Something unusual for New York occured last Sunday afternoon, March 25, 2001.
After 3 months of planning at the Park Slope Jewish Center synagogue, 135 Jews, Arabs, and supportive others met for their first, introductory gathering about Palestinian-Jewish dialogue. There was passion and compassion. Hard-to-swallow statements, anger and tears, listening and learning. In the end, 85 of the attendees said it was good; they wanted to come together again.
Co-sponsored with other congregations of the Brooklyn Brownstone Jewish Coalition, the focus was a public conversation between a Palestinian American, Aref Dajani, and an American Jew, Walter Ruby. Both have dialogue experience.
Walter Ruby (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a former New York and Moscow correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, who lived in Israel for 4 years. His op-ed pieces have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor.
Aref Dajani (Aref.N.Dajani@census.gov) is a mathematical statistician working with the U.S. Census Department in Washington, DC. He is the son of a Palestinian refugee from Beit Dajan, a village outside Jaffa. Aref grew up outside Washington in a predominantly Jewish community where he became sympathetic to both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Aref and Wlater -- they don't agree on everything -- spoke together to promote a vision of two peoples "cherishing and celebrating together the tiny jewel-like land both call home." But they don't agree on everything.
The organizers described their motivation: "Our borough, Brooklyn, is home to many diverse communities, each creating vibrant neighborhoods. Among these is one of the largest Arab American communities and one of the largest Jewish communities in the country. Unfortunately, these two communities rarely speak with each other, so misconceptions abound, while we ignore the common ground we do share. Very often, the conflicts in the Middle East, in Israel and Palestine, places where we were born or where we have family and friends, compel us to distance ourselves from one another. We separate ourselves despite the fact that we are one another's doctors, store owners, teachers and neighbors."
Preceding this "first" for New York was a February 4, 2001, synagogue gathering to start "to bring peace and social justice issues in Israel to the forefront of American Jewry's concerns," a major goal of our Reform movement.
Anyone interested in the next dialogue meeting on Sunday, April 22, 2001, can write to Marcia Kannry (email@example.com), whose interest, energy, and persistence helped find new people and bring them through the door together.