What happens when you get an Orthodox Rabbi from Detroit and a Jordanian Muslim Karate master in a room…on the first night after Rosh Hashanah?
You get Light and Hope.
At this time of year, the Jewish new year when we pray to be inscribed in the Book of Life, we hope it will be a year in which Light will vanquish Darkness, in which peace and hope will prevail over death and despair here in the Middle East.
I had the privilege of seeing some of that Light on the first night after Rosh Hashanah at an unlikely gathering of Jewish and Arab martial arts experts in south Tel Aviv.
As chairman of Budo for Peace, an educational organization that uses martial arts as a platform to promote respect and tolerance in the region, I felt compelled to start the year by making a real difference. I invited an Orthodox Rabbi from Detroit and a Muslim Karate master from Amman to teach a special class of black belts.
The media portrays this part of the world as a place of perpetual conflict. However, for the martial artists in attendance that evening, there was no conflict, simply the first night of another year of empowering physical, mental and spiritual training. I saw the Light shining from the eyes of the American rabbi and from the huge smile of the Jordanian Karate master. I felt it in the heat of the sweaty fists of the Israeli Arab teacher from the Galilee and in the beads of perspiration absorbed by the kippot of the Jewish participants. I saw it in the brilliant smiles of the 30 other karate masters that had gathered in Tel Aviv from all over Israel to witness the first joint training conducted by a black belt Orthodox rabbi and a Muslim Jordanian master. It was a joyous sight to see!
The evening kick-started (pun intended) with the traditional Japanese bow of respect followed by a meditation, and then Rabbi Goldberg (known as Rabbi G), who holds a black belt in a Korean martial art, spoke about the organization Kids Kicking Cancer, which he established 18 years ago in Detroit Michigan. He explained how his 2-year-old daughter died of leukemia and how her strength of spirit inspired him to teach other children with cancer the breathing techniques of the martial arts that help us to overcome pain and fear. Its growth driven by the easing of pain and empowerment it offers to both patients and their families, Kids Kicking Cancer (KKC) is now active in 18 hospitals in North America, two in Canada, 10 in Italy (including the Vatican Hospital) and six in Israel.
This unique Martial Arts gathering was part of a recruitment effort, an opportunity for martial artists to join together and volunteer to become Martial Arts Therapists for Kids Kicking Cancer-Israel. KKC-Israel instructors from different walks of life with patients from different cultures find themselves right at home in Israel’s hospitals. Israel’s hospitals are world-class models of coexistence in action, a fact largely ignored by the popular media.
Veteran martial artists who learn to manage fear, anger and pain with the power of the mind and the breath teach kids with cancer and other chronic and painful conditions to see themselves as Martial Arts Heroes determined to overcome fear and pain and commitment themselves to “teach the world”.
For example, on October 26th, several young heroes from Kids Kicking Cancer-Israel will join the Sohn Conference, a world-class gathering of 300 business leaders and hedge fund managers, at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. The kids will teach these members of the business community how they use their breath to manage stress.
This New Year gathering was a launching point for a grand plan: to expand the roots of KKC-Israel and plant the seeds of KKC-Jordan to serve as centers from which the organization can expand through Europe and the Arab world, so that all the children in these regions can acquire the skills to overcome their pain.
As the gathering in south Tel Aviv came to a close, Master Emad, the chief instructor of the Japan Karate Association in Jordan who spent 10 years training in Japan and was the personal instructor of the Dubai Royal Family, expressed how happy he was to see so many friendly and enthusiastic students. “We are all a family, the family of martial artists. We are strong in the mind and have the opportunity to empower humanity to do good.”
Sensei Robeen Arkia, the Israeli Arab Education Director of Budo for Peace closed the evening by saying:
“Today is a special day for both Muslims and Jews. Just like the Jewish New Year that signifies a new beginning, today is also the beginning of the Muslim new year, Hijra, which represents the migration of the prophet Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina. We look at this week as starting a new life after fleeing persecution in Mecca, the same way that Moses led the Jews from Egypt to flee persecution and start a new life of freedom.”
May this special gathering be the first of many peaceful encounters in the coming year.
And may we take a tip from the KKC kids by taking the time to breathe in the Light, breathe out the Darkness, and hope for a better year in Israel , our region and around the world.
Danny Hakim is a 7th degree Karate black belt and competed for Australia and Japan in several world championships. He is Chairman of Kids Kicking Cancer Israel- a non-profit organization that uses an innovative program that merges modern integrative medicine with traditional martial arts. He is also the founder of Budo for Peace, an educational organization dedicated to teaching values of respect and tolerance.