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Pesach: Encounters in Hebron – A Reflection

by Rabbi Jerome M. Epstein | Published on May 16, 2012

Sefirat Ha’omer (Counting of the Omer) is a verbal counting of each of the forty-nine days between Passover and Shavuot. According to Midrash Rabbah Parashat Emor, when the Children of Israel left Egypt Moses told them they would receive the Torah forty-nine days after the Exodus. These are days to reflect upon the lessons of Pesach as we inch closer to the cele­bra­tion of Shavuot.

Below we share the powerful and beau­tiful reflec­tions of Rabbi Jerome Epstein, Executive Vice-President/CEO Emeritus of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, about his Encounter trip to Hebron in February 2012.

Pesach is all about the narra­tive. We focus on the narra­tive of our ances­tors’ slavery in Egypt under the evil Pharaoh. We spend the Seder evening retelling the story of oppressed Israelites dreaming of their escape from the tyranny of an oppres­sive society. And, we cele­brate the real­iza­tion of those dreams, achieved through the gracious and powerful lead­er­ship of our God. For me, these narra­tives reflect the truth. I own these stories as a part of an inher­ited legacy and I want to share them with others.

I have been fortu­nate to have visited Hebron many times in my life. I have seen the city with an Israeli guide and greatly appre­ciate its history. But, recently, I had a unique oppor­tu­nity to visit Hebron with a Palestinian guide–as part of a program arranged through Encounter. I saw some of the same sites that I had seen before; but this time I viewed them through the eyes of a Palestinian resi­dent. I walked the same streets that I had roamed before; but this time I heard a different narrative–his story. And, he believes his recounting of history is true–with the same convic­tion that I believe that mine is true.

Narratives may be rooted in facts–but are woven based on the way that we see those facts. On occa­sion, we choose some facts and ignore others. It is the selec­tive use of facts and the differing inter­pre­ta­tions of what we see that often allows for two or more widely disparate narra­tives for the same event. Which is true? It depends on who you are!

At the Seder this year, I thought about the histor­ical account created by my ances­tors. For me it reflects the truth. But, I wonder what the narra­tive of the fami­lies of Pharaoh’s army who perished at the Sea would have been? How would Pharaoh’s courtiers have told the story of the plagues? What would their truth have been?

The Palestinian guide’s narra­tive did not destroy mine. With even greater convic­tion, I still believe that mine is true. But, I now appre­ciate the fact that because the Palestinian guide is equally committed to the verity of his histor­ical account, we both must be willing to under­stand the perspec­tive of the other in order to move away from war. Just as I demand the right to own my histor­ical legacy and expect others to under­stand my commit­ment to it, my chal­lenge is to learn to honor those with differing lega­cies who are willing to respect me.

B’vracha,

Rabbi Jerome M. Epstein

Executive Vice-President/CEO Emeritus, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

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