Talking about Peace:  A Tour Report


    “In our organization we took a commitment to talk no matter what... It is very hard to go on talking about peace, about hope, but frankly we think there is no other way and this is why we keep going on.


    - Elik Elhanan, Combatants for Peace


Brit Tzedek was pleased and proud to host a 22-city speaking tour with the Israeli-Palestinian group Combatants for Peace in Jewish communities across the United States.
The tour, from January 8 to February 9, 2007,  was a resounding success, bringing the voices of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation to the heart of our community. Combatants for Peace speakers appeared at events sponsored by: 23 synagogues and havurahs; 5 JCCs; 3 Hillels; and a wide variety of local Jewish cultural institutions.
The Connecticut chapter reached across the Jewish organizational spectrum, holding successful events at Temple Emanuel of Greater New Haven, the JCC of Greater New Haven and the Bridgeport Jewish Center for Community Services. Each program was characterized by powerful presentations and thought-provoking exchanges. “We are a multi-vocal community,” said New Haven Jewish Federation executive director Sydney Perry, “and it is our desire to offer the educational opportunity to learn about the multiple ways we can respond with respect and with understanding, while all the while supporting Israel's right to exist as a democratic nation with secure borders.”


The tour created several opportunities for cross-cultural encounters. Several of the tour events were sponsored by both Jewish and Muslim organizations; the Columbia, MO event was opened by an Imam and a Rabbi; on Martin Luther King Day, Sulaiman Al-Hamri and Elik Elhanan participated in a workshop connecting the work of Martin Luther King and Combatants for Peace with students from Perelman Jewish Day School and Al-Aqsa Islamic Academy in Philadelphia.

The Los Angeles chapter packed the auditorium at the Skirball Cultural Center with almost 400 people, an audience that ranged from teenagers to community representatives to religious leaders. Shimon Katz and Sulaiman Al Hamri discussed their own journeys from anger and enmity to the desire to work toward reconciliation. The event included musical performances by Israeli musician Yuval Ron (Composer for the Academy Award winning short “West Bank Story") and Palestinian singer Saleem. Award-winning journalist and author Amy Wilentz served as moderator. Co-sponsors included Beth Shir Shalom, the Islamic Center of Southern California, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, UCLA Hillel, and Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring. Read more in LA Jewish Journal.


The tour helped
Brit Tzedek chapters build their base. The Combatants for Peace tour served as the first public event for chapters recently established in Eugene, OR, Raleigh, NC and Santa Cruz, CA, providing a powerful and compelling launch for the new groups. In all, nearly 5000 people came to Brit Tzedek’s Combatants for Peace events; over 60% of those who signed in at the events were new to our network.
The Atlanta chapter reached nearly 1000 people in three separate public events at a public school, a synagogue youth group and synagogue. Even though travel problems made it impossible for Suliaman to arrive on time for this first tour event, a Palestinian audience member remarked that he thought Elik couldn’t have done a better job in representing the feelings and needs of Palestinians as well as Israelis.


The tour brought the message of reconciliation to young people.
Our chapters held 14 events with Combatants for Peace with high schools, BBYOs, synagogue youth groups, and universities, including campus-based Hillels.
Sulaiman Al Hamri and Shimon Katz spoke to some 75 Jewish high school students from the Portland BBYO at the local JCC. (BBYO provides identity-building and leadership development programs for Jewish teens.) After their presentation, the two handled some particularly difficult questions with aplomb, and later, Sulaiman spoke at length with one young man who began their exchange fairly hostile; in their end, he parted warmly from Sulaiman, a touching indication of the potential for change inherent in each and every conversation we hold.


The Combatants for Peace tour received maximum media exposure.
The message of reconciliation and a negotiated, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was amplified powerfully with 22 newspaper articles (in both Jewish and mainstream outlets), 10 radio appearances (including the Southern California NPR affiliate), and appearances on two cable television programs. For a list of media coverage click here.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch provided readers with a moving account of the event, noting that more than 200 people attended. Reporter Sylvester Brown quoted Shimon Katz: “There is power in dialogue. This is our purpose, bringing people together. Once you get to know each other, you won't be able to shoot one another.” 


Combatants for Peace
tour helped to launch Brit Tzedek’s “Let’s Talk” campaign. The primary message presented by Combatants for Peace is the power of communication in bridging seemingly irreconcilable differences. If former enemy combatants can come together, in spite of fear, anger and loss, in order to work together to find a just solution for both peoples, then surely, we too can use the power of dialogue for change. The “Let’s Talk” campaign is about dialogue in all of its many forms: within our own community, with our elected representatives, among the international leaders.
Brit Tzedek is in the final production stages of an organizing video for use in chapter house parties that features Combatants for Peace leaders Sulaiman al-Hamri and Elik Elhanan speaking at Beth Emet the Free Synagogue in Evanston, IL. The video will allow our chapters to bring this powerful example of the importance of dialogue to a much broader range of our membership.

Photo 1: Elik Elhanan and Sulaiman al-Hamri at the Jewish Community Center of Washtenaw County in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Photo by Gregory Fox

Photo 2: Shimon Katz and Sulaiman al-Hamri at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon.


Tour Dates

South

  • Atlanta, GA – January 8
  • Raleigh, NC – January 9

Northeast

  • New York City, NY – January 10, 11
  • Philadelphia, PA – January 12, 13, 14, 15
  • New Haven, CT – January 16, 17
  • Northampton, MA – January 19
  • Albany, NY – January 20
  • Providence, RI – January 21

Midwest

  • Detroit, MI – January 22
  • Ann Arbor, MI – January 23
  • Chicago, IL – January 25, 26
  • St. Louis, MO – January 28, 29
  • Kansas City, KS – January 30
  • Columbia, MO - January 30

West

  • Los Angeles, CA – January 31, February 1
  • Santa Cruz, CA – February 2
  • Monterey, CA - February 3
  • San Francisco Bay Area, CA – February 4
  • Portland, OR – February 5, 6
  • Eugene, OR – February 7
  • Seattle, WA – February 8, 9

Click here for a link to the full tour schedule.


Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206

info@btvshalom.org
www.btvshalom.org


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