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Photos: Beit HaGefen Arab-Jewish Cultural Center
People dance in the streets of the mostly Arab neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas in Haifa, Israel, for the 25th Holiday of Holidays festival, which celebrates religious diversity.

Most days, I find news about Israel completely depressing. Then along comes a story about an annual three-religion celebration there, and I’m reminded that not everyone associated with the 70-year-old nation and its neighbors is keen on in endless war.

Dina Kraft writes at the Christian Science Monitor. “In the port city of Haifa, two young art curators, one Jewish and one a Palestinian citizen of Israel, are dealing with something decidedly less fraught [than the daily news]: They are planning the logistics of an art installation that will include 88 pounds of white pepper, za’atar, sumac, and ginger.

“The piece is an exploration of what notions of ‘home’ mean, a loaded concept in a land claimed by two peoples. It is planned as a centerpiece of a new art exhibition for the Holiday of Holidays, the only event of its kind in Israel and a rare celebration of religious and cultural diversity in the fractious Middle East. The festival honors Christmas, Hanukkah, and Muslim traditions over three weekends in December in a gathering that is part block party, part intercultural artistic extravaganza. …

“Every year there is a different theme and this one is ‘the third dimension,’ an invitation to look at what happens when different cultures and identities influence each other to create something new – a hybrid space – as Yael Messer describes it. Ms. Messer is curator of the art gallery run by the Beit HaGefen Arab-Jewish Cultural Center. Messer, who is Jewish, is going over plans with Haneen Abed, her deputy, a Palestinian Israeli, in their shared office. The staff of the center is made up of both Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel.

“The story of the Holiday of Holidays is also the story of Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city. Haifa likes to bill itself – though not without criticism – as the country’s capital of coexistence, a place where Jewish and Arab residents live more integrated lives.

“Across the country, most Jews and Arabs live separately even in so-called mixed towns and cities, such as Haifa, where the two groups usually inhabit different neighborhoods. Social interaction is especially rare.

“But the festival brings together people from both sides of the demographic divide to dance to music performed on outdoor stages, on streets festooned with holiday lights. Arabs and Jews together follow the path of food and literary tours through the alleyways and streets of the mostly Arab neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas, eating local offerings like hummus and baklava at food stalls and attending concerts of liturgical music at churches. The massive undertaking is organized by Beit HaGefen and funded by the city of Haifa.

“Upstairs from Messer and Ms. Abed, their colleague Hila Goshen, the cultural director of Beit HaGefen, has her laptop open to a color-coded schedule of the festival’s events.

“ ‘It seems like every year there is some war, or military operation, or suicide bombing that happens [during the planning season] and we ask, “What are we doing, bringing people together to hear music and hear each other?” ‘ says Ms. Goshen. ‘And then the festival happens and this place looks like the most normal place on earth. The magic happens.’ …

“She says the example of the gathering, brief as it is, shows this concept of shared society, a place where Arabs and Jews can live together and lead equal lives.

“ ‘I know all our issues are not being solved in this festival,’ she says. ‘But even having this kind of exposure to thinking a little bit differently is a seed we have to plant.’

“Some critics believe this is gauzy naiveté. They argue that people really come to the festival for the food, not the message of unity. But [Asaf Ron, the director of Beit HaGefen,] disagrees.

“ ‘I don’t think people come for the hummus or the knafeh,’ he says. ‘I think they come for the hope.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here. Check out past posts about the three religions interacting as the Daughters of Abraham, here, and in the pliable time of youth, here.

And for extra inspiration, click here to learn about the Parents Circle Family Forum, a beacon of light in Israel that brings together the bereaved on both sides of the conflict who understand that ending it can only come from the ground up.

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I learned about Open Doors for Refugees from my friend Anne, who for many months helped me guest blog at the Providence Granola Project. I miss her so much. She died a couple weeks ago in a freak biking accident. From now on, whenever I post about refugees, I will think of Anne.

This refugee-outreach story comes from the Wisconsin State Journal. Samara Kalk Derby writes, “Raphael Al Rubaye left Iraq for Madison eight months ago with his wife and two young daughters and has found a welcoming community here.

“He served with the U.S. Army in Iraq for six years in the American-led war against al-Qaida and the Taliban. He was brought to this country by Lutheran Social Services and now works as a case manager for the organization, helping in the resettlement of other refugees.

“His life in Iraq was ‘fun, terrible, dangerous, scary, happy, worried, everything,’ he said. ‘Just like any life.’ …

“Al Rubaye and his daughters were among about 200 people who took part in a community celebration, picnic and fundraiser hosted by the local group Open Doors for Refugees held [August 7] at the Olin Park shelter. …

“Open Doors for Refugees, a group dedicated to supporting the resettlement of refugees in the Madison area and welcoming them into the community, was started by Israeli native Efrat Livny. …

“ ‘One of the best things that’s happened to us is that we’ve gotten to be friends with Syrian families, which as an Israeli has been a little touchy,’ Livny said about herself and husband, Ken Baun. ‘But, oh my God, it’s been incredible.’

“It all started when she got the book ‘Soup for Syria: Recipes to Celebrate our Shared Humanity,’ and began making soup for her monthly lunches at [a business and community space she founded]. She would dedicate the meal to the welfare of Syrian refugees.

“She soon realized she needed to do more and began bringing in speakers and holding discussion circles. During those discussions, Livny asked people about their feelings. ‘How can we sit back when this is happening?’ she said.” More here.

People certainly bond over food. That is one reason the Providence Granola Project got into food as a way to give some refugees US workforce skills. I mentioned several refugee-based food businesses in a June post I wrote for the Providence Granola Project here.

Photo: Samara Kalk Derby
Parachute game at Sunday picnic hosted by Open Doors for Refugees in Olin Park, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Photo: Boston Globe
Al Filipov died on Sept. 11. He was on the plane from Boston.

After September 11, 2001, good works sprouted around the country, launched by people from all walks of life who were determined that goodness should have the last say.  The Huffington Post collected a bunch of these initiatives for one anniversary of the tragedy, here, but you can find examples in nearly every community.

In Concord, Al Filipov, who was on one of the planes, is honored in several ways, including by the Filipov Peace and Justice Forum.

Al’s son, Boston Globe reporter David Filipov, once recalled his father as “engineer, inventor, sailor, deacon, coach, husband, dad, raconteur.” The Filipov forum website adds that he was a painter and a human rights activist, noting,

“He sought out the best in people and cared passionately about the world in its beauty and pain. He earnestly believed in the power of an individual to make a difference in the world.”

The 2016 Al Filipov Peace & Justice Forum will take place on September 25 at the Trinity Congregational Church on Walden Street in Concord. Representatives from the Parents Circle-Families Forum are the featured guests. The Parents Circle is made up of bereaved Palestinian and Israeli families that have come together to support “peace, reconciliation and tolerance.”

As one member says in the video below, people from different sides of a conflict need to get to know one another as individuals and share commonalities in order to let go of “being right” all the time instead of creating peace. Otherwise any future agreement is just a cease fire.

The presentation will be from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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Maybe I could be a clown. One of my brothers has clowned for years, mostly at his church in Wisconsin. He really enjoys it.

This story by Elianna Bar-El story at Good magazine makes me want to know the same satisfaction medical clowns get from helping sick children. But clearly, it takes lots of training.

“On a recent visit to Wolfson Medical Center on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, Israel, Yolana Zimmerman is met with audible sighs of relief.

“ ‘Great! You’re here! We need you,’ says a nurse.

“Zimmerman is not a medical doctor. In fact, she casts quite a contrast to the typical image of a doctor with her pink leggings, cupcake apron, and eyelet bloomers — not to mention the underwear on her head and the stuffed monkey in her hands.

“Yolana ‘Yoyo’ Zimmerman is part of a team of medical clowns called Dream Doctors. The pioneering organization started in 2002 with three medical clowns at one hospital and today facilitates the work of more than 110 clowns across 28 hospitals in a country increasingly recognized as the vanguard of medical clowning. After this past April’s devastating earthquake in Nepal, for instance, the Israeli government sent an envoy from Dream Doctors to Kathmandu to work with affected children. As you might expect, the medical community is taking notice of the tiny nation’s zany medical practitioners. …

“ ‘Medical clowning has developed in Israel in a different way than anywhere else in the world,’ says Professor Ati Citron, creator and director of University of Haifa’s Medical Clowning program. ‘Medical clowns were absorbed into the medical system as part of the staff.’ …

“Walking into [a] hospital room, without missing a beat, Yoyo directs her attention to a religious man sitting beside his daughter who is sleeping in a hospital bed. He is obviously reading from the Bible. ‘Is that a good book?’ Yoyo asks. ‘I think I’ve heard something about it. … Who wrote it again?’ The father looks up at her, grinning in surprise. In the same moment Yoyo doubles over with genuine laughter, igniting a cacophony of noises from a squeezable rooster in her apron. …

“In Israel, medical clowns are involved in over 40 medical procedures, including accompanying patients to CT scans, X-rays, MRIs, chemotherapy, radiation treatment, physiotherapy, and rehabilitation. Clowns in Israel also work solo to initiate a more interactive, one-on-one relationship with patients. … Dream Doctors, which works closely with Israel’s Ministry of Health and the University of Haifa … also hosts monthly workshops for the clowns where medical staff provide them with a range of medical knowledge and training on hygiene, vaccinations, before-and-after procedures for entering a room, role-playing, case studies, and more.”

Read all the details at Good.

Photo: Ziv Sade

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I was so happy to get this hopeful update on Kids4Peace Boston today.

“For a while last summer, as violence escalated in Israel/Palestine, the possibility of Israeli, Palestinian and US youth coming together for a Kids4Peace camp seemed pretty unlikely.

“But despite countless barriers and uncertainties, all 25 young leaders — Muslims, Christians and Jews from Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Boston — did make it to be together on that beautiful mountaintop in New Hampshire. …

“Being in the presence of one another and listening, really listening, to each other’s stories is the crucial first step in the Kids4Peace experience.

” ‘I came to Kids4Peace to try and understand the different viewpoints that each kid has. Some people don’t understand that someone with a different opinion than you can be right without making you wrong.’
~Participant from Boston

“In the midst of violence, in the midst of despair, there are people who turn towards each other rather than away. This summer 25 peace leaders and their families proved that they are the kind of people who choose to turn towards. These young leaders walked away from camp feeling empowered by and connected to others who believe, as they do, that together peace is possible.

” ‘To be a peacemaker is to hold our hands together, and to help each other not killing each other, to treat each other as humans.’ 
~Participant from Jerusalem”

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Margarida Santos Lopes has a hopeful story at the Christian Science Monitor about an Israeli rabbi and a Palestinain who are friends.

“Shaul David Judelman is an Israeli rabbi who moved from Seattle to Bat Ayin, a religious community in the occupied West Bank.

“Ziad Abed Sabateen is a Palestinian farmer who endured imprisonment during the first intifada against the Israelis more than 20 years ago and whose family was dispossessed of most of its land to accommodate Jewish settlers.

“The two men are good neighbors, friends, and business partners – not enemies.

“Mr. Judelman and Mr. Sabateen are committed to ‘peaceful coexistence’ between Israelis and Palestinians, whether they live together in one state or two separate states.

“The majority of those in both their camps may find it hard to understand the two men’s close relationship. But neither side repudiates them as traitors or collaborators. …

“On a mountaintop with a view of the Mediterranean Sea … Judelman and Sabateen plan to create the Heavens Field Farm, which will put ’emphasis on belonging to the land, not ownership of it,’ according to their joint manifesto.

“Their idea is to run an organic farm that will sell vegetables in local markets, support families in need, and attract volunteers and tourists. Among their partners are a joint Israeli Palestinian journal, called Maktub, and other nonpolitical groups such as Eretz Shalom (Land of Peace).”

Read more to understand how each came to their worldview through different paths.

Photo: Udi Goren
Shaul David Judelman (l.) and Ziad Abed Sabateen, in Bethlehem. They want to create an organic farm in the West Bank as a project for peace.

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A musician and his scholar wife have created an unusual show based on their visits to Israel and Palestine and on the music and sounds they absorbed there.

Joel Brown writes in the Boston Globe: “Performer Yuri Lane grew up the son of artists in San Francisco’s then-gritty Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, which he found to be good preparation for traveling the West Bank as a Jew.

“ ‘I learned a lot about tolerance, and seeing people for who they are, not judging them,’ he says. ‘Also, some street smarts.’

“Lane began visiting Israel and the West Bank in the late 1990s, following his girlfriend, now wife, Rachel Havrelock, a religion scholar who studied on both sides of the Green Line that marks Israel’s pre-1967 borders.”

Together they have created “From Tel Aviv to Ramallah: A Beatbox Journey,” which they call a “hip-hop travelogue.”

Lane tells the Globe his travels “just kind of opened me up, just being Jewish in Israel . . . and also traveling across the Green Line and seeing a lot of similarities between Tel Aviv and Ramallah. … The night life and the jazz cafes and places where people can smoke water pipes and hang out, listening to the sounds of music, from sped-up Bedouin music to hip-hop. I really just tried to be a sponge.” More from the Globe.

By the way, you can hear Yuri’s harmonica beatboxing on YouTube. (Had to look up beatboxing: “a form of vocal percussion primarily involving the art of producing drum beats, rhythm, and musical sounds using one’s mouth, lips, tongue, and voice.”)

Photograph: The Boston Globe

 

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