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February 21, 2016

The teacher was Brian Cooke, a jazz pianist who had played with Chet Baker. And he led me to a moment of truth that is as fresh today as it was then. We had formed a political rock ‘n roll band in Berkeley, in ’71, called Contraband. We were seven, a great singer named Dianne, my brother Jon was on the trombone, me on the bass. Brian had agreed to join us for a political festival, and we were trying to tame this jazzman enough to get him to do the antiwar and feminist songs we were singing. But one day at rehearsal, he took over and taught us a bossanova piece called “Reza.” Bossanova goes on and on, with that endless train rhythm, forever. The song stretched us out of our comfort zone, with unusual chords and tricky syncopation. But we hit the zone, we were in the flow. As we played it over and over, I suddenly was seized with the awareness that I was not playing the song….the song was playing me! Gone was any vestige of “Hey look at me, I’m playing in this cool political band….” God wanted this music to be playing, and I was his vehicle. The seven of us were one, and for us there was only “Reza,” rolling out of us, a song that wanted to happen.

Now, a quick 45 years later, I ask myself…..What song does God want to be playing? Can we be the vehicles for what asks to happen now?

Here in Jerusalem, what is it we can provide that will respond to the terror of living in the Palestinian neighborhoods? What openings can we find to penetrate the walls of indifference on the Israeli side? What is the key to getting intelligent people to see that children will only leave their homes with scissors, knowing they will likely die, if they are despairing so badly that this has become an alternative? Are Israelis willing to acknowledge the suffering that our domination engenders daily? With 75% of the residents of East Jerusalem living below the poverty line.

It is hard for us to be with the knowledge that 700,000 Palestinians fled this land in ’48, thanks to us Jews, and that since ’67 we have occupied the land and lives of Palestinians, who now number nearly four million. To dwell in the truth of what we have created here…..the greening of the deserts, the flourishing start-up nation…..alongside the unfathomable suffering of a people. The Palestinians, the wandering Jews of the middle-east, stateless as were we for 2,000 years, enduring years of midnight arrests, screaming children in the night with soldiers armed to the teeth hovering over them in their beds. Pogroms. How difficult for us to embrace this truth while continuing to live here, and not to confront the weight of our responsibility in making things right. We cannot help but be uneasy, deflecting our conscience or numbing ourselves to it, when there do exist ways to shoulder our burden while affirming our own right to live here.

We refuse to be seen as “friarim,” suckers. We got the land, we fought the wars, we lost the soldiers in war and occupation, citizens were killed in coffee shops and on the roads hitch-hiking home. The guerilla Palestinians wound us, kill us, providing endless “good reasons” to be defensive, aggressive, righteous. Individual families bear the losses, while most of us meet friends Friday morning for a schmooze over coffee. Do we insist on clutching to our blinders? Can we not lift ourselves up out of the swamp to see the possible ways out? Can the peace movement activists not join forces and offer the rope and the jeep that will haul us out of the quicksand?

We carry no flags. We carry both flags. Together, we can seek the cracks in the wall. We must join hands and play the songs that beg to be sung. And we will bring tomorrow’s possibilities to fruition, to the gentle chords and determined syncopation of bossanova.

                                                            Yoav Peck



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