In a world embracing hate, it’s important to find example of alternatives, of better ways. This week brought a sampling of each; here we begin with hate in the south and then move to Israel for examples of seeking peace and understanding.
The hate that the current U.S. administration has encouraged and emboldened makes me wonder, has it always existed as specifically or at these levels? Have the people we meet in stores, at work, in schools, on the street always carried around with them this degree of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant sentiment, homophobia, misogyny? As if human worth were tied to factors one has no control over…sigh…it is awful to witness this kind of anger, stupidity and insecurity. Knowing how it is riled up by those in power with agendas that are not in the interest of all citizens makes it worse. As the sheer number of politicians in the news quoted as slurring others based on these kinds of prejudices rises, my disbelief and shock grows.
When leadership demonizes different groups, followers feel free. Prejudice didn’t used to be so public. Add to it the rise of social media as a place that people think it permissible to judge and condemn others instantly, and there’s a powerful outlet that reaches anybody and everybody. And so, we see the face of hate, apparently in Tennessee, in this story about a group called League of the South; they proceeded to not only burn a Talmud and an Israeli flag, but spew hatred for the camera, “We stand for the white race against all of our enemies, particularly the Jew, and all of these symbols represent that enemy.” Where does hate like this come from? I posited in my very first blog on this platform a little over a year ago, that “People are insecure. And they don’t want to be. So they look for ways to put others down to puff themselves up.” Yes, insecurity plays a part, but so does filling one’s head with harmful narratives. And one of the only ways to replace those misconceptions is by getting to know individuals. For better or for worse, it seems that anecdotal evidence plays a larger part in people’s psyches than statistics or scientific proof.
And so I’d like to give a round up of three items I read about this week. Promoted by Jerusalem Tolerance, Good Neighbors is a get-together for Israelis and Palestinians to drink coffee and converse in Hebrew and Arabic. The very instance of speaking together in each other’s languages is the beginning of breaking down barriers. One recently took place in Abu Tor just a few days ago.
Another group I really love to follow on Facebook, Muslim Jewish Brotherhood, finds wonderful stories both contemporary and in history, where Jews and Muslims have done great things together. I do wish they’d credit the story sources, but it isn’t difficult to search for the title and find the source for even more background. A recent post featured a video about the Jerusalem-based group Chefs for Peace. With Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian cooks among them, their desire to work together and promote coexistence is expressed in the events and initiatives they are involved with. Chefs for Peace In July, for instance, the group worked with The Peres Center for Peace and Innovation which created a course to help Palestinian food manufacturers export their products to Israel.
Yes, one way to reach people is through food. Yet another is through education. And what better group to target here than educators? The Times of Israel story, Where ‘the other’ fears to tread: Teachers learn tolerance, so they can teach it, demonstrates the good that can come when Jewish and Arab teachers come together – but it also describes the inherent difficulty in such an endeavor. That there is Jewish and Arab resistance makes some sense, although the group is certainly breaking down walls. But that there is also resistance from the European Union is surprising; it views the project which includes teachers from East Jerusalem as perpetuating the conflict. But ask any of the participants, and they will tell you otherwise. ”Lots of teachers have said the program left its mark in their classroom. Some tell their students about the activities, lots of them adapt the exercises used in the program to get to know each other and implement them with the children, and one group even held a meeting between Jewish and Arab students.”
The organization’s site, in Hebrew and Arabic, invites other teachers to join. And why not? As the article notes, “’Our dream is that all teachers in Jerusalem undergo such a program,’ [Founder and academic head of the program, Professor] Muszkat-Barkan concluded. ‘It breaks stereotypes and walls between different communities who never normally meet each other. It is so important that we focus on teachers because they educate the next generation, and largely determine what it ends up thinking about the ‘other.’ We want teachers to grow a generation of activist children, who go out to the street, battle violence and racism.’” They hope to someday grow to other cities in Israel.
Wouldn’t it be lovely to grow it worldwide? Let’s go back to the first story and contrast. A sobering thought, on what could be and isn’t.
Why must we settle for imagining what a different world we could be living in? What do we need to do to make it so that everyone is taught acceptance and how to think about others from the start? On social media, in schools, at home…and on the playground. Let’s all start somewhere. Now.