On a Sunday afternoon, in a community room in a suburban Whole Foods, a group of Jewish and Muslim women got together. This, of itself, may or may not be notable. We’ve been meeting once a month or so for a while. And I’ve written about some of those meetings – a potluck at my house, a fundraising supper club with a Syrian refugee family, an outing to see the Lebanese movie, The Insult. Separately, a few of us also attended an evening with minorities who serve in the IDF and, more recently, part of a movie series hosted by a joint synagogue-mosque effort and centered around how our two people are more alike than not. (This evening some of us will attend the screening of the fourth and final episode of Jews & Muslims: Intimate Strangers, a wonderful series available on Amazon Prime.)
The point is that we all want to learn more about each other and, in order to do that, we know we need to break down and eradicate misconceptions.
There had been requests to put Israel on the agenda. The woman organizing this group has been very cognizant of how, if mishandled, it could send our groups sideways. And so she consulted with experts in order to ensure we start out on the right foot.
It was decided that we would have one of them come speak to us, but he requested that we first read Avi Shlaim’s acclaimed book, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, first published in 2000 and updated in 2014. Shlaim in essence has replaced the popular narrative about Israel’s birth with a more truthful version. With much information painstakingly garnered from the 30-year release of official documents, the author provides a rounder, fuller and, most importantly, fairer, story for us all.
But this meeting was a prelude to that. The afternoon’s gathering was an important one in that we were going to speak up about our biases and assumptions, our truths and our journey to a fuller truth, on the specific topic of Jews and Muslims in Israel and Palestine. This required every one of us to understand that we were there to listen – not argue or “correct,” and that only by recognizing that each one of us has biases can we try to overcome them and understand where other viewpoints come from.
I found it interesting to hear from everyone, given the varied backgrounds present in that room. Our group included Jews by choice and Jews by birth – from small Southern towns, larger Southern cities, the North and Great Britain, each with a different upbringing and experience. We also included Muslim women with ties to Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Lebanon. What we all had in common, besides being suburban moms, was a liberal way of looking at life, a commonality of being a minority in a prominently Christian nation and a desire to rid ourselves of preconceptions and replace them with wider truths.
After we went around the table explaining how we were raised and listening to the baggage that each one us carried, we turned to discussing the definition of Zionism. I want to say that the Muslim women learned that Jews do not equate the desire for a Jewish homeland with the negation of an Arab presence in that land and that the Jewish women learned that when Muslims hear that word, they do take it to mean that we want an exclusively Jewish country, thus the disconnect. I think it is important for it to be understood that Zionism is pro-Israel and that this does not have to mean anti-Palestine. We agreed that both peoples need a home to call their own. Don’t we all?
Today, we are on the beginning of a journey.
But I was also curious to see if there were others travelling the same road in Atlanta and found this piece published only yesterday, “Atlanta can learn from Israel’s dialogue,” which recounts a recent trip of community leaders to Israel. The piece says what we know in our hearts to be true, “Solutions begin when we take time to listen to each other instead of focusing on taking sides.”
And though we ourselves could not arrive at a detailed solution in just one afternoon, we could open a door and arrive at a dialogue and a desire to be further educated, so we can share and influence others for good.
We are as grassroots as can be, having been born of a Facebook moms group, and in coming together, we are striving to figure it out on our own. From where I sit in metro Atlanta, all I can say is, I am so glad our journey has begun.