This is a story of heart, human
creativity, totality, and finally triumph in the midst of Middle East darkness.
It's a bit lengthy, but important to the new mythology for a new Middle East community and world.
Since the early '90s, every summer Melodye Feldman (BBfPeace@aol.com) in Denver, Colorado, and faithful supporters, have shepherded hundreds of teen girls from the Middle East to the BUILDING BRIDGES FOR PEACE summer camp. It's on the Web at:
The women, ages 14-18, have
come from Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza for 21-day intensive communication
workshops in the mountains of Colorado. They return home and
sustain their relationships as well as they can.
This summer seemed doubtful. The mindless violence was causing many -- not all -- Palestinians and Jews to give up, waiting for politicians and for "better times."
Yet even in the brutal days of May, 2002, Melodye wrote:
"Emails from participants in Jenin, Ramallah, Jerusalem and so forth are begging to have another program.
So, I am seeing what we can do.
I have two people in New York who have offered a "home" they own (more like a mansion) as a place for the girls to be housed while here, as well as helping with finding funders to "adopt" a girl to cover costs.
In times when it seems so dark, I can see what eight years of effort can bring about.
For these participants who have been through our program, it is a little light.
One of the girls in Jenin writes that 'every day I am getting more comfortable with the decision I have made, and that is the way of peace. I just need your support.'"
Melodye Feldman of BUILDING BRIDGES
FOR PEACE is a model of totality who will do, in her words, "anything to
save the next generation."
This is her story that she could finally tell in full at summer's end -- August 26, 2002:
IN TOUCH WITH THE PALESTINIAN AND ISRAELI GIRLS
On June 20th I left Denver in my Subaru and spent the next 7 weeks on the east coast doing "peace".
WOW! What a summer. I have . . .wanted to write many times but I needed to keep things quiet until the summer ended.
We had a Building Bridges for Peace program this summer and what a program it was!
I was certain that we would not be able to have a summer program because of the continued violence in Israel and Palestine.
In late spring I received an email from a past participant who was going to school in Jenin (West Bank).
She had been writing to me all year informing me of the situation in Jenin and what it was like for her, who believed in Peace, and what she learned at Building Bridges. . .(where she) had made friends with Israeli Jewish participants and bedame committed to working for Peace.
She now found herself in a place where there was no hope. Her friends and family in Jenin did not understand her beliefs. She felt all alone.
She would write and ask for my encouragement and she kept in touch with all her Israeli friends throughout the year.
In late Spring she wrote me saying that it was very important for us to do a program this summer -- she already knew that we were not planning to do one -- and that she would find participants in the West Bank, and that the girls in Israel were already selecting participants from both the Palestinian and Jewish communities.
All I had to do was raise the money for the program, hire the staff and prepare a program!
Over the course of the next few weeks a group of past BBfP participants in Israel and Palestine began selecting new campers and outlining a program and ideas that they wanted to incorporate into this years planning.
A CAMP LOCATION APPEARS
One of our biggest expenses for this program is rental facilities.
As fate would have it, I had received an email from a supporter of our program who lives in New York.
He was very upset with the current situation in the Mid East and asked if I would take the time to meet with him next time I was in New York.
On my next trip I met with him and a few of his friends. During the course of this meeting one of these friends told me that he had a home in South Jersey that he would love to donate to BBfP for any programs we wanted to have there. I said "thank you" and left it at that.
Once I received the email from Jenin I called him back and reminded him of his offer. He said "yes" immediately!
Now we had the house. And we had to limit the number of participants to 22 to accommodate the home.
RAISING SOME MONEY
This meant that my next hurdle was to raise the needed money to bring the girls over and to provide food, transportation, programming and salaries for staff.
I called staff that I have been working with for the past 9 years and put together a team. They all accepted with the knowledge that their work could be strictly volunteer.
Robert Dragotta, the man with the house, and Jeff Kent, the New York connection, began to galvanize New York and South Jersey friends to contribute what they could to keep costs down.
I called some friends of BBfP and asked for contributions.
We were able to raise $50,000 in two weeks! I knew I had enough for plane tickets and we would just have to be frugal with everything else to meet our budget.
GETTING THE GIRLS ACROSS BORDERS
The girls were selected and visas were issued with lightning speed (and wonderful help from the U.S. State Department and the Embassy in Jerusalem).
Our biggest hurdle was of course getting the Palestinian girls out of the West Bank.
It soon became apparent that they would not be able to travel through Israel and would have to travel through Jordan.
This meant permits from Israel and Jordan, and Jordan had just begun limiting daily the number of Palestinians, so many were stranded on the Allenby Bridge for days waiting.
We were not sure how long it would take for the girls to pass, so we decided to send them 4 days before their scheduled flight.
But wait, another twist!
Also during the past year a documentary filmmaker -- Lisa Gossels , who won an Emmy for her film "The Children of Chabanne: -- had been working with us wanting to make a film on BBfP.
All year we were not sure if the program would happen, so of course she was not sure if she would have a movie. But she kept in contact.
When I called Lisa to say the program looked like it was going to happen -- this was in May -- she began to put together a film crew both here and in Israel.
The crew began to interview the participants and their parents in Israel and the West Bank.
When the Israeli crew heard that the Palestinians might have trouble crossing the Israeli and Jordanian borders, they called in their "favors" with the Army and the Jordanians, and wrote a letter that the girls carried with them.
By the time the girls reached the border crossing, both checkpoints were ready for them. . .and let them pass as VIP's.
As I was picking up the Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinian participants at JFK, we got word that the Palestinians were getting ready to board their flight, and I would need to make the 2-1/2 hour trip back again the next night to pick them up also at JFK.
WELCOMING EXPERIENCES ON THE WAY TO CAMP
The Jewish Federation of Vineland, New Jersey prepared and donated our dinners.
The girls wanted to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, and the Federation set up the day at the Museum and paid for the bus as well. They met a local Congressman and toured the Capital.
Local merchants and individuals donated food, a gospel choir event, and B-B-Q, and evening of bowling and ice cream sundae's at a local Friendly's.
The girls spent a day in New York visiting the WTC site, meeting with Kofi Anan's assistant at the U.N., shopping and a seeing the play "Contact" -- Lincoln Center donated the tickets -- and meeting with the cast after the show.
REFLECTIONS ON CAMP
We spent 12 days together -- 22 young Palestinian and Israeli women made up of new and returning BBfP participants.
Each day I woke up and pinched myself.
What everyone, including me, thought impossible, these young women made possible.
And, understand this was no picnic.
Our communication workshops and programming were intense and demanding, as each young women told her story.
While we were at camp, the Israeli Army bombed an apartment building in Gaza, and a bomb planted by a Palestinian exploded in a cafeteria at Hebrew University.
And, the participants processed each event with each other.
Every day you could see the walls coming down. They began to trust the other. Each side admitted their stereotypes and fears of the other, and in the end each could not believe the friendships that they were making.
Both sides remarked how they never thought they would find themselves friends with the "enemy."
But here they were....and really, in their words, "loving each other."
The conversations remained intense...but towards the end of the two weeks they could communicate about the most sensitive and difficult issues and remind each other to "listen" and then spend the next activity laughing and playing together.
LEAVING FOR HOME
We have it all on film, and Lisa is working hard on raising funds for the next phase of the documentary.
The BBfP participants left the United States on August 2nd.
They left together on the bus for the 2-1/2 hour bus ride back up to JFK.
A short time later they boarded their planes -- separately -- one group heading for Israel, the other for Jordan and the long journey back into the West Bank.
ALREADY REUNITED TO SUSTAIN THEIR RELATIONSHIPS AND PURPOSE
PS: This past mid-August weekend -- just weeks after their arrival home -- all the BBfP participants met at a location in Israel where all felt safe.
They had somehow found their way, across borders and despite curfews. (As if magically.)
The Palestinian and Jewish girls spent the weekend together in retreat beginning to plan their follow-up program.
Our t-shirts this summer had a simple message that summed up all our feelings:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it's the only thing that ever has."
-- Margaret Mead
I have no doubt that all of us
"doing peace" have the unique understanding of how the world
Peace be with you,
Melodye Feldman, MSW
Executive Director /Co-Founder
Seeking Common Ground, P.O. Box 101958, Denver, CO 80250
303.698.9368 -- BBfPeace@aol.com -- http://buildingpeace.com