"In a time of destruction, create something." -- Maxine Hong Kingston
Before bombs started falling on Gaza or a massive ground invasion began, before rockets were launched at Israel, I had invited a handful of close Jewish friends to an iftar, the evening meal when Muslims break their fast during Ramadan.
It was partly in reciprocity for the Seder we shared at their house on Passover, but it was more because these friends mean so much to me. My former editor, Richard Weiss, and his wife, Sally Altman, brought their daughter with them. None of us have ever directly discussed the politics of the Middle East. But we have a relationship forged over years of work and mutual respect.
When I texted them to ask if they would be willing to pray with us for a few minutes, "especially with what's going on in the world right now," I could have guessed their response: "We'd be honored to."
I have felt emotionally paralyzed ever since this escalation began. Even though we are far removed from this crisis, it feels so real, so immediate because of the way we are bombarded with real-time graphic images, videos and stories that shred our hearts.
The New York Times reported that analysts said this latest flare-up has brought a new level of dehumanizing, hateful language to the political, digital and civic discourse. The angry language of annihilation from both sides can be frightening to read and hear.
Almost a decade ago, I overheard a group of older Jewish men at a suburban St. Louis grocery store, loudly agreeing with one another that all Palestinians were less than dogs and needed to be wiped out. At the time, I was rattled and quickly left the store. For years since then, I have chastised myself for not having the courage to say something polite to them, to perhaps challenge the narrative in their minds.
I took away this lesson from that moment: I have a voice within my own family and my own community. Since then, I have defended the Jewish faith and people whenever I hear a disparaging or generalizing remark. I have argued for the right of Israel to exist without being attacked. And, with some Jewish friends, I have tried to share with them the inhumanity of the conditions in the Occupied Territories.
These are not easy conversations. But it can be easy to dehumanize the "other" when we live in silos.
It's easier to retreat to the information enclave that reinforces our own beliefs. It's easier to disengage, to become numb to the violence that happens so far away.
I refuse to raise my children that way.
The challenge is to raise children aware of and interested in the world around them, instilled with a sense of justice and compassion, without becoming inured to violence.
I have had more than a casual interest in this troubled region of the world since I was a teenager. I studied international affairs, specifically the Middle East; lived in Cairo; visited Sinai, Israel and the West Bank. I have talked to Israeli and Palestinian journalists, trying to get a sense of whether this crisis could ever be resolved.
I have searched for hope in this hopeless situation: this deadly intersection of politics, power, economics and religion. In my darkest moments, I wonder if a peaceful, just coexistence is possible.
The horrific largest-scale crimes against humanity in my lifetime -- the genocides of the Bosnians and Rwandans, the slaughter of Syrians and the decades of oppression and killing in the Middle East -- bring up those questions of how people can brutally turn upon innocents: the civilians not engaged in any battle, except the one to survive.
Today's reality includes a live feed of raw, graphic images and videos of war. How do we cope with this onslaught of treacherous information?
It was important for me to pray with my Jewish friends that night. We passed out translations of the opening prayer we say in Arabic. We sat in a circle and spoke from our hearts.
From young child to grandparent, we asked for an end to suffering and injustice in all forms and gave thanks for our blessings.
My editor told a story. His wife shared a Hebrew prayer. My husband shared an Arabic one. Our friends' daughter, an inner-city teacher, prayed for equal educational opportunities for all children. My son asked for an end to wars.
I asked God to heal the brokenness in this world.
Sally came up to me later, as I was getting dinner ready, and hugged me.
In that moment, so connected with someone who may share a different perspective, I felt the strongest flicker of hope.