Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011

Tikkun Olam in East Jerusalem

by Bradley Burston

Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem: Every Sabbath a bit of my faith in the future is restored. And all because an isolated act of tikkun olam has in the course of time become, without intent or design, an integral part of our family's Shabbat ritual.

For the better part of a year, nearly every Friday afternoon, we have been coming to this ravine in the Palestinian half of Jerusalem. Standing with hundreds of Jews and Palestinians and foreign visitors, young and elderly, and intellectuals and working people, we take part in a protest movement that began spontaneously and refuses to die.

There was something about the story of this place and the people who were evicted from here that resonated within us and has kept us coming back. In brief, scores of Palestinian residents were expelled from their homes last year as the result of a lawsuit filed by Jews abroad, who argued that since Jews had lived here before 1948, they must be allowed to do so once again. Settlers, protected by Jerusalem's execrable mayor and its settler-sympathetic police chief, immediately moved in.

It would have been intolerable enough had this been just one more story of Palestinians forced from their homes to make way for settlers. But there was more: until 1948, some of the Palestinian families had lived in what is now the upscale Jewish West Jerusalem neighborhood of Talbiyeh. They fled the fighting in 1948 and were resettled by the United Nations over the Green Line in Sheikh Jarrah, where they had lived, peaceably and lawfully, ever since.

Of course, if you follow the logic of the court decision that expelled them, the Palestinians should now be allowed to return to their former homes in West Jerusalem. Alternatively -- and our reason for coming here week after week -- Israeli officials could come to their senses and return the families to their homes in Sheikh Jarrah.

Every week, I watch the settlers from a distance. We are divided by a police barricade. I watch the yeshiva bochers (young men) and Kahane followers who occupy the homes, and I know that they are convinced that they are doing exactly what God wants them to do. They have fanatic rabbis to tell them so. They have fanatic foreign donors to tell them they're doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing -- expelling Arabs and installing Jews.

But this much I have learned from Sheikh Jarrah: God is not a settler. God talks to anyone who cares to listen. Our family has learned to prepare for God's Sabbath and our own. And it feels exactly right. And this much I want to tell anyone who is interested in tikkun olam: Find what resonates with you. Take time before Shabbat to support it, work for it, work in it.

It may have to do with get-togethers with Israelis and Palestinians, or with American Arabs and American Jews. It may have to do with supporting any of the many NGOs that work for social justice or reconciliation. Find the one that resonates with you, and you won't need a fanatic to tell you what you already feel: you're doing exactly what the world needs.


Bradley Burston is a Haaretz columnist and senior editor of, which publishes his blog, "A Special Place in Hell."

Source Citation: Burston, Bradley. 2011. Tikkun Olam in East Jerusalem. Tikkun 26(1): online exclusive.




tags: Israel/Palestine, Vision for Israel/Palestine  
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