The New York Beacon

An Open Letter from an Israeli Mother and Daughter

We are a mother and daughter who love Israel deeply and want her to fare well.  I, Leah Shazar, came to Palestine from Hungary in 1935, hoping with others to make this land my home.  My husband and I met soon afterwards and, despite a great deal of hardship, were happy and proud building Israel.  I remember the day the State of Israel was proclaimed amid jubilant applause, and the singing and dancing that went on into the night.

      I, Ruth Oron, who was born on Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet, where my mother still lives, saw barren, rocky land become a beautiful landscape, full of trees, flowers and lawns.  As a little girl I remember working with other members of the Kibbutz, filling basket after basket with stones--turning a hill in the Menashe Mountains into our home.  The future looked good.

      It breaks our hearts to see the pain and uncertainty in our land.  We can’t bear to see Israeli and Palestinian people, including so many children, being killed almost daily, when we know that the cause of war—contempt—has been explained by Eli Siegel, the great philosopher and historian, founder of Aesthetic Realism.  As the world is in crisis, we are impelled to tell what we have learned, that our largest need, and that of every person, is to like the world through honestly wanting to know other people and things, which is in complete opposition to contempt. 

     In "Terror and Liking the World,"  Ellen Reiss, the Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism explains:

Liking the world is not 'looking on the bright side' or closing one’s eyes to bad things.  The world, Mr. Siegel wrote, is all that "begins where our finger tips end."…Trying to like the world is the most critical procedure of the human self.  It is the desire to see things and people truly, and value them truly.

      With all that we Jews have suffered in our history, and very much in World War II, we haven’t used our pain "to see things and people truly," which takes in importantly understanding the pain and the hopes of the Palestinian people.  Instead, we have used our past to see the world as against us, giving ourselves the right to deal with the Palestinian people as we pleased.  This is contempt, described by Eli Siegel as "the addition to self through the lessening of something else."  Contempt is so ordinary, but it is the cause of the greatest injustice.  It is had by both Palestinians and Jews, and until both of our peoples fight contempt in ourselves, the nightmare going on in Israel will not stop.

      We are ashamed, there was a time when we wanted to have contempt for each other.  A child can look at her mother, as I, Ruth, once did, and think scornfully, "Look at her, she thinks she is always right!", or a mother can look at her daughter, as I Leah did, and not see that her feelings are as deep as my own.  We are proud to say that through learning about how cruel and hurtful contempt is, and criticizing it in ourselves, the animosity and tension that was so often between us has changed to respect and love.  It is something we cherish.

      With all the sadness at this time, I, Leah Shazar feel stronger knowing I have two opposing desires—to like the world or to have contempt for it, and that I can choose respect—the emotion in behalf of life.  Now, as I celebrate my 89th birthday, I can fight my cynicism, the contemptuous feeling that the world and people will never come to much.  I am consciously looking every day for something I can honestly see meaning in.  For example, I have liked Ravel’s "Bolero," the herons on the lawn and the bright, blue sky.  If I hadn’t learned of the necessity for this way of seeing from Aesthetic Realism, I know I would feel hopeless and despairing.

      It is clear that both Israelis and Palestinians have been hurt, but we have learned that we either are going to use our hurts to have even more contempt and ill will, which will make for greater pain, or together at last, have good will for one another.  "It begins," as Ellen Reiss writes, "with our trying to think about people this way: Here is a person.  He or she is as real as I am.  What does this person feel?  What, as Mr. Siegel put it, does he or she ‘deserve by being a person’?"

      Jews, Christians and Muslims alike urgently need to ask and answer these questions honestly.  It is only when we want to know each other and be just to the centuries-long, deep feelings we all have had for this dear and ever so meaningful earth we share--only then will we be able to trust one another and live together in peace.


Leah Shazar & Ruth Oron

The editor of the New York Beacon has this comment:

As we read about the ongoing war between the Israelis and Palestinians, almost on a daily basis, our thoughts must go to how the women are handling their daily existence in the throngs of pain and sorrow and unexpected death, not only their own but their children.  We thank Ruth Oron and her mother Leah Shazar for giving us food for thought in their heartfelt insight.

[The Rock Island Argus published this letter with the title:] 
"Israeli Mother and Daughter Outline Keys to Peace"


Also published in

  • Mobile Beacon 
  • Dayton Weekly News 
  • Tennessee Tribune 
  • Las Vegas Israelite 
  • Southwest Digest 
  • Chicago Defender 
  • San Antonio Register 
  • Milwaukee Times 
  • Asian-American Times (Phoenix, AZ) 
  • The Jewish Leader 
  • SCOOP (Ashkelon, ISRAEL)