(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:
"AN EVENING OF ENGAGEMENT"
Education, Celebration and Exposure
Palestinians, Jews, Arabs, Israelis
in a celebration of our heritages
to listen to
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,
Arabs, Jews use song, theatre to open
U of T event builds bridges
People asked 'to listen - not argue'
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.