Interview with Rabbi Rosie Haim by Jessica Sliman

How long have you been a Rabbi?

For nineteen years.

When did you want to become one?

I grew up in a small town in Illinois and I was a little bit involved in my synagogue, you know we were a small town so there were twenty-five Jewish families, and one of the things that happens when you are in a small town like that is that you end up being sort of the spokesperson for Judaism, you know by accident.  So whenever there was a Jewish holiday I was always be the one at school to kind of do the little presentations…

(interrupted by a phone call)

So as a result of being in this little town one of the teachers that also taught at our temple religious school wanted me to go this Jewish camp.  So I spent some summers at a Jewish camp called Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute at Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. And I really got turned on to being involved in Jewish things through that.

I spent my junior year in Israel.  In our temple I grew up we didn’t have our bat mitzvah at the age thirteen to I had mine when I turned twenty in Israel. And just in general, my past kind of lead me to loving the learning and enjoying finding meaning through the tradition and I liked teaching it and being part of the Jewish community.  So when I looked at the things that I was involved in, extracurricularly, and the things that brought me great joy and kind of grounded my year and life and stuff it really had to with things that I could do as a Rabbi.


How many times have you been to Israel and for how long?

Well I lived there for two years, my junior year in Israel and then my first year of Rabbinical School.  Rabbinical school is a five year graduate school program.  After finishing college, I went back to Israel and lived there for another year, because we all do our first year in Jerusalem.  And then I came back to Cincinnati, where I finished school at Hebrew Union College.  I go back periodically, like I have Sabbatical and I got on a week trip or a ten day trip.  I’d say about every other year or so, with the congregation or just because… I sort of have this thing with my husband that when we were dating, it wasn’t another man he was competing with, it was Jerusalem.  So, I have this passion with Jerusalem and every once in a while I say to him I just need to go and get grounded.  And he understands that that means that I just, there is too much going on in my life and I just need to go spend a few days hearing my soul again.  And that’s what Jerusalem represents for me.

Do you have any family or friends who live there?

I have friends that live there.  Distant family, but not much that I am really connected to.

We have been studing the 1948 Israeli and Palestinian War as well as the 1967 war.

What are your feelings on the Israeli and Palestinian conflict?

It is a very sad thing because it’s a little region and I feel like both communities have very strong feelings about this country, you know the land.  So, it is complicated.

What does it mean for you to be Jewish and have this connection to Israel?

Well, the Jewish people from the Biblical days always had a strong connection to the land of Israel, to this piece of land, whatever it was called; Canaan, Palestine, Israel. And so as someone who is involved in prayer and involved in considering worship, so many of our prayers talk about Jerusalem and Israel and at the end, you know we just finished Passover, and at the end of Passover it says “Next year in Jerusalem”.  The idea is that even when we were not able to live in the land because we were exiled, we have always had a strong… Jerusalem and Israel has always been a focal point in our religious community.

What would you want other people to know about Israel?

That there is a wonderful miracle going on there.  When you look at this state that has been under constant threat of war, if not a state of war for these years, since its conception, it is a state that has allowed for the Jewish people to thrive.  It does try very hard to be fair and accommodating and within the boundaries of trying to protect its own citizens.

Have you had any encounters with Palestinians?  And what were they like?

Well, you know there was the Imam that was here, I don’t know if you know there was the Imam Fawaz Damra here in Cleveland.  He considered himself as a Palestinian.  For a long time those relations were very warm.  We as two clergy people were able to connect and be part of different panels and things.  But we didn’t usually talk about the Palestinian questions.  I’ve had… my parents are actually Turkish, so my connection to the Muslim world is also through my heritage as a Turkish person and so I’ve had a lot of relationships with Muslim people, some of whom are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and some of whom see the Palestinian cause as just a, well as one person said a “bleep in history” that kind of is trying to insert itself in that region.  And I think that both people have a complicated past to walk through that area.

Do you read or have you read any Israeli literature?

You mean like the newspapers from Israel?

Yea, like we read poems and novels such as The Smile of the Lamb by David Grossman.  We go back and forth between Palestinian literature and Israeli Literature.

Can I see your syllabus?

Yea, of course.

I just want to see if they say the names of the authors. Oh, Amichai.  Did you read Amichai?

Yea, we are actually reading that now.

I studied with him actually.

Did you really?  Yea we are reading a book of poems by him.  Well, my teacher is actually Lebanese and he…

Lebanese Christian or Lebanese Muslim?

He is Lebanese Christian.  But in our exams he has us do essays and usually one of them has to do with comparing and contrasting both sides.  Like what are the personal problems for the Israelis and what are those for the Palestinians.  Like I really like this class because I feel kind of naïve about the whole conflict over there because I am not big on news, which my Dad would be so upset with me because he always watches the news.  But like, this is helping me learn more about it.

Where are you from?

I’m Lebanese. So I have always wanted to go over to the Middle East and visit and see what it is like.

Are both your parents Lebanese?

Yea, my dad is 100% and my mom is about a quarter.  And my dad’s grandparents came from Lebanon.  But I have an aunt who used to live in Lebanon and she keeps going back and is trying to get my mom to visit.  She says that the atmosphere over there is just so peaceful and calming and just a break from here.

Your aunt lives there or she lives here?

She used to live there and then came over here I think when she was thirteen by herself.  And her and my Sitto, my Dad’s mom, became best friends.  So she isn’t exactly my aunt but that is what we call her.  And so she continues to visit and has family over there.

And is your background Lebanese Muslim or Lebanese Christian?

I am Lebanese Christian.

(Here our conversation strayed to where I live in Ohio)

You asked me something about do I read Israeli literature.  So, of course I do.  I read a lot of stuff, like the Israeli newspaper I try to read.  I stay on top of what is going on over there.

When you get together with the people you had experiences in Israel with, what sort of stories do you share and is there anything that you do not talk about?

Well, there are people that I spent time in Israel with together; we talk about the fun things we did maybe a little bit about the politics going on there.  Most of the time the people I have gone over there with are Jewish, so…not that there is a party line about our feelings towards Israel. But usually it is pretty warm feelings towards Israel and what is going on there and hope for peace and that kind of thing.  But like I said, when I met with my Muslim friends, sometimes we just stay away from the topic.

Have you been involved in any activism on behalf of Israel like any Peace groups?

Well, I am a member of AIPAC which is the American Israel Political Action Committee.  I am involved politically through that to try and help our government understand some of the issues.  I feel like part of my activism, a big part of it is taking our congregants over to visit Israel.  Because once you visit the land you are tied to it differently, so I hope that when people go and see what a small place this is and you know where Lebanon is in relation to Israel…and one of my favorite places is up north where you can see the Fence of Good Hope which is suppose to be the gate between Lebanon and Israel.  So when you see where that is and when you see how small the country is and you see what the relationship is between our hostile neighbors and our peaceful neighbors then you sort of get a better sense of what is at stake.

Lebanon and Israel border each other right?

They do, and you know the Hezbollah has been working out of Lebanon and destroying Lebanon and being a significant threat to Israel.

(We began to talk about the war in Lebanon and I told her stories about friends of ours who were stuck in Lebanon)

And what is really sad for the Lebanese people is that they are puppets.  You know with the Hezbollah war, because Lebanon was pretty close to having good relations with Israel and then allowing Hezbollah to operate out of their community has created a huge problem for them.

(Here she began to explain to me exactly what the Hezbollah is and what they do)

The only film I have seen relating to this topic is Munich and I could not even watch it all because the whole thing revolved around killing the other and I hate it because I just don’t understand it.  Like I wrote an essay, well part of an essay had to do with how I don’t understand the point of war and fighting and I don’t get how it escalates to that point.  Like I do, but I don’t understand how it gets there.

Have you seen any films or do you know any films that are associated with this topic?

I have seen like different movies but I don’t remember what they are.

What do you think about the prospects of peace?  And what do you think could be done to end the conflict?

Well I think it was in today’s paper that the head of the Palestinian government and the Israeli government tried to restart… I think that the sad thing that it is a political war and a lot of it has to do with people meeting each other and being humane to each other and to think that the prospects of peace are a good point right now kind of wishful.  You know I don’t really see it happening in the next few years.  There is not a strong enough leadership on the Palestinian side to unify, they don’t have a unified leadership really to be able to make an agreement and hold to it.  For example, you have to recognize a state in order to have a relationship with it.  Like if I do not even recognize you as a person how can we have a relationship.  So I think that is the biggest stumbling block and everything else can get worked out but this idea that you have to at least acknowledge that I exist is a huge piece of this problem.

This is kind of off topic, but my freshman year I took a Holocaust course which has been one of my favorite classes so far because I loved learning about the entire situation.  Do you know anyone who has been through the Holocaust?

There was a beautiful program over the weekend at our temple about the Holocaust presented by Holocaust survivors.  Yesterday started the anniversary of the Holocaust.

(We proceeded to talk about the Holocaust and the Eichmann trial)

Well since you brought up the topic of the Holocaust, you know the state of Israel was established shortly after the Holocaust right, and it gave refuge to these people that Europe had abandoned.  We went back to a place that was ours and where Jews had lived all these years but from which we had been exiled.  So in that land, when they partitioned it, the area known as Palestine, they set aside a part for the Jews to live in and they set aside a part for the Arab people to live in peace, essentially so that they would live in peace.  Again, if you can’t recognize a person’s right to survive, which is what Auschwitz was right, if you can’t recognize my humanity, we can’t talk.  If the Jewish people in that region cannot even get the okay from the countries around them that they can survive, it makes it very hard to have this conversation with people, especially given our history.

(More conversation about the Holocaust)

What is your major?

Early Childhood Education, so it kind of has nothing to do with this.

You know where it does have a lot to do with it is in a sense of like teaching tolerance.  Because Early Childhood Education is where tolerance begins and ends.  By the time a kid is six, they either know how to say please and thank you and be caring for other people or they will never learn it.  So Early Childhood Education is actually the most impactful part, where people learn to be kind to people that are different than them or they learn to hate people who are different than them.  So it is very important that you are taking classes like this because to you know understand the importance of diversity and just the whole tolerance issue.  Like can’t we just tolerate our neighbors and be nice to them and acknowledge that they are different but we don’t have to kill them.  You know, you don’t have to hit another kid, don’t bite and you are going to teach them to use their words right?  And it is the exact same thing.  If only we could take those niceties and transfer those to countries, it is the same exact situation.


Even though I am not 100% Lebanese, I feel as though I can some what identify with Palestinians and other Arabs; if not for the love of the land but for the culture.  My family and heritage is the most important thing in my life.  I am always willing to share it with others and eager to learn about them as well.  Therefore, when I scheduled the interview with Rabbi Rosie Haim, I was eager to learn about her beliefs and ties to Israel.  I admit that I was tentative as to whether or not she would have harsh feelings towards the Palestinians.  However, upon the first introduction, I realized this assumption was false.

Rabbi Haim is a very peaceful woman who has a strong faith, obviously the reason she became a Rabbi.  It is apparent that she does not loathe Palestinians because she has Muslim friends and is involved in peace groups.  Rabbi Rosie wants Israel to be a Jewish state but disagrees with the process of war and killing other humans.  I admire her for this attitude because I too feel the same way.  I do not believe land is a worthy enough reason to begin a war, in fact I do not see anything to be reason enough to kill mass amounts of people.  However, it is very ironic how Israel, after years of oppression, engages in activities that eventually lead the Palestinians to decide to leave their homes.  Israel should empathize with the action of having to leave your own home and feel dehumanized.  Yet, the effects of their actions cause the Palestinians to feel the same.

This then leads me to Rabbi Rosie’s point about reaching a peaceful resolution.  She stated that in order for peace to exist, the Arab countries need to recognize Israel as a state.  I completely agree with this.  If a state or a person cannot acknowledge the existence of someone or something, then no relationship can be established.  Instead, each side will be abused by the other.  This is the main reason the Holocaust existed because people did not believe the Jews to be part of the human race.

However, if the Arab countries should acknowledge the existence of Israel, should Israel also acknowledge the existence of a Palestine?  After all, Palestine did exist for a period of time until it was taken over.  In my opinion, both sides need to acknowledge not only the existence of one another but also the past and hardships each other has undergone.  I did not think like this while doing the interview.  In fact I did not think of Israel’s need to acknowledge Palestine until after the class with the two guest speakers.  I feel as though hearing from both sides has helped me gain a firmer grasp on the entire situation.  I admit that after the interview I felt as though the Israelis deserved the right to the land.  Now, after hearing Dr. Gordon and even David’s point of view, I feel as though both sides are in the wrong and both sides deserve the land.  After all, the same piece of land belonged to each of them at one time; therefore it is unfair to declare it one particular state.  Thus, do to this complicated affair the idea of peace is difficult to see.

Another reason why it is so difficult to declare this strip of land as one or the other is the deep ties each group has to it.  When asked about her relation with the land Rabbi Rosie replied, “I sort of have this thing with my husband that when we were dating, it wasn’t another man he was competing with, it was Jerusalem.  So, I have this passion with Jerusalem and every once in a while I say to him I just need to go and get grounded proved to be competition for her husband and she is not even from Israel.”  Rabbi Rosie has developed such a loving relationship with Israel, it has been her place to become grounded and in contact with her soul.  I think this is amazing how a place can do this to a person.  I know in my life, I feel like I can never escape the chaotic atmosphere that surrounds me.  There is always something, if not a dozen things, going on in my life.  I would love to find my place in which I can completely relax and come in tune with myself.

If Rabbi Rosie, a Jewish American feels this way about the land, imagine what an Israeli born and raised there must feel and even a Palestinian who was driven out of their home.  These people must have a relationship that I cannot even fathom.  In all honesty, I do not believe my feelings for the United States are even close to those in which the Israelis and Palestinians feel.  If someone were to force me out of my home, it would not be because I love the city or the country in which I live, rather it would be because I love the people and leaving them would hurt the most.

The literature in which I have read and shared with Rabbi Rosie deals with the conflict over this land and the hurt the people feel.  In each novel, it goes back and forth, each side stating their feelings and their rights as to why they deserve to call this land their own.  In Men in the Sun by Ghassan Kanafani, Abu Quais’ character is depicted as lying on the ground listening to the heartbeat of the land “as though the heart of the earth had been pushing its difficult way towards the light from the utmost depths of hell” (Kanafani, 21).  This mirrors Rabbi Rosie’s passion with the land.  Oddly enough, the same feelings for the land come from people of opposite sides.

Rabbi Rosie also talked about how she dislikes the current conflict and desires peace.  This is similar to the way Uri feels of the whole situation on Smile of the Lamb.  Here, David Grossman depicts the unforgettable scene with the decaying donkey.  To Uri the donkey stands for the reminder of the occupation.  Uri feels as though the occupation is a burden among all people and thus desires peace between the land.  He too, like Rabbi Rosie was friends with a Palestinian, Katzman.  These connections with the interview and the text reinforce the belief that the Israelis and the Palestinians have more in common than they may think, thus the reason for the conflict.

I have read the ways in which the Palestinians were treated and the oppression of the Israelis.  I have read poem after poem filled with tragedies, loss and hope for peace.  All the while I have done this as an outsider looking in and not even catching a glimpse of the real thing.  I have no right to say the Israelis deserve the land or the Palestinians do because in my mind they both do.  However, both sides have undergone such suffering and oppression that they both believe they deserve the ownership.  The only concrete thing in this conflict is that the land has become the source of a long heartrending war.

Before going into the interview, I was anticipating strictly gaining knowledge on the subject of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict from a Jewish person’s point of view.  However, I left this interview with more than that.  I not only am able to catch a glimpse of someone else’s life, but I also have a firmer grasp on my future career as an educator and what I want to establish in my own classroom.  Rabbi Rosie made a good point when saying conflicts in a classroom are just like those between countries, except on a much downsized scale.  She said that tolerance is taught at a young age and if children can not learn this then they will struggle with it as they grow.  If only teaching tolerance to politicians, world leaders and adults was as easy as teaching it to a first grade class.  I guess stickers and praise only takes you so far.

Works Cited

Kanafani, Ghassan. Men in the Sun. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 1999.

Grossman, David. Smile of the Lamb. New York: Washington Square Press, 1990.