By Shoshana Hebshi-Holt


Atonement: 1. Amends or reparation made for an injury or wrong; expiation.

I’ve been numb for a while.

I remember being glued to the television from the time I woke up on the morning of September 11 until I went to bed that night.

But I didn’t react to the tears, screams, and chaos I saw on the screen. Not emotionally, anyway. My journalist instinct wanted me to get on the next plane and stand at Ground Zero to see with my own eyes, smell with my own nose and physically feel this historic event. But I couldn’t. I had already given up journalism. It had never helped me feel things anyway. Maybe I was already numb.

Whatever happened to the rest of the world that day seemed to bypass me. I knew the event was big: America, the superpower, my homeland, was under attack. And as an Arab and a Jew, I should know better than most Americans that feeling of being a scapegoat or hated because of who I am.

But everything became intellectualized, debated, removed. I was numb.

I’ve never seen a Jew and an Arab truly get along. My Jewish mother and Saudi father divorced when I was five, and are just now, twenty-one years later, able to have civil, at times friendly, discourse. But they once loved each other very deeply, and I believe they still do on some level. They share an underlying understanding of the person underneath the Arab or Jewish skin they were born into and of the beliefs and values each holds because of their respective upbringings.

I was brought up with both cultures, though the Jewish side had a decidedly stronger presence. But I know the struggle of sympathizing with both and being unable to side with either. Even during my Bat Mitzvah, when I assumed the privileges and obligations of an adult Jew, my dad left after the rabbi made what he perceived as an anti-Arab comment.

I haven’t been to a High Holy Day service in a while–probably five or six years. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, were always torturous for me to sit through during my pre-college youth, before I could choose whether or not to attend.

But this year’s holidays seem newly significant. As Jews, we beckon in a new year, dipping our apples in honey, hoping for a sweet year ahead. But Rosh Hashanah also symbolizes hope for growth. As Americans we can hope this new year will not bring more terrorism in this country or in Israel. But can we learn from our past errors in judgment and recognize them before they surface, and before we act on them?

On Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, we as Jews take a day of fasting, in order to repent for our sins and with the hope that we have the strength and foresight to not repeat those sins another year.

I’m curious about how American Jews will acknowledge the holidays this year. Will they try not to judge an Arab just because he or she is an Arab, but instead actually see the person as a human being, with individual beliefs, needs and values? Will they be able to see that Arab not as an enemy, even if other Arabs judge Jews in such a harsh light?

I want the same from Arabs, who have such a common history and culture with Jews. But for some reason, possibly because of the Holocaust, I hold Jews to a higher standard. They experienced genocide first hand. They witnessed the horror hate can produce. And I expect them to be empathetic to the oppression of another people. I expect them, after surviving the Holocaust and praising themselves for their generous philanthropy, to live without judging others.

More than anything, I’ve always hoped for Arabs and Jews to get along, to be able to live side by side in Israel and here, in America. Maybe, though, my expectations are too high, and hatred is just a human condition and a result of oppression and discontent. But I hope not.

I do know, though, that suicide bombings and military retaliation will never solve the problem between the Jews and Palestinians. I know that no matter how many times I try to talk to my dad about what’s going on in Israel, we get into a fight because I believe Israel should exist as a Jewish state; and I’ve stopped talking to my mom about it, because I believe a Palestinian state should exist without Israeli occupation.

I look at the front-page photos of horror and death taken halfway across the world, and I’m still numb.

If John Lennon were alive, would he still say, “Give peace a chance?”

My numbness toward the attacks of September 11 probably stems from that very cynicism I’ve developed over the years watching the ongoing violence and hatred surge between Arabs and Jews in the news and in the home I grew up in, wrapping my identity up in this conflict, and understanding that it will probably never end. September 11 was just more evidence of this.

Basically, I don’t know what to do, what or whom to believe, or when I can stop rationalizing the issues and start feeling. But I do know that my very existence, as a woman with Jewish and Arab blood flowing through my veins, proves that it is possible for some semblance of peaceful coexistence to occur.

While I probably won’t attend High Holy Day services this year, either, I will acknowledge Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur quietly. I will forgive myself for passing judgment on those who don’t see eye to eye with me and hope I can have the fortitude to overcome those instincts. But most of all, I will hope I can replace my cynicism and numbness with a feeling that there is a possibility for peace and understanding among Arabs and Jews and Americans. A possibility that we can begin to love more than we hate. A possibility that we can heal and start to grow into a new future.

But I don’t really have much hope.


About Shoshana Hebshi-Holt

Shoshana Hebshi-Holt is a writer and editor living in San Francisco.