In 2010 when the members of the Memphis Islamic Center bought property on the street nicknamed Church Road, they thought they’d have a hard time proving to their Christian neighbors that they were a peaceful community. When the pastor of the Methodist church across the road learned of the purchase, he didn’t know what he should do. (more…)
Noa grew up in Jerusalem, Israel. In America, she met a Palestinian woman who also grew up in Jerusalem, only on the “other side”. Their friendship inspired her to tell the stories of their families that echo the contradicting national narratives of their people. Noa continues to use the transformative power of storytelling for peacemaking through her memoir A Land Twice Promised: An Israeli Woman’s Quest for Peace.
Jumana and I met on the green grass of America. It was a family potluck. I was holding my baby boy, she was holding hers. And she had the kind of dark beauty that I recognized immediately from home. So, I walked up to her. “What’s his name?”
“Tammer. And yours?”
“Ittai. Where are you from?”
“Jerusalem. Near Ramalla, actually.”
“I’m from Jerusalem too.”
Her American husband stepped right in, “My wife, is a Palestinian, you know.” As if I didn’t know. But I didn’t know she’d want to talk to me, and she didn’t know if I’d want to talk to her.
You see, I grew up, in Jerusalem. A divided city where the buildings are made of chiseled stones, white, cream, gray. And when I was a little girl before 1967, there were always places at the edge of the city you couldn’t go to. It was the border. Once my mother took me to such a place. There were rusty, orange signs, “Caution: mines,” “No man’s land,” “No passing beyond this point.” And she took my hand and we climbed on a heap of stones and stopped in front of the large roll of barbed wire. And through it, I could see a vast field with slabs of concrete and iron beams sticking out like crooked fingers. And beyond them, filling the entire horizon was a wall, that almost looked like the walls from the fairy tales, with rounded roofs and minarets peeking behind it.
But I didn’t like it there. I wanted to go home. I was scared of them. The Arabs. When my grandmother hears the word “Arab,” she says, (Spits), “Yimach shermam, may their name be erased. They took my Yaakov. Yimach shermam.” Yaakov was her son. He’s gone. Where I come from, we say he fell.
I come from a place where the news is on the radio every hour, 24 hours a day. And on the buses, the drivers turn the volume up and all conversations stop. There is always something. Bombs in the market place. Buses blowing up and wars. But there’s no choice. That’s what I grew up with. “There’s no choice.”
“We don’t want wars but there is no choice.”
“There’s no choice.”
“They want to throw us into the sea.”
“There’s no choice. This is our only home.”
Jumana and I watched our children grow up on the green grass of America. Tammer and Ittai spend hours being Pokemon. And we watched them grow without the fear. And no one put it in words. But each of us knew. Back home, my son would grow up to go to the army and check ID’s at roadblocks. Her son would grow up to arrive at the checkpoint and throw stones at the oppressor.
Slowly, over the years, Jumana and I started to talk. But for many years it was just, you know, the kids and diapers. Mom stuff. But then one day, I started working on a story about my memories from third grade, the 1967 war. And I realized I’ve known Jumana, this Palestinian woman for seven years. And she grew up in Jerusalem, just like me, not even five miles away from where I grew up. And I never heard what that war was like for her. Did they sleep with all the neighbors together in the furnace room when the bombs were falling? Did they even have a bomb shelter?
I called her up and a new chapter in our relationship began. I asked questions and I listened. And for the first time in my life, I heard what it actually feels like to be a Palestinian growing up under Israeli occupation.
She told me how when she was 10 years old, she saw a 13-year-old boy being beaten by Israeli soldiers and that was the first time in her life she understood the meaning of the word hate. Hearing this was like somebody just kicked me in the gut. Those soldiers, that terrified and haunted her entire childhood, were my people. Our boys, our symbols of security. everyone that I knew that turned 18 and went to the Army, including my brother. It was so painful. But I continued to listen because she was telling me her story.
And eventually, we started talking about difficult stuff. You know, the history of our people. And she would say something that was history, the truth with a capital “T,” that she learned in school. And I would look at her and say, “But that’s not true at all. That’s, that’s Arab propaganda.”
And then I would say something that was history, that was the truth with a capital “T.” And she would look at me and say, “But that’s not true at all. Zionist propaganda.”
And we would argue. And then she’d say, “Look at us. We’re getting defensive again.” And we’d laugh. And then I pick up the baby so that she could go make the soft-boiled egg for the other kids. And we continued to talk. And there was never a moment when I felt, “I can’t talk to this person.” And this experience, of being able to talk despite differences, the way our stories helped us hold contradicting points of view, this experience of being able to hold onto our compassion through all that, was so powerful that I decided I had to do something about it.
And being a storyteller, I created a storytelling performance called, “A Land Twice Promised.” And I tell the stories of our families. And I tell the stories that echo the contradicting national narratives of our people. I’ve been performing it now for more than 14 years. I recently wrote a book about it that tells the journey of my transformation from the, the black and white narratives of my childhood, to learning how to listen to the other, and using storytelling for building bridges for peace.
And over the years I’ve heard so many responses. There are those that say that I’m a traitor to my people because I tell the stories of the Palestinians. And there are others that say that, oh, I’m telling only the suffering of the Jews. I can’t begin to tell the story of the Palestinians. And there are those that come say, “What’s the point? What’s the point of all this storytelling? How can you even believe in peace? Can’t you see what’s going on in the world?” And I don’t always know what to say.
But I keep thinking about what my Palestinian friend recently said to me. She said, “I consider it a privilege having gotten to know you as a person and hearing her stories. Before hearing your side of things, the Israelis were just the enemy, the abuser, the one who took away my rights, rolled over me, terrorized me. The soldier, the settler, that’s what I knew of as Israelis. So, getting to know you and hearing your stories made a huge difference.”
And I think, about March of 2002. It is called in Israel Black March because almost every day there were suicide bombers exploding. And my most peace activist friends could not utter the word Palestinian, wouldn’t even let me say the word Palestinian But, my Palestinian friend kept calling. “Hey, Noa, I heard about that bomb in Netanya. Is your family all right?”
And I couldn’t help call her. “Jumana. I just heard about those tanks in Ramala. Is your brother OK?”
So, to the cynics and the naysayers I say, we heard each other’s stories. Why do I believe in peace? Because we heard each other’s stories and we have no choice. We have no choice.
The true tale of how storytelling inspired a group of diverse religious leaders in the town of Huntington, NY, to dig up their congregational lawns, grow vegetables tended by congregants, and then donate the produce to local food pantries. (more…)
When former Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s, war broke out across the region. Hasan, a Muslim, was a college student in 1992 when the siege against his city, Sarajevo, began. He joined the Army of Bosnia but would do anything to escape and live in peace and freedom. A few of his many adventures are detailed in this excerpt as well as his victory in studying Islam and rediscovering his identity when he came to the United States. (more…)
“Ranger Linda” describes her encounter with a group of well-intentioned Chinese Americans bearing bullfrogs. This surprising incident illustrates how cultural differences can have unintended consequences and how cultural awareness can lead to greater understanding and a better outcome for all. (more…)
In 1991 in Lincoln, Nebraska, a Jewish Cantor and his family were threatened and harassed by the Grand Dragon of the state Ku Klux Klan. Here is the remarkable story of how they dealt with the hatred and bigotry, and, in the process, redeemed a life. Based on the book, Not By the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman, by Kathryn Watterson. (more…)
Talking about World War ll was hard for Carol’s father. As a recipient of three Purple Hearts, he shares his story of anti-Semitism at boot camp, his sense of Jewish identity with a stranger in Paris and how he mentally stayed strong and survived the front lines by wearing “blinders.” (more…)
A Goddess inspired story of the adversities faced and overcome by Archana’s family as they move form India to America. This is a story of identity, assimilation and race relations that ultimately honors different paths of healing and different religions. Overcoming health issues and life and death challenges, from Darkness to Light describes the embodiment of the Indian festival of Lights/Diwali that welcomes in the “new” in each and every one of us in a beautiful way. (more…)
Empathy grows from sharing stories; this story was shared to encourage others to know, to understand, and to remember. This is a personal journey tale from Lyn’s childhood living next door to a Holocaust survivor and, then, her adolescent small but mature steps into the greater Civil Rights Movement. (more…)
Solly Ganor, a Lithuanian Jew, was a boy when Germany invaded his country in1940. He was eventually sent to Dachau and was rescued by members of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, the all-Japanese American unit. Fifty years later he once again meets the man who saved him. (more…)
Occasionally, Antonio brings his friends and family to Catholic mass, not always with the results he hoped for. However, in Los Angeles, he goes to church with Mexican-American families where he finds people who are deeply into the ritual and their passion for their religion makes him proud. (more…)
After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, demonstrations against Muslims arose in different parts of Chicago. One group of Chicagoans on the southwest side of the city decided to support their Muslim neighbors. This support grew into a massive rally and teach-in at Chicago’s Navy Pier. Sue witnessed people willing to learn from and about each other and how much taking a stand could mean.
For print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Other-911
Why don’t we hear the stories of what is working?
The teachers taught the students about other times in history when people were stereotyped and scapegoated. Give an example of what they might have taught.
Were the adults correct in keeping the students away from the (peaceful) demonstration of support? Was their alternative way to involve the students effective?
Why is it important to show support to groups of people who are under attack?
September 11, 2001: A Record of Tragedy, Herosim and Hope by Editors of New York Magazine
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Two days after the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, Sister Margaret Zalot, principal of Maria High School, found herself in trouble. She was driving down east on 95th Street when she unwittingly drove right into an anti-Muslim demonstration. Crowds were milling about, cars would zip across the intersection at 95th and Harlem. Then across again and again and shouting, “White power!” They held signs that said, “Choose what side you’re on.” “This is the beginning and the end.” They were just ignoring the police. They were trying to keep all that traffic going but pretty soon everybody just kind of ran their cars into the middle, just took the intersection over. There were guys in the back of pickup trucks, huge American flags with long poles, looked like jousters ready to ram somebody. And she found herself caught in the middle of all this.
Took over an hour and a half to get through that gridlock. Now just the night before, this angry mob had marched on the mosque at 92nd Street. Only because the police got there moments ahead and threw up barricades did it keep the windows getting broken or maybe worse. I’m sure it was fresh in the police people’s minds because just a few years earlier the Federal Building in Oklahoma City had been bombed. And two days later the mosque in Springfield, Illinois was burned to the ground. So they saved that mosque but the demonstrations went on and on. And Sister Margaret Zalot finally got home safely but she remembered that saying, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” She’s like, “I’ve gotta do something. What can we do? Oh, what we can do?”
So she went out and she found some other people with the same concern, the same sense of urgency. She went to swop… S.W.O.P, Southwestern Organizing Project. This represented 27 community groups on the southwest side of Chicago. And they were also asking what can we do? It didn’t make sense to meet violence with violence? What can we do? They came up with a brilliant plan. They said, “Lucky the police got to that mosque with the barricade just in time to save it. We’ll make a human barricade.” What they decided to do was next day… was Friday, like a Sabbath for Muslims, Friday afternoon prayer, Jumuʿah prayer. They said, We’ll make a human barricade around the mosques and we’ll protect the people inside.” And that’s what they did.
Now some people didn’t even know there were mosques in their neighborhood on 63rd Street. You know, you can just not pay attention to something that doesn’t concern you? And these are little storefront kind of places of worship. But the next day, even though it was a workday, Friday workday, 150 people showed up. And they stood arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder and they had signs from their religion like, “Pax Christi,” Peace and Christ, or “Shalom,” the Jewish tradition word for peace. And people were so glad that they were there. In fact, a newspaper accounting talked about the president of one of the mosques saying how much he appreciated the people being there. How Islam does not teach that kind of violence. That they were all grieving over the tragedy of 9/11. And certainly, the president of that mosque, Khatam Pharez, was grieving because his cousin was on the 82nd floor of the World Trade Center when that first plane hit that first tower.
And the paper also talked about this young man on his way to Friday prayer when he saw all these people demonstrating in front of the mosque. Well, he knew about the threats to his mosque, there were death threats , and should he go? Was that the smart thing to do? Should he go just back home? And all of sudden one of the men turned around. It was an older man with snowy hair, and on the sign he was carrying, it said, “As-Salāmu Alaykum,” the Arbic blessing; peace be unto you. The young man knew those people in front of his mosque weren’t there to hurt him but to protect him.
Well, unfortunately, the violence continued that next week after 9/11. So, the people decided that they were going to have a circle of peace again. And Sister Margaret Zalot, principal of Maria High School, had gone back to her school that whole week. And they suspended many classes and worked with the kids. They told them stories about, through history when people have been turned against each other, when people have been used to hate one another to somebody else’s benefit. So, maybe if kids heard these stories, they’d think. So they couldn’t be used against anybody or any other group. And then they told them stories when people had stood together and the kids really learned. Because when they heard Sister Margaret, they got it! Some of the teachers were going back the second time to make circles of peace. You can imagine what they said. “We want to go, too! Come on, you’re teaching us about justice and standing together and universal diversity. We’re gonna go too!”
But these really were dangerous times after September 11th. The teachers couldn’t take the students somewhere there might be violence. So, they came up with an alternative because they didn’t want to discourage the girls. They said, “Why don’t you write letters to your Muslim neighbors? Tell them how you feel.” So, that next Friday, double, triple the crowd showed up at those mosques to make their human barricade, their circle of peace. And when those folks came out from prayer that Friday, they were handed letters from the Maria High School girls. And the letters said things like, “You are our neighbors, we love you. We stand by you and for you.” And people read those letters out loud and, I tell you, there wasn’t a dry eye off the street. People were huggin’ and crying.
Well, through the months of that winter 2001 and 2002, Southwest Organizing Project joined with community groups from all over Chicago and decided to have a Muslim/non-Muslin dialogue. But, you know how winter can be any who live in the north. Oh my goodness! You get a nice day and everybody just wants to be outside. It was one of those kind of days, a Sunday afternoon. They wondered would anybody show up to talk perfect strangers on a beautiful day in Chicago? They had rented Navy Pier Ballroom. What if there was nobody coming at all and it was empty? Four thousand people showed up to share, to dialogue and even the high school girls modeled how to talk and dialogue with each other. They asked each other questions and, I remember, the Maria High School student asking a girl from the Islamic school, “You know, I have to admit, I saw those hijabs, those headscarves you wear, and I thought it was kind of weird but then we girls got talking. You know, you can have a bad hair day, that hijab would come in handy.” And the Islamic girl said back to her, right in front of everybody, “You know, you have bad hair days, we have bad hijab days. Sometimes you just can’t get those scarves to sit on right.”
So they would model or they would have some other people come up from Southwest Organizing Project would model talking to each other. And then we in our small groups, they’d give us a discussion question. Well, you can imagine the noise in that room with four thousand people! You had huddle in close to hear each other. I had a Muslim man, I had a teenage boy from the northwest side, I had two cab drivers who just heard about it and came driving on in and we huddled real close. As we shared our lives and our hopes and our dreams, it’s like the energy just emanated out of Navy Pier up and down the lakefront, all across Chicago. Because after that all, the white power and other demonstrations just stopped.
What does it take for ugly history not to repeat itself? It takes people who are willing to go and stand in front of places they’ve never been, to protect a religion they’ve never practiced, to listen in their classrooms or in their community groups to different people’s stories so that we can cut through all that ignorance and fear, so that we can speak and we can celebrate the truth. We are one.
Growing up in his New York City Jewish neighborhood was a world of homogeneity for Gerry. But an occasional intrusion of “alien nuns” could be truly scary to a young child unfamiliar with other religions.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Nuns
Have you ever reacted with the same kind of fear that Gerry and his friends had when they saw nuns? What could the adults have done to help the children understand who the nuns were?
What allows someone to react with curiosity rather than fear to someone or something that is different?
Does every group have prejudices and biases? Does being discriminated or misunderstood yourself lead to your being more open-minded about others?
Catholic and Jews in Twentieth-Century America by Egal Feldman
Stereotypes and Discrimination
History leaves us all with prejudices. For 2000 years, the Jews have been chased from country to country. They’ve always been the “other.”
“Well, my family, they fled Russia about a hundred years ago. The Czar of Russia had encouraged his subjects and his soldiers to kill Jews. One day, the Cossacks, the Czar’s horsemen, were riding into my little village the Zubkova.
My cousin heard the horse’s hooves in the street, and she ran out to get the children inside. But she wasn’t quick enough. There was the Cossack, sword drawn, coming down the street. She threw herself on the baby, and the sharp blade came down, right across her back.
And that night, my grandmother said, “Enough! We’re going to America!”
And so, we came to America, where we could be safe, where we could live with other Jews. But memories like that, they don’t go away. They’re in our culture. They’re inside our genes.
One day, when I was about five years old, I was sitting on the steps. My sister and my cousin were with me. We were playing, when suddenly I saw them. I’d never seen anything like that before, but I, I knew that they were dangerous. I knew it, in my DNA.
They were big, and they were black. And they seemed to be flying down the street, with big white wings that came out of their head. My sister, my cousin, they saw the look on my face. And then they looked, and then we three were all frozen in fear, as the monsters came, closer and closer.
“Where they going to kidnap us? Or maybe even worse?”
They reached us. They started to reach out their hands towards us.
“Good morning, children.”
Aah, aah, aah, aah, aah! And we ran inside. Escaping from the nuns.
Featuring Arif Choudhury, Gerald Fierst and Susan O’Halloran
Through exploring misconceptions and common threads such as immigration and disagreements within their own religions, these three tellers bring alive their distinct histories and our common humanity to illuminate the experience of being an American in a time of religious tension, change and possibility. (more…)