What do you think about me now?

I am; Female, Israeli, Jewish, Secular, Moroccan, Zionist, a Former IDF officer who still serves in the Reserve, a B.A Student and Volunteer. What do you think about me now?

In Israel, when naming a child in Hebrew, the name often carries meaning. We have been named after a person who our parents wish us to be like, perhaps to honor their memory, or they just use a word which has some meaning to them.

All of the above are labels. We use labels all the time in order to put some sense in our world. We are making assumptions, building some kind of idea of what’s in front of us before we see it, and deciding where we are going to end up before we take the first step. Labels are like a window to our destiny and future, but instead of helping us see it, they are preventing us from having it at all.

My name is Or (אור), Or, Noor in Arabic, “Light” in English. I’m 25 years old (halfway to 50), and I come from a city in the center of Israel called Rishon Le-Ziyyon.

I had a wonderful childhood (thank you mom and dad). I’ve been active as long as I remember, Ballet and Piano kept me busy. A normal girl in a normal city. I remember that as a child my parents used to take us, and still do so, to the old markets of Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Friday mornings, the smell of the Turkish coffee, hot-fresh falafel and hummus, shisha’s apple tobacco smoke -mixed in the air with the breeze of the sea and fish. All the colors, the different shades of red, blue, yellow and green, all the different people, ages, languages, music, smells and cultures were like different strings which in the end came together to a beautiful Middle-eastern hand-made carpet, just like those on the pavements. In a way I’m an Secular Israeli Moroccan Jew to who the Palestinian and the Arab culture were always a part of her life without knowing it, recognizing it or meeting any of them in such a personal way as I’m doing in our program.

When I am asked by people to tell stories about the conflict, lots of moments re-occur in my mind; stories about the Israelis in the south and the north and their fear every time the alarm goes off – because of the rockets; the scary moment of getting on a bus in Jerusalem and the constant look for a suspicious passenger or package on board; stories from the time I served in the Northern Gaza Strip, how I found out that a soldier a fifteen minute drive from me was kidnapped, and what I did in the first operation to rescue him. But today I decided to tell you a similar but different kind of story.

As you may know, in Israel there is mandatory military service. As a woman, I was obligated to, but also had the honor to serve my country, as a combat medic. During our period of training we were taught how to act when we found ourselves alone, as a single medic, under fire, with numerous injured people. The main idea was to prioritize the casualties and decide what kind of treatment, if at all, any of them would receive. I remember thinking to myself: “that means that I have the power to decide who is going to live and who is going to die”, and I said it out loud to my commander. He answered me “that is a feeling we all struggle with, but those who overcome it understand that if we will try to save them all, we will end up saving no one”.

“With great power comes great responsibility” is written in the bible and in comic books. This is how I felt then regarding my position as a Medic, and this is how I feel now regarding life in general. That experience and others taught me how important is the NOW; How sometimes we need to leave the past behind without beating ourselves up about our previous decisions; how sometimes we need to understand that certain things are not in our ability to change or prevent, and that we need to walk towards the future.

Now picture two little children sitting in a sandbox, arguing and pointing fingers. They are yelling: “he started it first”, “no, she did”. The Kindergarten teacher approaches them and says: “Israel, Palestine, just stop it you two, it doesn’t really matter” – and tells a joke. The kids are laughing.

In a way that is how I feel about the conflict. I know it sounds a little naïve… But I also know that there isn’t a magic solution. I know we need to invest time, energy and effort in all the small changes. But before we do so, please, do not force us to live the past. Do not force us to stay hostage by fear.

One of our biggest moments of strength as human beings, in my opinion, is to learn how to let go. It seems to me like we always need to be in control, trying so hard to do so. It is easier to go against the tide, it sounds more heroic, like in the books and the Hollywood movies that we grew up on. The world is changing right now, we are changing right now, I am changing right now… To stay where we were years ago, not to dare, not to dream and not to hope, feels to me like my future isn’t really mine.

You all know we can’t choose our parents, and it is the same for history. We can’t choose our past but it is about time we will know that we can choose our future. So in front of you today, I am letting go of the past. I am not trying to understand or to “figure it out”. I am letting go. I’m taking a sad song and making it better. I am letting go. I’m not going to carry any fault or guilt for the actions of previous generations, as you may think I should. I’m not blaming the Palestinian nation for all the pain that Israel has been through because of a couple of extremists. I am starting a new story with these magnificent people who are here with me today. We are so different but so alike. We are all one.

So I have only one last request.

We live in the most beautiful place on earth. Where olive trees grow – taste it; where the sun rise in the east and sunset in the west – witness it; where the sand is yellow – play with it, build castles with it, run it through your fingers; Where everybody around the globe feels at home – be at home. Come with me. Come with us. Be present there with all these beautiful things. Be present with all these beautiful people. Take that backpack of burden and throw it to the sea. Let it go.

When sitting in your office, working, clicking on your keyboard, unknowingly, you are affecting the lives of those who are living across the ocean in distant yet close, strange yet familiar places. Wherever we are from, labels do not define us, names do not dictate our destiny.
To understand the people behind the labels – take your dressy shoes off and walk on our sand. Dream the dreams that are the natural rights of all of us; Israelis, Palestinians and Americans.

Thank you.

by Or Amir

New Story Leadership 276 Carroll Street NW Washington, DC 20012 Phone: 240-476-1123