Shai Robkin on Forgiveness
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Shai Robkin on Forgiveness

Shai Robkin is the chair of Atlanta Regional Council of the New Israel Fund.

Shai Robkin is the chair of the Atlanta Regional Council of the New Israel Fund (

For those of us who care about Israel and about democracies around the world, this year has been exceptionally troubling. It is difficult not to feel the pain of frustration and even a pinch of despair as we enter a new year caught in the swirl of illiberal political trends tinged with racism and xenophobia.

I have felt, like many American Jews, that the principles of equality and democracy upon which Israel was founded are being disregarded and displaced. Despite the enormous challenges we face, I believe that both we in America and democracy loving Israelis can and will break through the racism and the hate. I know that despite feeling angry and frustrated with some of our leaders and their friends, we must reach deep into ourselves to find generosity, forgiveness and hope.  Here is one incredibly inspiring example.

Each May, the Israeli nonprofits Combatants for Peace and The Parents Circle – Families Forum put on a Memorial Day Event that has become a hallmark of Israeli-Palestinian conversation, reconciliation and even forgiveness. It is a night when Palestinians sing in Arabic about loss and Israelis read poems about victimhood and they eulogize together as parents, siblings and people in pain. In their grief, they are able to share hope.

Despite efforts to shut it down, this shared Israeli-Palestinian event has grown with each year. This year saw the largest ceremony ever, when 9,000 Israelis and dozens of Palestinians gathered in Tel Aviv. Those who did not attend, in both Gaza and the West Bank, watched on a live feed from their homes. Across the Atlantic Ocean, hundreds of American Jews in the United States also joined in by gathering in synagogues and community centers to be together, listen to the stories of bereaved parents, and stand with Israelis who are working to overcome the hatred and fear and turn to each other for forgiveness and reconciliation.

So, this new year, I am reminded that it is our responsibility to find the deepest places of forgiveness and hope and to approach those with whom we disagree with generosity.  We must continue to support spaces where sharing in each other’s hopes, dreams, fears and grief is not just a concept, but is a practice. I think about what it takes for bereaved families to, from within their pain, turn toward one another. I think about what it takes for a former soldier or combatant to lay down his or her arms and take up the cause of peace and reconciliation. For this new year, I am committing to finding those places in myself so that I can continue to work supporting those Israelis and Palestinians who turn toward one another in forgiveness and hope.

We have begun to understand the frailty of our political institutions, but in this new year, with the challenges that it will inevitably bring, we know that standing together with our partners in Israel who are working for social change will light the way and usher us to a shared future for all.

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