Dear Colleagues in Palestinian-Jewish relationship building,
The newest Dialogue in America is JADA -- "Jewish Arab Dialogues in Atlanta."
In their enthusiasm and commitment, they have already created a Web site to tell their story at:
At the same time there, two Atlanta women -- one Arab, one Jewish -- are appearing side-by-side to tell their stories and help people experience and appreciate the rich cultures and equal humanity of both of their fine peoples.
Audrey Galex (AGalex@bellsouth.net) and B.J. Abraham are making a difference.
Side-by-side, expanding the circles of relationship, we surely can build a shared, successful future. --L&L
Published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution -- April 24, 2001
Storytellers help foster peace between Arabs, Jews
By Moni Basu
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer
Professional storytellers insist that everyone has a story to tell. It could be a story found in a faraway place. Or it could be in your own back yard. It could be in a smile. Or in tears.
Audrey Galex and B.J. Abraham have all those elements in their story. But their tale is unfinished. Theirs relates to the Middle East. And to coexistence.
Galex is a Jewish woman, originally from Illinois. Abraham, a Christian of Lebanese descent, grew up in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. They traveled in parallel -- sometimes overlapping -- circles in the decade after joining the Southern Order of Storytellers, a group of 285 people in and around Atlanta.
Their lives, they found, are intertwined in ways they had not imagined. Beyond the culture, language and food of the Mediterranean, they discovered by accident that Galex's great-grandparents owned a store on the street in Clarksdale, Miss., where Abraham spent her childhood.
Following a Middle Eastern music program put on by an Israeli Jew, an Israeli Arab and a Lebanese in February 2001, Galex and Abraham spent countless hours at their kitchen tables putting together a storytelling program that would help foster peace between Arabs and Jews.
"I was so saddened when the latest intifada broke out," said Galex, who lived in Israel from 1985 to 1987. "I had really thought peace was around the corner. I had been very silent about peace between our two peoples. But I decided I didn't want to be quiet anymore."
The two friends shared suitcases filled with story and poetry books and combed public libraries and the Internet for Jewish and Arab folklore.
They added their personal stories and music to weave together a one-hour presentation called "Tapestry," which has taken on greater meaning as the conflict in Israel rages beyond control.
"Storytelling is an amazingly powerful tool," said Steven Holl, a storyteller and therapist in Traverse City, Mich., who has used his art to deal with difficult or taboo topics such as racism and alcoholism. "It's a non-threatening way to present a point of view without putting others on the defensive."
Holl was a teenager when the racial riots of 1967 erupted in Detroit. He tells the story of his Uncle Roy, who refused to hire African-Americans at his Detroit glove factory in the 1960s. "That puts people less on edge than to say all white business owners were racist," he said.
"There is all this emotional charge about the Middle East. People on both sides are hurting so much," Holl said. "The thing that is powerful is that on a grass-roots level, storytelling gets people talking to one another."
It also reaches out to people through universal themes, Galex said.
"Sometimes I think stories bypass the brain and speak to the heart," Galex said. "Stories are healing. There might be details in a story that many people can identify with."
Galex and Abraham have been presenting "Tapestry" since last May, usually in schools and places of worship. They said they would like to take their show to secular venues where the audiences are more mixed.
In traditional dress, the two women walk onto the stage holding objects of hospitality from their respective cultures.
Galex holds a Hamsa, or Hand of Fatima, a protection against evil for both Jews and Muslims. Abraham carries a brass platter found in Lebanese homes that says "Ahlan Wa Sahlan," which means welcome in Arabic.
Abraham tells the story of her first trip to her ancestral homeland. She visited the remote mountains of Lebanon and the shell of the house that once belonged to Jiddy (grandfather).
"I yelled to the mountains, 'Jiddy, I'm here!' and I know he heard me," Abraham says. "You know, I wanted to go to Israel, to the Holy Land, but what's so sad is that if I went, I wouldn't have been allowed to re-enter Lebanon. I didn't understand the separation between us when we were little, and I still don't understand it.
"On both sides, perhaps our fears fuel our hatred and mistrust, Is it possible to overcome our fears?" Abraham asks.
Galex replies, "Ever since I was 12 years old, I've tried to put into action what I said in my bat mitzvah speech -- that the only way to understand someone else's plight is to 'walk a mile in someone else's moccasins.' "
"You thought that deeply when you were 12?" Abraham counters.
From there, Galex dives into a story of an Israeli soldier who laid down his gun for an accordion.
"Tapestry" incorporates a Chinese folk tale about an elephant who scoffs at a hummingbird's effort to hold up the sky. "Do you think those little feet can hold up the sky?" asks the elephant. "Not alone, but each must do what he can, and this is what I can do," the bird replies.
Galex also tells "The Story of the Earth" from the Talmud, which tackles the dilemma of sharing land. Galex and Abraham also have written their own narratives, named after Jewish "Chopped Liver," and the Lebanese national dish, "kibbe." The stories relate experiences of growing up "different."
"Sometimes stories that have a serious message can amuse us. We can have healing through humor," Galex said. " 'Chopped Liver' allows me to see both the positive aspects and the drawbacks of being Jewish."
"Tapestry" concludes with a poem and a quote cited by Abraham: "Once you've heard someone's story, they can no longer remain your enemy."
For more information about the next presentation of "Tapestry," call Galex at 404-636-2702 or Abraham at 404-633-3277.