[Comments are welcome at our Dialogue Corner]
Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Have you ever gone to someone you know or had dealings with and just told them that you forgive them? What would their reactions be? The ones you would respect will automatically ask you, "What do you forgive me for, have I wronged you in any way? Please tell me". A simple dialog ensues, to exchange points of view surrounding the essence of the perceived slight and how it is to be interpreted by both sides. I see that a very simple human transaction that has its inherent measure of logic.
What if the one you wanted to forgive, does not recognize the slight, even after repeated explanations, or shrugs it off, or just disingenuously thanks you for your forgiveness with no interest in knowing why? The end result is just "gratuitous forgiveness" that misses the mark by a good mile. I venture to add that nothing of consequence usually comes from such forgiveness, unless we consider "being taken for granted" as a positive outcome.
The underlying issue of forgiveness is the subsumed slight, as understood by both sides and not only one.
Now let us discuss reconciliation. In such cases we acknowledge two slighted parties, each seeking a way to clear the air, to achieve closure and then to positively move forward. Both sides talk and listen until they come to terms and bury the hatchet. A reciprocal apology and declared forgiveness is the order of the day, recited by each side and accepted equally by both.
To complete the parallelism of forgiveness and reconciliation, we need to look at the case where one or both sides do not accept the merits of the other's claims and remain at odds, to forgo or to wait for a better day to consummate, an alternate arrangement. The stuff divorce is made of, for instance.
This is the paradigm that most aptly applies to the status of the Jews from Egypt. We are a community of peace lovers and advocates. We revel in remembering the good people we once communed with in Egypt, our friends, associates and neighbors. Though we were considered merely guests and not true citizens, we participated fully in Egypt's cultural, political and economic life, only to be torn away from our familiar surroundings, our property confiscated and our human rights abused. Some of us were jailed and tortured, while others lost life and limb.
Now let us recap how many acts of "gratuitous forgiveness" our community has demonstrated to Egypt since the signing of the Peace treaty with Israel. Many of us, and of Israelis, visit Egypt regularly, even though we still see visible signs of discord and hostility, such as signs 'We do not cater to Israelis' next to 'No dogs allowed' that are posted on places of business. We still hear of Egyptian television productions based on such falsehoods as the 'Protocol of the Elders of Zion'. We still read Egyptian newspaper articles about 'blood libel' stories.
The US Jewish community alone has nurtured a significant trade volume with Egypt, even though we have not yet reached any conclusions about the status of our Torah scrolls, religious artifacts and the synagogues we left behind. The latter have been declared 'Egyptian Antiquities' and are falling apart, antiquating further unabated. I am sure that the King Tut and Ramses antiquities receive a different type of care.
The Jewish community from Egypt longs to become a bridge of peace between Egypt and Israel. We can encourage more student exchanges, initiate more cultural events, foster more trade and do more to bring us and the Jewish State closer to the Egypt of old that still remains alive in our consciousness.
So what are we seeking, besides not being taken for granted? Just to extend 'our forgiveness' ad infinitum? While there may be something to be gained from notions such as 'live and let live' or 'forgive and forget' or even 'let's move on', when it comes to achieving closure, I find that, as Jews from Egypt, neither logic nor emotions would allow us to accept such a one-sided transaction. Because it lacks the necessary discourse about the slights perpetrated and because "for Peace we need reconciliation and for reconciliation we need the truth to be told and acknowledged".
The community of Jews from Egypt has no issue with the people of Egypt, but we claim an underlying slight that we need acknowledged. It is simple, we were wronged and the list of grievances is long. Not only Egypt's government needs to hear it; the people of Egypt should hear what previous governments hid from them, about their actions against the Jews of Egypt and others. While not all victims of the previous governments were Jews, all Jews were their victims. To combat blind hatred and bigotry, the people of Egypt need to know what happened to 80,000 Jews, when now they can count Jews in Egypt on the fingers of a few hands.
We are encouraged by the current positive signs between Egypt and Israel and we look forward to stretching our community more to increase our ties with the people of Egypt. But at this juncture, it is up to Egypt's government to start an honest dialog with us and to let the voice of truth chime among her people. This may start a true process of sincere reconciliation that may cement a future of openness and mutual respect.
Israel Bonan, 23/June/2005
Published originally at HSJE.