Here, I have begun telling my Palestinian friends I am Jewish. After all, it is the reason I am in Palestine. I could be anywhere in the world doing positive work, but I came here because I felt a duty to show that not all Jewish Americans support an unjust occupation.
There are so many similarities between Jews and Muslims it astonishes. Both have similar dietary restrictions -- neither eat pork, for example. If they are more traditional, they both have large families. The man is usually in charge of the family (in more strictly religious homes) and food plays a huge role in life and traditions. The language is similar. In both faiths, men and women often wear head coverings. And both cultures see Jerusalem as the holy land. Both religions circumcise their boys. The first two letters of both the Arabic and Hebrew alphabet sound the same.
My time here, teaching literature at a university in Palestine, reminds me that our ideas of fairness and politics are skewed. It reminds me to look at people as people. Surely I do not agree with every cultural norm here, and no person in any faith is perfect. But, through the light of my Chanukah candles I am reminded that we are all people, that we all share burdens and joys of humanity.
Yesterday, a Palestinian friend, and student, was telling me stories of pranks she played on her nine siblings and her parents. I laughed, unceasingly. I had a wake-up moment in that experience. A light turned on. It was if I had forgotten that Palestinians have a sense of humor, as if I had forgotten that we are, in our humanity, exactly the same. We all experience loss, sorrow, joy, laughter, sense of humor, resistance, tenacity, hope, hopelessness, anger, frustration, collapse. In a Gazette article by Sara Busse, writer Maya Angelou said during her visit to Charleston earlier this year: "I am a human being and no other human being can be less than me ... he cannot think, he can't be more needful, more happy, more sad. Pain attacks him with the same ferocity as me. We are more alike than different."
And Angelou reminds us that violence has always been a part of human existence: "The world is not any worse now than when you were being raised. The same abilities to be brutal maintain. Just because we have technology and the conveyances that show us now, at a moment's notice, the cruelties going on in the Middle East or Arkansas doesn't mean that they are any worse than when we were growing up."
And so to be Jewish in Palestine during Chanukah, is it a paradox? Not unless you think being human is a paradox. I am a human first and everything else after that. Human suffering is my suffering, human joy, my joy.
Essayist and columnist Cheryl Strayed writes in her new book Tiny Beautiful Things: "Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naïve pomposity. Many people you believe to be rich are not rich. Many people you think have it easy worked hard for what they got. Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering." And so it is that we are all human and fundamentally feel the same things.
It is my very great privilege to be having Chanukah in Palestine. Later this week, I will cross the border, something my Palestinian friends do not have the privilege of doing. I will go to Jerusalem, and I will view, in the old city, the oil lamps shining.
I am proud of my heritage and my Jewish identity, even though, I do not believe in all things that are being done in the name of my faith, just as all Catholics of course do not condone abuses perpetuated by some in their church, or agree with all teachings. No person is monolithic. No Palestinian has single views. No Jew. No Christian. No anything. No person can be called, in one word: terrorist. That's too easy. Try this: human being.
Kaufman, of Charleston, is a former Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar and is teaching at An Najah National University in Palestine.