Published Sunday, April 18, 1999, in the San Jose Mercury News.

Traditional enemies meet as friends


    IT WAS Sarah calling to Hagar. It was Mohammed, Jesus and Isaac.
    Peninsula Jews and Palestinians gathered for "A Celebration of Freedom for All the Children of Abraham, Hagar and Sarah.''
    The Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group held a spring dinner in a San Mateo deli owned by Palestinian members Nahida and Adham Salem.
    On ceremonial plates were items of the cycle of life, including gobbets of powdery chocolate that represented earth and sprouts that symbolized grass.
    Participants read parts from a script representing Jews and Palestinians. They dipped herbs in salt water and ate the sweet charoset.     For some, tears welled during this reading in rich, cultural accents by two women:
    Palestinian: "I am calling you, oh Sarah. This is your sister Hagar. . . . Here is my son, Ismael, . . . We share the sons of Abraham, two peoples, one tribe.''     Jew: "Oh yes, I am your Sarah. . . . But it wasn't 'til my Isaac lay under the knife that I recognized your peril. . . . We will not survive as strangers. We must speak each other's name.''
    Both: "We must hear the prayers. . . . That all of our children may call this land their home.''
    Since the first meeting in 1992, the group has met 85 times in a Jewish-Palestinian living-room dialogue.
    It is a public peace project, says Len Traubman, a Jewish pediatric dentist, who, with his wife, Libby, was a founder.
    "We are continuing to learn to transform strangers into friends and enemies into partners,'' he said.
    "It is wonderful provided you can multiply it by 1,000,'' said Gabriel Salomon of the University of Haifa, who is temporarily at Stanford University.
    "The more you have, the more the grass-roots movement is felt,'' he said.
    Also from the campus was Linda Gradstein, National Public Radio correspondent in Jerusalem, who is on leave as a Knight Fellow at Stanford.
    "I think the only way the peace process will work is if people learn to listen and respect the other side,'' she said.
    "Israelis look at Palestinians and see suicide bombers and Palestinians look at Israelis and see soldiers who have occupied what they see as their land.''
    Elias Botto of San Mateo, who is a Christian Palestinian born in Jerusalem, believes the meetings help. "It is a place where I can express my feelings to a group of people who are willing to listen to my feelings and grievances,'' he said.
    "Our hope is that this coexistence will spill beyond these four walls and will go to the greater people.''
    June and Wally Levin of Hillsborough are Jewish. Wallace Levin is an Orthodox Jew.
    "I personally never knew many people of Arab heritage before,'' said Wally Levin, ``and I have enjoyed knowing them. They haven't changed my opinion, but I always believed there needed to be a Palestinian state. I was worried before and I am still worried about the survival of the state of Israel.''
    Said his wife, June: "It takes two to make a war, two to make love and two to make peace. There is guilt on both sides.''
    The dinner ended, but people remained talking and laughing. The big picture is a mystery, but the small picture looks good.
    As George Elhihi, a Palestinian Christian who lives in Santa Clara said: "We are all the sons of Abraham.''

Contact Loretta Green at

A Celebration of Freedom for All the Children of
Abraham, Hagar and Sarah

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Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group
1448 Cedarwood Drive, San Mateo, CA 94403
Voice: (650) 574-8303 Cell:(650) 200-8913

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