What was so unusual, especially for a Washington-based event featuring a member of Congress, was the humility and vulnerability each speaker brought to the conversation. Jewish Israelis and Palestinians are very used to arguing with one another. American officials are very used to lecturing both. But on that evening in our living room, all three leaders seemed remarkably determined to listen more than they spoke. Nobody heckled, lectured, or poked. Rather, each of them said, in their own way: My own people have been quite imperfect at sharing society. My country regularly stumbles. But despite the slow, uneven progress, I’ve devoted my life to moving my society forward, and tomorrow I’ll get up and do it again.
And what got transformed by that approach … was us.
We should pause here to mention that we are both board members of Heart of a Nation, a nonprofit that brings together progressive Israelis, progressive Palestinians, and progressive Americans to make all three societies better. We should also mention that right before the gathering, we engaged in some fairly typical, low-level, mother-daughter bickering. One of us didn’t like the other’s shoes; the other was annoyed at not having enough time to prepare her intro. But beneath that night’s nitpicking was another, more substantial concern. What if the discussion further exposed our different political views? One of us is a moderate incrementalist. The other believes in radical social change. We generally share goals, but not tactics. What if this discussion pushed us, personally, further apart?
To our immense relief, the opposite happened. As each leader spoke about the strengths and the flaws in their own societies, while still demonstrating deep care for the others, we witnessed healing connections being built that we longed to see mirrored in our own relationship.
“It’s fragile work,” Congresswoman Leger Fernández said, reflecting on the surprising similarities between her work representing northern New Mexico and Givat Haviva’s work advancing Israeli shared society. Dignity, democracy, mutual respect — these things must be nurtured with fierce sensitivity. “Because everything we love is fragile, and everything we love must be fought for,” she said.
This mother and daughter felt less fragile after that night, and readier to fight for our own connection.
Kinney Zalesne is a former Microsoft executive. Adina Siff is an 11th grader at Georgetown Day School in Washington and a former intern with Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández. Mother and daughter are both founding committee members of Heart of a Nation.