Bird metaphors as old as the Bible are still evocative today. When someone is favors fierce military actions, they are often called a “hawk,” while one who prefers diplomacy and peace is called a “dove.” The Dove has been a symbol of peace and security throughout the centuries, since the Biblical story of Noah and the Ark, in which the Dove returns to Noah with an olive branch in her beak.
But while the fierce hawk symbolizes courage, the gentle dove often needs it too. Peacemaking is often an unpopular path.
I trace my own evolution from a hawk to a dove, dating the beginning of my change of feathers to when my brother-in-law, an Israeli paratrooper, told me about his decision to be a conscientious objector to the first Lebanese War. He was extremely dedicated to his country but not to the military action that was being pursued. But the most decisive hour for me was when I listened to a talk by Yehezkiel Landau at CAJE, a Jewish educational conference that took place in Jerusalem. I felt that I was hearing a modern day Navi (prophetic voice) as Yehezkiel explained that religious peacemakers are primarily motivated by deep Jewish values of the divine image of every human being.
In the coming years I went on to start a Palestinian-Jewish dialogue in partnership with Imam Nadir Faris, who was chaplain of the Mosque at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. Our group included Jews, Palestinians, and a few allies of other backgrounds, people of all political outlooks, who nonetheless made a commitment to one another and the group. We kept listening and learning even when it was difficult and tense. Under the mentorship of peace visionaries Len and Libby Traubman, one of our signature accomplishments was to bring Palestinians into positive dialogue with Jewish educators at the CAJE Conference in San Antonio in 2002.
This work did not earn my popularity in my own Jewish community (nor for my partner in his Muslim community). The goal and content of my dialogue work was not to criticize Israeli policy, but to open hearts to the personal, human stories of people on all sides and hopefully to transcend “sides” to being on the mutual side of peace and dignity for all. Still, our efforts and projects stirred a lot of anxiety, anger, and opposition from some others in our communities, in my experience with people standing up to accuse me at Jewish events, or reproaching me angrily in private. It was certainly outside my dovish comfort zone to be in opposition to community consensus, but it was a time in my life when I felt called to moral courage, even if being a dove was much less popular than being a hawk.
After moving to Northern California, my efforts turned to the less fraught terrain of interfaith dialogue and I mobilized a group to start “Celebration of Abraham” in Chico. For seven years we happily brought together Jews, Christians, and Muslims to learn about one another’s faiths and get to know each other as neighbors. It was much less politically focused and more religiously focused, which was easier. Now on the East Coast, I have been active in the Interfaith Alliance sponsored by AJC, a large Jewish organization. We have ongoing gatherings of people from diverse races, religions, and ethnicity, to pray together and work for the common good.
Although most of my Interfaith and Dialogue work has been joyful and just some of it challenging, I’m doing most of it in the comfort of the USA. The real heroes of peace for me are those who tirelessly continue this work of dialogue and peacemaking right in the midst of conflict. People like the teachers, students, and families of Hand in Hand, a network of Jewish-Arab schools in Israel that teach equally in Hebrew and Arabic, IEA, the Interfaith Encounter Association, that bring together Jews, Muslim, Christians and others for dialogue and understanding in Israel and the West Bank. and Kids4Peace, a youth movement for peace in Jerusalem and worldwide.
And ironically, in Israel many leading hawks have turned to doves, from Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who gave his life for peace, to the late Israeli President Shimon Peres who founded the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, to numerous military leaders. These former war heroes come to realize that true security depends on diplomatic solutions as well as military strength.
My hope is that those of us who want to protect our ancient homeland like hawks and those who want to extend an olive branch like Noah’s dove, will find ways to listen to one another, refrain from labeling, and believe in one another’s good intentions. Sometimes the peace we seek starts inside ourselves and our own communities.
–Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan
Featured Image: Mourning Dove, Otter Creek Preserve, New York, JHD