Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Elul 20. One small step toward forgiveness

Last night I began watching a documentary, The Power of Forgiveness.  It is both powerful and challenging, as it introduces us to individuals who have experienced some of the worst horrors and have been exposed to a culture of hatred.  Included are interviews with Elie Wiesel, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, those impacted by the events of 9/11 in the USA, buddhist teacher and author, Thich Nhat Hanh, and members of the Amish community.  I recommend the documentary as thought-provoking viewing, particularly during this month of Elul.

One moment, early in the documentary, that particularly moved me, was watching teachers in Nothern Ireland work with young children.  These children are part of families who have lived for decades - multiple generations - in a culture of hate and violence.  While peace has come to Northern Ireland, there are still many years of work ahead to rebuild trust, and authentic community connections across the Catholic/Protestant divide.  A curriculum has been created, and schools engage in activities to teach a culture of forgiveness among the youth - trying to lay the foundations for a brighter future.  As the curriculum designers state in the documentary, the goal is not to turn a blind eye to wrongs or ignore injustices where action must be taken.  But when a wrong is magnified in a way that vilifies an individual or an entire community, it becomes the excuse for replenishing a well of anger and nurturing a culture of hate.  How to break the cycle?

We start with the individual self.  How do we respond when provoked?  How do we prevent a particular experience from becoming the sole lens through which we experience the 'other' or experience the rest of our lives?  One young child in the documentary tells her teacher about her sister who had been nasty to her and hit her.  She expresses the hurt of that moment.  Then the teacher hands her a pair of shaded plastic spectacles.  She puts them on and is asked, if she looks at her sister through this other lens, can she find something about her sister that is positive.  'She is always there for me', the little girl says.

In the documentary it is a moment that lasts a few seconds, but it is moving.
When someone hurts us, or we experience suffering through circumstances that have befallen us, might we find the first steps toward forgiveness and the ability to move on in our lives if only we could take a look through another set of lenses?
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

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