Building Bridges: An Israeli’s Search to Connect

By Morgan Furlong

(as part of our Stories of Inspiration series)

David Goodman has a lot to say about meeting “the other.” No, not just the Palestinian “other,” but other interfaith-minded Israelis whom he met through the Interreligious Coordinating Council of Israel.

“I’m used to hearing univocal voices on Israeli side, and to hear other voices and different voices from within my society, and to feel like I’m not totally alone, and to work with them, was something very good for me.”

David, a producer and host of the Jerusalem radio station JLEM.FM, is pursuing his Masters in Philosophy at Hebrew University.  He first got involved in ICCI when his then girlfriend (now wife) told him about the “Present Memories” program, a five-day dialogue program with a group of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian young Israeli adults, and a group of German young adults from the organization “Evangelisches Jugend.” which took place in summer 2011

The trip started off with a field trip to Zochrot, where the group spoke about the “Nakba”. Growing up with a right-wing Zionist religious education, David remembers that this was the first time he and other Jewish Israelis had heard Israel’s Independence referred to as a “catastrophe” that displaced the Palestinian people. While it was a very difficult topic to discuss, David reflects that it was a good way to begin the program because emotions poured out from all sides. This experience set the tone for the rest of the program.

Within a few days, the group already felt familiar enough with one another to ask tough questions. David said that a Palestinian participant asked him direct questions about what it is like to live in a Jewish part of the city, and what he was taught in elementary school about the conflict. In return, David asked about life in an Arab village and what was taught on the other side growing up. David felt that he was in a unique situation where he was close enough with “the other” to raise a question on a sensitive subject, and so David asked him about his attitude towards the former leader of the PLO, Yasser Arafat. Always viewing Arafat as the reason behind the Second Intifada, David asked, “Why did Arafat refuse to come to a deal when Israeli Prime Minister Barak offered him everything?” The answer he got opened his eyes to a whole new viewpoint.

His new friend explained that Barak offered almost everything in terms of land, but land was not the only issue; in order to build a state, you need to have the opportunity for independence and sovereignty, and Barack refused to give the Palestinians the opportunity to control their own electricity, water, airport, and army. David reflects, “I still have mixed feelings about Arafat […] I don’t know […] maybe my starting point was right, but it’s interesting to see that a simple point can be seen in different perspectives.”

ICCI helped David stop, take a step back, and see the argument from both sides before jumping to conclusions.

Furthermore, speaking with Palestinians made David realize that his perspective sometimes aligned more with theirs than with the Jewish Israeli group. While the program did give him the opportunity to meet Jewish Israelis with whom he shared many views, he commented on how he still felt disconnected from them, as his views sometimes seemed to cross the line:

”How can I make a bridge between myself and other Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs that I know? It raised a lot of questions between me and Israeli society. I live within it, I like it, I like the people and everything, but I think there are few things to criticize about it.”

Despite differing ideologically between both Palestinians and Israelis in the group, David spoke about the importance of deepening the connections with them and moving from dialogue to action.

A Palestinian friend from the southeast Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa told David that the city was building roads to divide the land in his neighborhood. Even though David is not usually a big believer in demonstrations, he went to this Arab village and brought his Jewish Israeli friends to join together and protest. His friend’s family was excited to see David supporting their cause.

“You don’t need to wait for government to solve the situation. Do your own small thing. Show, ‘Here I am; I am coming from one side of the conflict, but I have good intentions… and I want to give a message of respect and hope.’”

David has a big dream about his own “small thing” for action: an Interfaith Beit Midrash. He and a Muslim friend from ICCI discussed an interest in studying together. In the Jewish tradition of Havrutah, two or three friends take a book and have a regular meeting on it. Beyond learning the text, people discuss other subjects they choose.  He wants to translate this Jewish tradition into an interfaith model and adopt it for multiple places of study.

“In my point of view, I think that if more people in the world study together, the world will be a better place.”

Morgan Furlong graduated from the University of Southern California with a B.A. in International Relations and is pursuing a career in interfaith work.

 

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