When the American poet, Robert Frost, wrote, “good fences make good neighbors,” we understood his wisdom. A good boundary is one that lets us get to know one another gradually, comfortably, with no expectations beyond neighborliness.
Good fences not only make good neighbors, they also enable each side to get to know itself more fully. The Kotzker Rebbe put it this way:
“If I am I, because I am I,
and you are you, because you are you,
then I am I and you are you.
But if I am I because you are you,
And you are you because I am I – then I am not
I and you are not you.”
The poet and the rebbe both affirm the value of boundaries. We need boundaries in order to be free to be who we are. Both know that without boundaries we are lost. One question remains: how can boundaries serve as bridges and not just as barriers?
Wait, Reader, don’t scroll away! It’s not what you think! This is not a blogpost about Kerry or Abbas, Netanyahu or the peace talks. It is about a quiet movement that builds bridges among believers. It is about the good work of the Interfaith Encounter Association, founded and led by Yehuda Stolov (http://interfaithencounter.wordpress.com).
Today, all over Israel, from Eilat to the Ma’a lot, from Mt. Scopus to Hebron, groups of Christians, Jews and Muslims meet as good neighbors. Their meetings are bridges over their boundaries. The meetings are opportunities to visit, and to learn about, as the Kotzker might have said, one another’s “you” and “I”.
One IEA group is comprised of health care workers who meet at the Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Nursing. They share common experiences in caring for the sick, and they know how important cultural competence is to the performance of their skills. At one recent meeting, the group learned about another ethnic group, Ethiopian Jewish immigrants. Just like other religious and ethnic groups, the Ethiopian immigrants require culturally sensitive health and social services. It turned out that they were best served to work out their marital conflicts via Shmagloch (community elders) in coordination with the Rabbinical Court.
The Interfaith Encounter Association includes groups of women, and groups of teens, groups of teachers/students and parents, and groups of clergy. There’s an Arabic-speaking group, a Haredi-Muslim group, a group that examines prayers, another that studies religious texts. Groups continue to thrive and grow through every political season.
These are people of courage and modesty, who don’t seek headlines, although they deserve them. These quiet people are building an infrastructure of peace – person by person – that will be ready when the louder and more powerful voices eventually catch up to meet them.