Avi Zer-Aviv (AviZer@yahoo.com), born in Tel-Aviv, is a student at the University of Toronto, where he majors in Arab-Jewish Coexistence.
     Avi explained to us:  "Having been brought up with all the typical fears and prejudices around Palestinians and Arabs, it was not until I really listened to the 'other' that I realized how flawed my own perceptions had been." 
     So he continues listening and learning, including in the Arab-Jewish Dialogue of Toronto.
     Wishing to expand the Dialogue to the University of Toronto campus and beyond, Avi helped fellow UT friend, James Sevitt (JSevitt@hotmail.com), organize a remarkable gathering in Canada last Thursday evening, February 6, 2003. 
     Their event for 100 participants began with singing, music and theatre. 
     It and then moved on to a public sharing and discussion of personal experiences of change -- realizations that expanded the views of these Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians -- and helped them become more open to the other.
     Their students' invitation had said:

Education, Celebration and Exposure
    Palestinians, Jews, Arabs, Israelis
             and concerned others
                     to engage
       in a celebration of our heritages
                   and dialogue
            to listen to all narratives
     see each other's equal humanity
     and make coexistence a reality
               for the good of all

Published in the Toronto (Canada) Star, Friday, February 7, 2003

Arabs, Jews use song, theatre to open dialogue

U of T event builds bridges

People asked 'to listen - not argue'

Chris Sorensen
Staff writer

        James Sevitt wanted to find a way to talk about the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians without starting a riot at the University of Toronto.
        He saw how a scheduled speech by former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu tore Montreal's Concordia University apart last September, and how an appearance at York University last month by a controversial Middle East expert tied the campus in a knot.
        So Sevitt opted for music and theatre, hoping the arts would be less divisive way to start a discussion about issues that rub nerves raw.
        And it worked.
        More than 100 people gathered inside a theatre at the U of T's Koffler Institute yesterday evening to participate in an interfaith dialogue aimed at building bridges between people of Arab and Jewish origin.
        The event, which Sevitt organized with fellow U of T student Avi Zer-Aviv, began with singing, music and theatre and then moved on to a public discussion and sharing of personal experiences between Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians.
          This is a dialogue, not a debate." stressed Janis Galway, who moderated the discussion portion of the evening.  "We're asking people to speak from the heart and to listen - not argue."
        Activists say similar events are starting to gain momentum on university campuses south of the border, as more and more pro-Israeli and Pro-Palestinian students attempt to reach out to one another.
        "My feeling really is that we should take the opportunity that we live in a relatively calm climate and ...take that opportunity to interact with each other," Sevitt said.
        Several times during the evening the crowded theatre burst into applause, once causing Roula Siad, a Palestinian-born woman who played music alongside her Jewish husband, to break into tears before plucking a single string on her qanun.
        "I never went to anything Jewish before I met David," the singer-dancer said between sobs.  Said's husband, David Buchbinder, added that their marriage has sometimes created friction between their respective families, although he praised them both for "rising to the occasion."
        Still some were nervous about provoking a negative reaction by airing their views publicly, regardless of the medium.
        Terence Shawn, 48, wrote a small play that he performed alongside two other people.  Shaw played the part of a wealthy Canadian Jew who disowns his cousin, an Israeli, because the man is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
        "I was glad people weren't afraid to laugh," Shawn said.
        Judith Weisman, 72, who played Shawn's wife in the skit, said the play hit close to home.  Raised in Canada and the United States, Weisman said she began a process of soul searching that recently led her to the West Bank to see how the "other side" lived, which the rest of her family frowned upon.