It was a simple idea: Bring elementary aged students together to perform random acts of kindness for the surrounding community. At its core, this is just what happened. Two groups of students, two schools, getting together to give, getting together to help those in need.
These two groups of students were different. These were Jewish students from Richmond Jewish Day School and Muslim students from Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy, located just down the road. These students were singled out for finding their common ground, for recognizing that a shared forefather, Abraham, was the master of loving-kindness, and for learning that when there is a problem to be solved, a challenge to be overcome, kindness builds bridges; teamwork builds trust. Suddenly, two disparate groups were able to see each others’ human faces and found that they had more in common than they ever knew.
Lest I seem naive and have naysayers call out, “Impossible!” “You think giving out sandwiches can solve the conflict in the Middle East?!” I will say, yes. Perhaps I am a little naive. The dreamer in me wants to believe it is possible. The realist in me recognizes the complexity, the hate and fear that exist on both sides of the conflict, and the repeated attempts, failures, risks taken and innocents killed, families ruined, hopes raised and brought crashing down.
Prime Minister Netanyahu recently addressed the AIPAC conference. Along with his usual warnings of the existential threats that persist and threaten Israel’s security, a new message was presented. This was a pragmatic message more than an ideological one. He spoke about the potential collaboration between Israel and its neighbors. He spoke about water.
“… that peace with the Palestinians would turn our relations with them and with many Arab countries into open and thriving relationships… I believe that together, we can resolve actually some of the region’s water and energy problems… You know, Israel has half the rainfall we had 65 years ago. We have 10 times the population… So we have half the rainfall, 10 times the population, and our water use goes up. And which country in the world doesn’t have water problems? Yep. Israel.”
“Why? Because of technology, of innovation, of systems. We could make that available to our Arab neighbors throughout the region that is not exactly blessed with water. We could solve the water problems. We could solve the energy problems. We could improve agriculture. We could improve education with e-learning, health with diagnostics on the Internet. All of that is possible. We could better the lives of hundreds of millions. So we all have so much to gain from peace.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sentiments were actually an echo of a New York Times opinion piece from Seth M. Siegel, called Israeli Water, Mideast Peace?.
Siegel concluded his article saying:
“But as water problems grow, one hopes that ideology will give way to pragmatism and may open a door to an Arab and Islamic outreach to Israel. A partnership that starts with engineers and extends to farmers could contribute to deal making, even reconciliation, among leaders.”
While it may be presumptuous to compare the collaboration of a small Jewish school and a small Muslim school in Richmond, British Columbia, to solving water problems and the conflict in the Middle East, they have similar potentials. Solving problems together allows for two very different groups to come together, face-to-face, to accomplish something. And through this activity — detached from the wider ideological conflict — the two sides can find common-ground.
I might, in fact, be naive to think that water could heal these age-old wounds. To think that the joint kindness performed by the Jewish and Muslim students could serve as an example of bridge-building might be a stretch. And yes, the realist in me condemns my inner-dreamer.
“Hayinu K’cholmim.” “We were like dreamers,” and it is my hope that we can continue to be dreamers — even if at times the prospects for peace feel as fleeting as a dream.
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