If they can get along in the Midwest, maybe they can in the Mideast.
That's the message organizers of a Midwestern regional conference on Jewish-Palestinian relations hope to send this weekend.
About 50 people who have been involved in Jewish-Palestinian discussions in various American cities will gather in Jeffersonville, Ind., for a weekend of dialogue.
The event will begin with an interfaith peace service at The Temple synagogue in Louisville tonight, which will highlight the fact that the three major religious groups rooted in the Middle East will commemorate significant holy days next week.
The conference will bring "people from all sides who are unified in sending a message to our administration, that peace in the Middle East affects our lives here," said Bashar Masri, a member of the Together for 2 States. The group consists of Louisville-area Jews and Palestinians who have met regularly for discussions and are urging the United States to support the creation of an independent Palestine that would exist side by side with Israel.
"You have to be fair to all sides and give them their dignity," said Masri, an American citizen who is a native of the West Bank city of Nablus.
Len and Libby Traubman of San Mateo, Calif., are organizing the conference as part of their effort to link groups that have been having Jewish-Palestinian dialogues across the country. The couple have been involved in such discussions in the San Francisco area.
They chose the Louisville area for the Midwestern conference after learning about the local group bringing Israeli and Palestinian youth music groups here last year. The two music groups, which had never met before, performed together at various sites in the Louisville area, and Masri said they have corresponded since returning to the Middle East.
The Midwestern conference will include about 50 participants from Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio, as well as representatives from the Traubmans' California group.
"It's as grass-roots as you can get," Len Traubman said. "Every group has a different personality in response to a different community."
But they share the goal of breaking down the enmity between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East.
"An enemy is someone whose story we have not heard," he said. After hearing someone's story, he said, "instead of wanting the best just for yourself, you start wanting the best for the other, as well."
Although the conference is thousands of miles away from the conflict , Traubman said such discussions can bear fruit. They show the American government that its citizens want a peaceful resolution in the Middle East, he said.
Also, Traubman said grass-roots groups can help in small ways, such as last year's visit by the music groups to Louisville and the creation of a peace camp in California, where Israelis and Palestinians gather for meals, recreation and discussions.
Mark Isaacs, another participant in the local Together for 2 States group, said he's looking forward to the conference.
"We've been doing our own thing in Louisville for five years," he said. "We can learn a lot from each other."
The part of the conference in Jeffersonville , to be held tomorrow and Sunday at the Ramada Inn Riverfront, is not open to the public. Attendees were invited because of their long-term role in Jewish-Palestinian dialogues.
But the public can attend the peace service at 6:30 p.m. today at The Temple, 5101 U.S. 42.
"This is an opportunity for us to share something of that (dialogue) experience with a much broader community," Isaacs said.
Participants will offer prayers for peace in Arabic, English and Hebrew, and will receive blue plastic bracelets containing the word for peace in all three languages.
Next week, Jews will mark the start of their new year with Rosh Hashana, while Muslims will mark the start of their holy month of Ramadan. Many Christian groups will observe World Communion Sunday, an event designed to cross denominational boundaries.
Web site devoted to Second Midwest Palestinian-Jewish Dialogue Weekend