by Amy Loewenthal, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Slifka Intern in Israel
For Elana Rozenman*, “there could be no better birthday gift than to feel the power of women making the world better.” So, as the director of TRUST-Emun, an Israeli NGO building mutual trust and understanding among people in conflict areas, Elana invited Muslim, Christian, and Jewish women to gather at her house. http://trustemun.org/
Women came from nearby: down the street in her Abu Tor neighborhood, East Jerusalem’s Jabal Mukaber, the Old City, and West Jerusalem; and from afar: Fureidis near Haifa, and even a woman from a foundation in Finland! They spoke English, Arabic and Hebrew, with probably ten other languages amongst them.
As we introduced ourselves, we honored a special guest who mused that in diplomatic circles she was in, she was told that some countries didn’t have relations with other countries. She observed, nonetheless, that women from those countries would always find a way to talk with each other. A Catholic, she offered a few words of Christian prayer, saying: “‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.’ She added: “A group women of such as this surely understands this,” and many nodded.
Hallah B., the wife of a prominent local Sheikh, gave a Muslim blessing for peace and protection. I was honored to be asked to present a Jewish prayer. I chose: Taher libenu l’avdecha b’emet – purify our hearts to serve You in truth; purify our hearts that we might truly serve You. I relished hearing these words translated into Arabic.
Ghada, a Palestinian Muslim woman who lives in the Old City, told us a story. In 1948, a Jewish man fleeing from Arabs was sheltered by her husband’s uncle. Nineteen years later, in 1967, the Jewish man returned to express gratitude for being sheltered. Ghada sighed, “It hurts me to say that sadly, my husband’s uncle had died so he wasn’t able to thank him.”
Another special guest was Amoun Sleem*, director of the Domari Society of Gypsies of Jerusalem. The Domari Center, celebrating its fifth anniversary, serves the social, cultural, and educational needs of this Muslim minority community which suffers from discrimination within the Palestinian population, high rates of adult and child illiteracy and poverty. The Center teaches classes in Arabic, English, and the Domari language, as well as vocational courses. http://domarisociety.googlepages.com/
After introductions, we shifted into pairs to speak from the heart with each other about what are personal strengths we can bring to peace work and conflict resolution. I paired with a young woman from South Tel Aviv named Lim who told me she is currently walking the Israel National Trail with Walk About Love, a group promoting non-violence and cultural exchange. http://www.walkaboutlove.org/
I told her of my eagerness to communicate with other American Jews about the conflict: that I believe the lives of the peoples here are tied together, and the true success of one people can come only with the success of the other people.
Ibtisam Mahameed*, another honored guest, twinkled as she announced in Arabic that Elana is her true sister. Before leading us in a closing meditation, she wanted to sing a song to Elana. The song turned out to be “Happy Birthday” in English and then in Arabic! Ibtisam led a beautiful meditation where we took each other’s hands, giving to one woman and receiving from another. http://jerusalempeacemakers2008.jerusalempeacemakers.org/ibtisam/index.html
This lovely multifaith event was a great way to celebrate a birthday!
*Elana Rozenman, Amoun Sleem, and Ibtisam Mahameed are featured in Sixty Years, Sixty Voices, a book project of PEACE x PEACE: http://www.60voices.org/