Saturday, January 19, 2008

Perspectives from another traveler

Michael Ramos' thoughts on Sabella and Shabbat dinner:


We met with Dr. Edward Sabella from the Middle East Council of Churches. He noted that the Christian population in Israel/Palestine is less than 2% of the population. The Christian community provides schools, clinics and social services that are critically needed within the Palestinian population. Despite the small and diminishing number of Christians in Jerusalem and Israel/Palestine as a whole, Dr. Sabella believes there is an important role for Christian communities in the United States to play in this area.

These include: 1) strengthening the Christian presence here; 2) conveying that the conflict is political and that the solution is political and not religious; and, 3) ensuring that the core of our faith is put into play to help resolve the political conflict. In addition, the Christian community provides an important third dimension to the communication among Christians, Jews and Muslims. Our mission is to foster common ground based on mutual respect.

While we began our conversation on a down note, based on concerns about President Bush's willingness to follow through on the difficult issues on the road to peace, we felt energized hearing about his efforts to form a Christian-Jewish group in Galilee to provide a joint training of trainers in conflict resolution.

In the end, I detected hope in his presentation: rooted in the fact that peace benefits all the parties involved; rooted in schools which welcome children from a variety of backgrounds; rooted in the historic living together here of diverse people who could one day live in a Jerusalem that is an open city in the midst of an Israel and Palestine with clearly defined boundaries. The faith community is invited to, practically-speaking, build relationships across political lines and articulate how our lives are intertwined as we seek a just solution to this political conflict.


Four members of our delegation enjoyed a lovely Shabbat dinner with a Jewish family in Jerusalem. After sharing prayers for the occasion, we savored turkey soup, halibut, potatoes, steak, rice and a delicious cake. The husband in our host-couple has been a Jerusalemite for 5 generations and works for a technology firm. His wife came to Israel as a teenager. Born in New York like me, she came to Israel as a teenager. She is a teacher of gifted children. Their two sons are in their early 20s, one of whom is serving in the military currently; the older son who was with us had just finished his three required years of duty. We were impressed when he served us and cleared the table.

I think we were all struck by the great openness and hospitality of this family to complete strangers. Our discussion was wide-ranging, including the diversity within our various Christian and Jewish traditions, travels in China and policy toward to Palestinians and to temporary workers and immigrants to Israel.

The work of peace begins with dinners in homes such as these. The teacher described how she helped one Palestinian child who was acting out toward another Palestinian child (the only two in her class). She had the children form a circle and asked each of the children to give one compliment to the boy who was having a hard time. Each spoke to the child, who was touched by the praise, and his behavior changed. When Israeli and Palestinian children can sit together in a circle, affirm each other's dignity and bring out the best in each other so that both may live to their full potential, we may have a key to positive future relations between peoples. The woman from Palestine at the dinner from our delegation and the woman who cooked our delicious meal ended the evening with a profound embrace.


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