For as long as I can remember “Peace in the Middle East” has been a leading news story. It has taken different turns with an emphasis on one problem or another. There have been crises: wars and waves of terrorism, two intifadas, as well as diplomatic failures.
There have also been successes. President Sadat came to Jerusalem and there are peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt. But real peace is not what makes the headlines.
We have been conditioned to think in black and white terms. This sets us up for failure because an idyllic peace will never exist anywhere. A utopian condition be it between countries and peoples or within work environments or any other relationship is not realistic. No one has the ideal family or the perfect job. Everyone has frustrations and we all struggle through failures and disappointments with the hope to learn and grow. The Middle East is no exception.
This week I attended a Brit Milah of a colleague’s son. It was held in the hotel of Hadassah Hospital. When I arrived at the dining room initially I thought that I was at the wrong place. About a third of the people there were Arab women, some in traditional dress and head coverings. I had forgotten that my colleague, a New Jersey native, is married to an immigrant from South America who is a teacher at a multicultural school with Jews, Moslems and Christians. Her colleagues had come full of love and joy for this new baby and to celebrate his entrance into the Jewish people through a covenant started by Abraham thousands of years ago. I watched as each of these Arab women approached the mother with warmth and affection, giving kisses and wishing “mazal tov” one after the other.
As we researched where to send our children to camp this summer, we found that the best place for them was the Jerusalem International YMCA. How ironic is it that here we are in Jerusalem, and we are sending our children to the YMCA! There are practical and logistical reasons why we decided on this camp, but what is significant in my message to you is that there is a thriving community of Arabs and Jews living and working together every day in Israel. Keep in mind that most Christians in Israel are Arabs, and the YMCA includes members and employees who are Christians, Jews and Moslems.
I am currently looking at expanding my business and we have been interviewing general contractors. I have spoken with Jews and Arabs, all of whom have come recommended and conduct themselves very professionally. All of whom I would trust to do the job.
In Israel we are weaving a fabric of relationships with the people we interact with every day. The more we interact with these people, no matter what their background, religion or ethnicity, the more we get to know them. There are those people who we get to know and like and there are those who we do not like. As we are drawn closer to people, we care about them and we care about what is important to them. We learn to accept them and what motivates them even if this is very different from ourselves.
I was once told by a member of Knesset who came to speak to a group of students when I was studying at Columbia University that peace will never be made by politicians or through treaties. It will be made by people. He relayed to us that when, he invites an Arab friend for Shabbat dinner and the Arab reminds him to put salt on the challah as part of the Jewish custom before saying Hamotzi (grace), that is real peace.
The Israeli daily HaAretz recently reminded us that it has been three years since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was willing to accept “a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state.” We can ask what difference has this really made. The headlines from Israel also tell us of rockets fired from Gaza and IAF air strikes. We can look at these headlines and wonder if anything ever changes. We can see the cycle of violence and become doubtful and hopeless for any improvement in the Middle East Peace Process.
We will have conflict. We will have confrontations. We will not always agree. However, in Jerusalem, we also have peace. Like anyplace in the world where there are relationships between people, it is not ideal. We have our high points and we have our low points, our good days and our bad days. But we are living together day to day and day to day we continue together from family celebrations, to summer camps, through bombings and back to work.