Quilters help Palestinians, Jews, others to

link patchworks of stories, views, hopes

Sunday, 18 February 2007


     Quilt-making is among the creative arts now flowering for the Middle East public peace process.
     Much has been said about quilts and their creators:

"When life goes to pieces and gives you scraps, make a quilt."

"Blessed are the Piecemakers."

"Blessed are the children of the Piecemakers, for they shall inherit the quilts!"

"Quilters make great comforters."

"Quilters affect eternity.  They can never know where their influence stops."

"Quilts are like relationships, stitched together one piece at a time."

     In 1999, the ground-breaking Middle East Peace Quilt -- http://vcn.bc.ca/quilt -- was begun by Canadian Elizabeth Shefrin ( simaeliz@yahoo.ca ).
     By 2000, her world-class artistic creation by hundreds of global contributors crossed its first international border to be exhibited in California, USA.
     Continuing to tour North America, wherever the quilt travels Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities come together to organize its exhibition and forge new bonds.
     When Elizabeth travels with it, she speaks about the many hopeful projects in which Israelis and Palestinians continue to work together towards a just and peaceful solution for both peoples.
     Over 500 such success stories are preserved at http://traubman.igc.org/messages.htm .

     Next month, March 17-31, 2007, Elizabeth will again travel to Israel and Palestine to collect images and words for a new art project.
     As she travels, she will be pulling material out her bag of fabric, and inviting the people she meets to create fabric self-portraits.
     They will include the words and images -- problems, activities and dreams -- they would like to share with the world.
     Returning home, Elizabeth will incorporate these portraits into a series of fabric art pieces.
     The completed project will be a documentary -- not in film -- but in fabric.

     Elizabeth Shefrin says:  "My experience with the Middle East Peace Quilt has shown me that art can often reach audiences in a way that written or spoken words cannot.
     "I hope this project will bring stories of Palestinians and Israelis to North American audiences."


     A new initiative has been birthed by The Faith Quilts Project of Harvard Divinity School.
     At first, most of thirty-eight lead quilters attended workshops in collaborative quilt-making and dialogue facilitation.
     Then they worked with single faith communities as well as multi-faith and inter-faith groups on fifty-seven faith quilts.
     Those 57 quilts will hang permanently in churches, mosques, temples, synagogues, and community centers in the Greater Boston area.

     From that, The Middle East Dialogue Quilt endeavor has emerged:
     It is co-sponsored by The Dialogue Forum, The Public Conversations Project, and The Pluralism Project.
     Individuals and organizations are invited to meet and help create squares for the collaborative quilt.
     No experience is needed and interested citizens can contact ERonald@thedialogueforum.org .
     The quilt is being made as a gift for a Quaker Meeting House in Ramallah, where Israelis and Palestinians gather to build relationships and invent a better future.

     Quilting can help us to Connect -- with our past, present and preferred future.
     With each other, even "enemies."
     With a visual patchwork of memories, what is profound for us.
     Of visions of what can be.
     What we can create.

                - L&L

Published in The Boston Globe -- 17 February 2007
By Rich Barlow

     History recalls no instance of a quilting bee having changed the world. But might one nudge humanity, slightly, toward its better nature?
     Hoping against hope that the answer might be yes, 30 men and women hunched over tables piled with colorful fabrics in a stately room at Harvard Divinity School last Sunday. The quilters, some of whom had done such work before, earnestly scissored their way through cloth and glued swatch upon swatch to make self-portraits. Some of their designs will adorn a quilt bound for a vortex of religious and ethnic animosity, the West Bank city of Ramallah, where it will hang in a Quaker meeting house.
     "The whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict does make me very sad," said Vinny Dorio, a carpenter from Roslindale whose self-portrait included a tear. "Even a little thing like this, just to make this quilt [for] Ramallah, which someone sees and says, 'We have to stop this.' You never know.'
     His wife, Elizabeth Quinlan, depicted her head with orange fabric atop it, representing fire. A spiritual symbol, the flame represented the burning hope for peace, she said. Considered an element in primitive times, fire also captured her own spirituality, which is in nature. "I grew up with a lot of different faiths, and I rejected a lot of them," she says. "And I'm still kind of searching."
     The idea of resurrecting a ritual of neighborliness as an instrument for modern-day peacemaking sprouted in the mind of divinity student Emily Ronald last summer, when Israel's war against Hezbollah terrorists advertised once more the Middle East's pathology of violence. "I felt very far away from the conflict," Ronald said. "As I felt powerless to act, I felt powerless to speak."
     Then she met a Palestinian Quaker visiting Harvard during a trip to the United States.
     Ronald, who describes her own spirituality as pagan, had worked on the Faith Quilts Project, which ran for three years until ending last year and in which artist Clara Wainwright coaxed dozens of area residents to make self-portraits expressing their religious or spiritual outlooks.
     Describing the project to the activist, Ronald intrigued the woman with the idea of designing a quilt for the stone wall of the Ramallah meeting house. The quilts, representing a coming together of different peoples, would express the longing to overcome the human divisions at the house. Because of travel restrictions, Ronald said, "It is very, very difficult for Israelis and Palestinians to gather in Ramallah at the meeting house."
     From the self-portraits made last Sunday, Ronald will choose the ones to make into a collage for the quilt. Then she'll ask interested people to help her sew and put batting, the padding, in the final product, which she hopes to finish by summer.
     That the quilters talked about faith and the Middle East while they labored was more than just coincidence. Among the quilting bee's sponsors was the Public Conversations Project, a Watertown group that arranges and trains people in mutually respectful discussions of public issues.
     Treading gingerly on the difficult Arab-Israeli debate, the organizers of the bee nonetheless asked participants to talk with each other about their views of the conflict and to share bits of themselves, such as their faith, with their fellow portraitists.
     A. Reyyan Bilse, a 27-year-old graduate student at Tufts, made sure to depict the Muslim head scarf she wears in her portrait because "that's a huge part of me." Growing up in Turkey, she was close enough to the guns of the Middle East that the strife was omnipresent on the news, and seemingly eternal.
     "When I was in high school, we went to Israel as a tour from Turkey, and then I just saw there that they're not talking to each other," she said. "I mean, there are some neighborhoods where Muslim people live, where Jewish people live -- they can't understand each other."
     "Women are taking over Harvard today," triumphantly declared Wainwright, who participated in the quilting. She was referring to the appointment of Drew Gilpin Faust as the university's first female president, but she could just as easily have been noting the gender ratio among the quilters, only a half dozen of whom were men.
     Yet, as the tear on Vinny Dorio's fabric face showed, the hope for peace in the room knew no gender division.

Questions, comments or story ideas can be sent to spiritual@globe.com.