Palestinian, Israeli young women at camp
change fear and hatred into love
Monday, 21 August 2006
Amy Eilberg ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) for many years has
been offering spiritual counseling to people struggling with illness and grief,
and helping people to explore their spiritual lives.
In 2006, she increasingly found herself called to involve herself in grassroots peace-making work between Jews and Palestinians.
Amy wrote of her excitement when the opportunity opened up for her to participate in "Building Bridges for Peace."
This summer program in the Rocky Mountains helps Palestinian and Jewish young women from the Middle East and
Amy spent two and a half weeks with 75 young women seeking relationship and understanding, while war raged in
Below is her article about Building Bridges for Peace, one of ten North American camp program for the
She said: "I've published lots of things over the years, but I've never been as excited about sharing anything."
Published by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency -- Thursday 17
On the Web at http://www.jta.org/page_view_story.asp?intarticleid=16966&intcategoryid=5
Women from different cultures change fear and hatred into love
Rabbi Amy Eilberg
DENVER, Aug. 16 (JTA) Outside, war raged. Each days newspaper brought images of destruction and hate; hopelessness reigned. Yet on a small college campus in
This summer, the programs 13th year, 75 young women from
This summer, the staff, of which I was a member, feared that conditions on the ground might deter participants from coming or that the level of trauma and pain might be too great to allow the program to do its usual magic of transforming stereotypes into deep understanding, changing suspicion, fear and hatred into love. Not a single participant stayed away. The young women came, full of emotion, youthful vitality and girlish energy, and with their capacity for hope and transformation, incredibly, intact.
The young women, ages 16 to 20, and their counselors, ages 20 to 25, plunged quickly and deeply into the essential issues that divide them, exploring the dynamics of the conflict that have kept the people of the Middle East at war since long before they were born.
One day, paper bags were hung from the walls of the meeting room, marked with evocative words like soldier, martyr, Hezbollah, and occupation. The participants wrote their thoughts and feelings about these trigger words and placed them anonymously into the paper bags.
By the next day, the staff had written all the responses on large sheets of paper. The participants walked around the room in complete silence, horrified by the stereotypes, hatred and pain that so many of us carry, and struck by the starkly contrasting meanings these realities have for the different communities.
The next day, mixed groups Israeli, Palestinian and American created and presented timelines of their peoples histories. We were all confronted with a visual image of the different realities inhabited by the Israelis and Palestinians. The two groups were worlds apart even in their description of the most basic facts of the conflict that define all of their lives.
Participants began to struggle with the program and their counselors; hopelessness began to take hold. Every few days news filtered in that loved ones had been killed back home. They held one another and took turns wiping each others tears.
Not all their time was spent in difficult conversation. The young women played and made art together and did volunteer work in the community.
And at each meal time, they erupted into song. They sang serious, meaningful songs expressing yearnings for a better world If I Had a Hammer, Lean on Me and Imagine and they sang silly, joyful songs with delightful choreographies that filled the dining hall with youthful exuberance. They sang songs of peace in English, in Hebrew, and in Arabic.
At such moments, it seemed that nothing divided them. Enemies were becoming friends. At late-night staff meetings, counselors released the emotion accumulated during the day, when they labored to respond to participants unanswerable questions and worked to maintain the safe, sacred and hope-filled container of the program.
One particularly painful night, two young women who looked remarkably alike one a beautiful, eloquent Palestinian college student and one a beautiful, eloquent Israeli who had just completed her army service fell into a deep sense of hopelessness. What if their anguished doubts were right? Was change really possible in their troubled, beloved land? How could they imagine going home, now a place full of violence, hatred and fear?
The two young women began to sob, each in her own place in the circle, until they stepped into the center of the circle and embraced each other. They held one another for a long time, two dark-haired, dark-skinned young women, comforting one another, easing the pain and fear by carrying it together.
When we thought the campers were ready, we challenged them to the ultimate empathy exercise. Having placed the participants in mixed duos an Israeli with a Palestinian from the
Afterward, we asked the young women what they had gained from this exercise. Their answers were profoundly moving. Its good for me to know what the other side is feeling. I realized that the other side also has pain. Wow! I didnt know that they look or feel the way I do about the situation. I felt so supported and understood. I grew more hopeful because I felt Id been heard. I felt she understood me and felt my pain.
As the end of camp drew near, a palpable sadness descended. Loving friends clung to each other with a sense of urgency to spend every last moment together. In a closing circle, many of the young women talked about the pain of going home to a place full of violence and hatred, where no one would understand their experience of having an enemy become a beloved friend. Others offered blessings, challenging one another to believe in the world they had created together, and to claim their role as leaders in changing their reality and in creating a more peaceful, loving future.
At the closing lunch, shared with an appreciative community of supporters in
Od yavo shalom aleinu . . . Salaam.
Leyahela alayna isalaam . . . Shalom.
May peace come to us and to all the world Salaam, Shalom.
Rabbi Amy Eilberg is the co-founder of the