If I chose one word to describe my entire Encompass experience, I’d have to ditch my native language in favor of Hebrew. One of the Hebrew words I learned this past week in Scotland is “Neshama Sheli” (spelled phonetically). It means “my soul” and is used to get someone’s attention, show affection, or express a deeper emotion of love or friendship. In conversation, you can call someone “Neshama”, and most crudely translated to English slang it can, on the surface, mean “babe”, “hey you” or “darling”…you get the gist. Or literally, it can be used to describe a close relationship with someone achieved by soul-gazing.
I immediately fell in love with this word because really, this week was all about looking into the other’s soul…getting a brief glimpse into their thoughts, feelings, and into the depth of their humanity. Encompass was about trying to reach understanding of the other, whether it was through their fears, hopes or desires.
On the second day during lunch time, I found myself pressing my back into the radiator in one of the meeting rooms. Lahav (from Israel) was giving us a “history lesson” about Israel’s boundaries and the political green line which separates Palestinian territories from the rest of Israel. We westerners had heard the Palestinian point of view in earlier conversations and it was time for the Israeli’s to present their point of view. So Lahav drew maps and lines all over the white board illustrating dates and boarder changes. My back got hotter and hotter against the radiator. I was about to move away and find a new place to sit when Tomer, also from Israeli came to sit beside me.
Israeli’s, I discovered, have a much different sense of personal space than Americans. It is not unusual for friends in Israel to hug, kiss on the cheek, stroke each other’s hair, fall asleep on each other, lean on each other, sit very close together, hold hands and put their faces close together when they speak. Behavior that appears couple-y to an American is simply normal friendship behavior in Israel. So when I say that Tomer came to sit beside me, I mean that he was practically on top of me. My left arm and leg was right next to his right arm and leg. When he listened to Lahav, he cocked his head to the side so his hair was touching my hair. His lunch was partially spread out on my lap and his boot touched my boot.
If you just met a person the day before in America, you’d never sit like this. If you just met an Israeli the day before, you can almost guarantee all bodily taboos fly out the window, so us westerners learned to adapt to the new space limits pretty quickly.
So, without backs pressed up against the radiator and our lunches spread out, he leaned in so close I could see the pores on his face and said, “The conflict… it’s very complicated.”
I glanced back at Lahav’s drawing, littered with green strokes everywhere. “Yes, yes it is,” I replied, not sure what else to say.
We continued to eat in silence and Lahav fielded questions from another American and a few Indonesians. I began to sweat—partly because of the radiator, partly because Tomer was so close and partly because I felt the growing tension in the room as two of the Palestinian girls sat silently in the back. Rarely, if ever, do young adults from Israel and Palestine get to sit down in a safe forum and talk about the conflict. This was a BIG first for all of us. It was only the second day and lunch time was drawing to a close but I could sense a big debate brewing that would emerge several times over the next few days.
I took the last few bites of my apple and took a quick swig of water. I nudged Tomer and he looked back at me under the rim of his blue Jimi Hendrix headband. I was dying to ask him something, but couldn’t find the words. So I just blurted it out, spraying apple all over his jacket. “Do you think there will ever be peace?”
He looked at me through his huge brown eyes for a good five seconds (which felt like an eternity). He stroked his chin, not breaking his gaze once, he pushed his face toward me, touched his forehead to mine and whispered, “I wish.”
In that moment, in that two or three sentence conversation where I saw such a desire for peace in Tomer’s eyes, I think I discovered one of the true meanings of Neshama Sheli. And over the course of the week, these moments delightfully continued to reveal themselves as our group began to understand…