fast each night. It is in these moments where finding sympathy is important, where we can find more about what we have in common as well as what we don’t, within in a broken world.

As a Jew thinking about this Ramadan, I sympathize with Palestinians, many of whom are observing this holiday, who want to return to the Palestine that was once their home, and who don’t feel free. I sympathize personally with our Jewish people who want Israel to remain a Jewish homeland, with its unique Jewish history, culture, refuge, holidays, and community. I sympathize with youth who struggle and who grow up with war and fear of the other. As is being done with communities around the world, I hope that through meeting one another and sharing community and friendship, through this Ramadan and throughout the year, that we all are able to sympathize, give, and improve our world, with and for one another, from generation to generation.
Ramadan Mubarak!

Leah Nussbaum’s reflection comes to the Parliament of the World’s Religions as part of the 2017 Interfaith Ramadan series, empowering interfaith allies, Muslim and those of other spiritual and religious backgrounds from around the world, to share their stories of service, community and gratitude during the month of Ramadan. Please contact the Parliament at, or tag us at #RamadanPoWR to share your own story.