Oh, Jerusalem!

I’m not a good chess player. I know how all the pieces move, I understand some opening gambits, and I might be able to see one or two moves ahead. What I lack is any sense of strategy. This week feels a little like my chess-playing.


Of course it’s great news that the US recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel! Yay! (Though let me just note that we don’t need anyone to tell us where our capital is, but it’s good that it is recognized on the international stage.) Even with the recognition, moving the US embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, which has been in process for 20+ years, was still deferred.


(I like to use alternative pictures of Jerusalem. How many times can you see the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock. Seriously, Jerusalem is so much more.)

Everyone knows that if you keep doing something exactly the same way, you will not get a different result. Trump is not a “business as usual” president and the Middle East might just need a shake-up to get things moving.

Alright, let’s assume this is a covert, L-shaped knight move. We don’t know where it came from or where it’s going.

What’s the next move?

Condemnation by leaders around the world, veiled or unveiled threats from Arab leaders, Palestinians protesting.

Ok. That’s probably a rook making a strong appearance in the center of the board.

And then what?

The middle of the board will be messy, so we’ll have to sacrifice a few pieces to clear the way.

Bishops will certainly be involved. Pawns will be strewn everywhere.

Real life is not a game of chess (thankfully!). If it was, it would look more like this.


But I’m still left with questions. Why recognize Jerusalem as the capital now? Israel gains on the international stage to some extent, but there will likely be a price to pay. So what does the US gain?

I’m not a good enough chess player or political strategist to have an answer for that.


(Yes, I went a little crazy with the Pixabay chess pictures.
What does this one mean? I don’t know.)

Stop the Violins, Visualize Whirled Peas

whirled peas

I always liked that bumper sticker.  It sounds right, but the definitions don’t fit – and sometimes that is exactly what the problem is.

So let’s talk about peace.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary has a lot of definitions for peace including: a state of tranquility or quiet, harmony in personal relations, a state or period of mutual concord between governments, an agreement to end a war.  I think when English-speakers contemplate peace, they tend to think that all is well with the world and it is good.

Semitic languages work on a 3-or-4-letter root system.  When new immigrants learn Hebrew in Israel, we’re taught that words with the same roots may not exactly have the same meaning, but once we know the root we can figure out the meaning based on context.

IMG_20170324_172412s l m
Pages from the Hebrew book of roots.

In Hebrew, peace is shalom based on the root Shin-Lamed-Mem (שלם).  Other words with שלם include: l’shalem to pay a bill, mushlam complete or perfect, hishtalmut advanced training, shalem whole.

So here’s a philosophical question:  Does the English definition of peace match any of the definitions in the family of meanings for Shin-Lamed-Mem?

Let me add another quote.  Israel has often been criticized for the “cold peace” with Egypt.  The common wisdom in Israel is “better a cold peace than a hot war.”

Harmony, tranquility, and agreement don’t pay bills, complete anything, or provide advanced training.  However, if you see peace as a state of balance, then it all fits together.  Balance doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is happily floating around on clouds playing harps, but it does mean that what you put in, you will get in return.  Everyone is at the same level.

And what about that advanced training?  When you learn more, you become more whole as a person.

To continue the philosophical conversation, let’s turn to Arabic, another Semitic language.  I should say at the outset that in several places I read that words with the same Arabic root are not meant to be understood as being part of the same family of meanings.  Also, being a Semitic language doesn’t mean that all words with similar roots have similar meanings.  However, I’m not a linguist; I’m just positing a few ideas about language in a philosophical way.

Peace in Arabic is salaam, with an S-L-M root.  Other words with a similar root include:

Wiki graph
Source: https://wikiislam.net/wiki/Islam

The article is careful to note that Islam – while appearing with the same root – is not to be equated with peace, but rather submission (to Allah).  But as I said above, this is a philosophical musing.

In the family of words with the S-L-M root, many of them relate to submission and surrender.  Merriam-Webster tells us that submission can be an act of humility and surrender can be to giving yourself over to the power of another.  Tanning leather could fit because the animal skin needs to be shaped into the form chosen by the tanner.  The other meaning is to be saved from danger.  And if you look from the point of view of the snake, it is saving itself from danger by attacking.

Now let’s bring our English speakers, Hebrew speakers, and Arabic speakers into the same room and talk about peace, shalom, and salaam.  Or perhaps we should try to be more accurate:  the English speakers are talking about harmony and agreement, the Hebrew speakers are talking about balance and equality, and the Arabic speakers are talking about submission and safety.

It’s really no wonder that all the talking and not understanding results in more violins and less whirled peas.