‘We have to hold hope.’ How Jewish-Palestinian families cope.
| View caption Hide caption
Some American families with ties to Israel and the Palestinian territories are supporting each other as they process fear and grief raised by the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas.
Waseem AbuRakia-Einhorn’s employer, American University, says it’s investigating the note – and separate Nazi graffiti – with the FBI. “It was terrifying,” says Mr. AbuRakia-Einhorn, who now rarely leaves the house.
Yet he’s pushing himself to speak up – with encouragement from Becca AbuRakia-Einhorn, his Jewish American wife. Her support provides a refuge at home.
“She has a way of calming me down,” says Mr. AbuRakia-Einhorn.
Israel’s war with Hamas enters its second month with hostage and humanitarian crises in Gaza, and Israel grappling with the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. In the United States, amid widespread protests, officials report a spike in threats targeting Arabs, Jews, and Muslims.
Deeper dialogue, however, is unfolding in the quieter realm of private lives, as families like the AbuRakia-Einhorns process compounded grief. Interviewing families with ties to both Israel and the Palestinian territories reveals their impulse to see the humanity of all civilians – and a desire for a cease-fire. They also see their children as embodying a shared future at stake.
“I feel strongly that I need to resist being polarized,” says Jacquetta Nammar Feldman in Texas, a Palestinian American who is also Jewish. “We have to hold hope for something better.”
View caption Hide caption
Supportive spaces amid violence
The Oct. 7 Hamas massacre of more than 1,400 people in Israel, according to the government’s latest count, and capture of about 240 hostages, is the deadliest attack in the nation’s history. The ensuing Israeli bombardment of Gaza has escalated into a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people there, according to local authorities.
In the U.S., cities and university campuses have seen dueling rallies in support of Israeli and Palestinian causes. Reports of threats and alleged hate crimes are also emerging, including death threats against Jewish people at Cornell University in New York and the stabbing death of a Palestinian American boy in Illinois.
Such reactionary hate is “lamentable, but it’s not unexpected,” when people ascribe blame to particular communities here, says Kenneth Stern, director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate in New York state.
One Jewish and Muslim couple in Chicago, Shaina Curtis and Amir Abdullah, have built a safe space of their own through listening.
Though not always in agreement, “we’ve worked really hard to create a space where we can do that for each other,” says Ms. Curtis, an educator. “Amir has supported me in allowing me to vent.”
It helps that reminders of their shared vows – and values – hang in their living room. Their Jewish and Muslim marriage contracts, the ketubah and the nikahnama, are framed side by side.
View caption Hide caption
“Are we not valuing Jewish lives right now? Are we not valuing Palestinian lives right now?” says Mr. Abdullah, an actor and board member of NewGround, an interfaith group. The joint commitment to honor all human life, he adds, was made “before we got into this marriage.”
Beyond outbreaks of hate, some families say ignorance of history has its own sting. This is an issue being faced by a Muslim Palestinian American in Massachusetts and his Jewish American wife, who raised their children for more than a decade in the West Bank.
The couple prefer not to publish their names for privacy. The husband has dedicated time explaining Palestinian history to neighbors over cups of tea.
“Why am I patient? Because it’s dear to me,” he says.
Conflict’s impact on children
Patience was key for Ms. Feldman, a Palestinian American, and Lowell Feldman, a Jewish American, when they met in a college chemistry class and started dating. Soon they realized they were taught little about each other’s backgrounds.
“When we met in 1987, during the first intifada, we didn’t think that it would still be like this,” says Ms. Feldman, who was raised Christian and has converted to Judaism.
Now with three grown sons, the couple say they wished they’d spoken up more in defense of humanity on both sides, and shared more about their own relationship publicly.
“We feel like we’ve, in some degree, have failed, you know, our children – because we’re leaving them a mess,” Mr. Feldman says.
View caption Hide caption
Even before the death threat against her husband, Ms. AbuRakia-Einhorn had been reflecting on the future of her sons. Each of them is Jewish and Muslim – and they are Palestinian Americans who are also Israeli citizens.
Their names were intentionally chosen to work in both Hebrew and Arabic, she says, so they “could seamlessly slip between each identity.”
But now, she wonders, “what do you do when neither identity is safe?”
Some like Ms. AbuRakia-Einhorn are thinking through how best to call the conflict. Though Israel declared war against Hamas last month, she says she avoids the word “war” as it suggests aggression “between two countries.” The Massachusetts couple call it an “escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza,” and an issue of “colonization and occupation.”
Talking to her children, Mya Guarnieri Jaradat, an American Israeli journalist, says she avoids framing the war as a religious conflict, which to her implies an unsolvable problem. She and her ex-husband, who is Palestinian, are raising their elementary school kids in Florida as both Muslim and Jewish.
“I emphasize with my children that this is a conflict, a political conflict, about land that could be solved,” says Ms. Guarnieri Jaradat. “I don’t want them to feel like their own identities are in conflict.”
The journalist’s explanation to them is that killing civilians is never justified, she says, and everyone deserves to live in peace. Meanwhile, she’s also navigated sensitive conversations with her Palestinian ex-husband, who declined an interview. Ms. Guarnieri Jaradat says she regrets, and has apologized for, insensitive questions early on, such as asking whether he supported the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.
“In my heart of hearts, of course, I know he doesn’t support it,” she says.
Building trust and empathy
It’s hard to understand the conflict in-depth – and with empathy – without in-person encounters, says Ulrich Rosenhagen, interim director of the Center for Interfaith Dialogue at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. That’s why stepping away from social media is helpful, he adds, as that space trains users to see the world in binary terms.
View caption Hide caption
“Trust-building doesn’t work over social media,” says Dr. Rosenhagen, who leads interfaith dialogues with students about the conflict.
Neither is modeling self-care for children always easy. Especially as parents anxiously await news of family survival abroad.
“If I, as a mom, turn off social media, go to bed, listen to some music, you know – they will see that’s how it’s done and they will do it,” says the mother in Massachusetts, whose daughters are now adults.
However, “I don’t think I’ve always been good at that,” she says. “I think my girls will have to learn it for themselves.”
Meanwhile in Texas, Ms. Feldman, a writer, turns to a familiar tool to cope. Seeking respite from grief and survivor’s guilt, she recently wrote a poem to prepare herself to enjoy the wedding of a friend.
Part of the poem, addressed to a weary world, reads:
Your bodies and spirits are broken
But today, here and now
We shall gather the light.