These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

The Soul of Jerusalem: A View of Multiple Truths

Posted on November 19, 2012 by Shira Bee

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Crossposted from my blog:

Wherever you stand,
be the soul of that place.
~ Rumi

But what does it mean to be the soul of a place like Jerusalem? A place where so many people feel most closely connected to their own inner strength and beliefs, and yet stand in direct conflict with one another?

One of the very first lessons I learned in my program of text study at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies was as follows:

When learning Gemara**, there are always at least two truths, and they directly contradict each other.

** Gemara = a body of text of rabbinic debate that accompanies the oral torah/bible and serves as an important source for Jewish law
Instead of the western learning ideal of gaining knowledge in search of a single right answer, Jewish learning involves argument; it involves debate. There are various differing opinions and stances and interpretations, and yet simultaneously there exists an intense oneness of belief and faith. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful aspects of Jewish religion and spirituality, and in my opinion a part that is so often overlooked and underrepresented.
Robert Safian proposes that understanding the duality of opposing truths is necessary for entrepreneurs and business leaders to be successful in today’s economic climate. In his article “Secrets of the Flux Leader,” Safian brings to the table Margaret Wheatley’s argument: that we can no longer rely on singularly directed pathways of reasoning rooted in the 17th century ideas of Sir Isaac Newton,

“We now know that cause and effect is not a given in the natural world. Creation comes not from stasis but from unpredictable movement.”

In illustration of her statement, Wheatley, cited again by Safian, points to the example of a double-slit experiment, in which

“An electron behaves like a wave when it is observed in one way and like a particle when it is observed another way. Both views are true

Clearly this example evidences a natural source for the necessity of opposing truths.  The idea that Wheatley identifies and that Safian builds into his theory of leadership for Generation Flux is this need for acceptance of multiple truths in order to succeed and operate in our increasingly complex world.

And there it is. A beautiful bridge between the Jewish learning that I am participating in here and the entrepreneurial world that is so deeply a part of who I am becoming.  In order to be a great leader, in order to tackle the unavoidable challenges and complexities to come, one first must understand the basic idea that there are opposing truths, and that even a oneness of belief is composed of many fractions of nuanced disagreement. 

But of course, as always seems to happen, this concept has become even more challenging to me in light of the current Israel-Palestine conflict. 

Over the past few weeks, as many of you know,  hundreds of rockets have been launched into Israel, and an Israeli Military Operation including an air raid and sea attack on Gaza has been underway.

Personally, I have struggled with the question of how to react to this situation, both privately and publicly. I know that I need to let family and friends know that I am safe, and that I’m expected to provide some comment on the situation given my evident proximity. But how can I possibly cover everything that I have witnessed, felt, and experienced here in one simple post? 

How can I express my awe at the Israelis who are willing to stand up and fight for the freedom of their fellow citizens to live in peace, the bravery that I see amongst people my age and younger who feel their duty to their people so fiercely that they are willing to risk their own lives the second they are needed?

How do I reconcile this awe and appreciation, with the understanding of how deeply the suffering will be felt by the Palestinian civilians, many of whom are innocent bystanders in a situation that paints them as either crippled victims or radical terrorists, but so rarely as fellow human beings?

How do I come close to describing the sadness I see in the eyes of my friends, when they discuss the deaths on both sides of the border-lines. The deaths of children, of families, of innocent looking for refuge?

How can I ever say anything that comes close to the feeling of hearing that sirenrealizing that I had approximately one minute to get to a shelter: of running with my friends to the nearest building, pulling at locked doors, running to the next and finding refuge in a stairwell as we waited for the inevitable boom, simultaneously assuring our distance and safety and confirming our fears that a rocket had reached its destination somewhere, with no news of whether it had taken the lives of those nearby.

And how do I even begin to imagine how this tiny, insignificant, singular experience of terror must feel for the millions of people living both in the south of Israel and in Gaza, who are under a constant barrage of rockets and missiles from the air. Of parents in southern Israel who hear these sirens hundreds of times, who have  seconds to pull their families into bomb shelters at any given moment? Of parents on both sides who spend their entire day on edge, constantly aware: where are my children, how close are we to a bomb shelter if one even exists? Constantly calculating their next move, their safe move. How can my words do justice to the feelings of a mother less than 50 miles away whose simple daily errand of grocery shopping becomes a strategic calculated risk? Or a mother who prays with her entire being that the humanitarian aid will reach her family, and that her children will make it through one more night?

The answer is simple. I can’t. This is the perfect and terrifying situation that seemingly demonstrates everything I have been learning here so far. There are multiple truths, an endless complexity of factors. When confronting the complexity of the Palestine-Israel conflict there is no single right answer, only a series of conflicting “facts,” opposing truths, and a tremendous amount of suffering on all sides.

So what is there to do, in an impossible situation of conflict and opposition?

It seems the best thing we can do is to engage in full and open perception of the situation, understand how much we simply do not understand, orient ourselves in a direction of peace and of deep gratitude for those who are risking their lives for the sake of this seemingly impossible goal, and take actionable steps of support for those who are suffering. 

So here lies my first semblance of an answer to the questions: what is it that I’m doing here in Israel? Why would I ever choose to give up the incredible job opportunities, proximity to entrepreneurial friends I love and admire, and projects I’ve been working on to live here? In Jerusalem? 

Because here, I am learning to understand what it really means to embrace mutlitple truths. To challenge the norm, to challenge your havruta (study partner), to challenge your own very core beliefs with conflicting statements that are both true and untrue and varying degrees of truth all at the same time.

And most importantly, I am learning how to understand these truths in a way that allows me to take a conscious, confident, and self-assured step forward. Because it’s not just about being able to understand the depth of human experience, of communities, of spirituality, of business; it’s about being able to act upon your understanding in the most effective, strategic, and beneficial way.  

What does it mean to be the “soul of this place?”

To me, it means to acknowledge just how many souls are deeply connected here, to point towards an attitude of peace and empathy, and to pursue actions in accordance with these values.

After my own personal experience of hearing a siren go off, running for safety, and getting a glimpse of the terror that millions go through on a daily, hourly, or continual basis, I feel exceptionally grateful for the community I have here and all over the world that stands in support of peace and justice. A deep and heart-felt thank you to all of you who are keeping those here in this tiny part of the world in your hearts, thoughts, and prayers.

Until next time,


Shira Bee