Connecting at the Roots

Two years ago when I was on a trip to Israel and Palestine with the Jewish Council of Public Affairs Interfaith Partners for Peace program, our bus one day pulled up to the edge of the field in the West Bank, near the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements. We got out of the bus, walked down a path, and found ourselves in the middle of the field with a shed-like structure and a circle of chairs.

This is the home of Roots/Shorashim/Judur.

I had heard of this program already because of I knew one of its founders, Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger. Prior to him co-founding Roots/Shorashim/Judur, we had participated in the Rabbis Without Borders program together. Hanan is an Orthodox rabbi who both lived in Israel and spends time in the U.S. running an adult education program in Texas. Along with our cohort of rabbis from all denominations, we discussed the issues of the day, studied texts, and engaged in thoughtful dialogue.

After our program ended, I saw Hanan occasionally at our Rabbis Without Borders alumni retreat, where I had the occasion to again learn with and from him. And then, through various channels, I began to hear about this new project he was involved in, Roots/Shorashim/Judur, a grassroots organization born out of meetings between Israelis and Palestinians living in neighboring towns near where Hanan lives. Through these meetings came a sharing of stories, experiences and narratives which developed into an organization that promotes non-violence, mutual recognition, and healing.

Or, as they say in their brochure:

We promote leadership instead of victimhood; shared futures instead of hostile pasts; understanding instead of suspicion; transformation instead of intransigence; paradigm shift instead of status quo; hope instead of despair; trust instead of fear. Roots catalyzes change with our programming and through the networks we build.

When we sat in those chairs in the middle of the field, we heard powerful stories. First from Hanan, about his love for Israel that caused him to make aliyah as a young man, as someone deeply rooted in Jewish tradition and the land, and about how, after his first encounter with a Palestinian, his worldview was transformed.

We then heard from his partner in the project Ali Abu Awwad, a Palestinian activist who shared about how he was jailed during the first Intifada, how his brother was killed by an Israeli solider, and how he turned to non-violence and bridge building initially through his work with the Parent’s Circle–Bereaved Families Forum.

The stories were moving, compelling, and a testament to the power of real human connection. They were stories of hope, based on the courage of moving beyond one’s place of comfort, making oneself vulnerable, and reaching out to those one was taught to fear as an enemy.

It was an inspiring afternoon. Throughout that trip we met with many people and organizations committed to working through different programs to bring together civil society across national divides and hopefully find a political solution. Visiting Roots/Shorashim/Judur was different. It was about the power of human connection and narrative to transform oneself, one’s community, and the world.

Hanan and his various partners often come to the U.S. on speaking tours and in planning his latest he reached out to me. While I definitely wanted to bring him and extended an invitation, I knew I needed logistical partners. I reached out to Evergreen, and the Jewish Student Union took the lead to make this a reality. And I’m excited to say that Roots/Shorashim/Judur will be speaking at The Evergreen State College on Sunday, October 22 at 7:00 p.m. in Purce Hall LH 1.

These are not the only voices in the conversation. But they are important ones to hear. They remind us that very often peace comes not from above but from below, that we must build bridges not walls, that we must continue to tell our story and hear those of others, and that we lead with connections, not conclusions.

And this important not only regarding relationships between Israelis and Palestinians, but among all of humanity.

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