Abu Ghosh, Israel, is a town of approximately 7,000 Palestinian Arabs 6 miles west of Jerusalem. Its roots can be traced back to about 6,000 B.C.E., making the site one of the oldest places of human habitation in Israel. I was recently told that this was where people first learned to domesticate goats.
The Palestinian Arabs of Abu Ghosh have a long history of friendly relations with the Jewish residents of towns in the surrounding Jerusalem district. Arabs and Jews alike insist that the best hummus in the world is made in Abu Ghosh – and the town holds the Guinness World Record for the largest tub of hummus ever produced, four and a half tons!
On Nov. 2, my wife Sandy and I had the uniquely broadening experience of sitting down to dinner with the mayor of Abu Ghosh, Issa Jaber, at Barrington’s Blue Water Bar & Grill. Also joining us for dinner were Issa’s wife, Amal, my colleague Rabbi Ron Kronish, and his wife, Amy. Our animated conversation bounced back and forth between English and modern Hebrew.
Rabbi Andrew Klein of Barrington’s Temple Habonim had arranged this dinner because I have known Rabbi Kronish since the late 1960s, when the two of us were studying for ordination at the New York School of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
Ordained in 1973, Kronish went on to earn a doctorate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He and his family made aliyah in 1979, settling in Jerusalem, where he, his wife, and two of his three daughters live to this very day.
In 1991, Kronish founded the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, and he served as its executive director until he retired last year. It was in the context of his work fostering understanding and cooperation among Israel’s Muslims, Christians and Jews that Kronish came to develop a deep and abiding friendship with Issa Jaber, who spent most of his working life as an educator before becoming mayor of Abu Ghosh.
After dinner, we made the short drive to Temple Habonim, where the Israeli rabbi and the Israeli Muslim mayor spoke to a group of about 40 attentive men and women. For the first 45 minutes or so, Kronish and Jaber held the floor, alternating their presentations at the microphone. To begin, each of them presented a five-minute bio, explaining what in his life created his commitment to interreligious work. Then each of the men shared in some detail their attempts to foster genuine cooperation among Israel’s Muslims, Christians and Jews.
During the final 45 minutes, Kronish and Jaber responded to a number of thoughtful and perceptive questions from the audience.
Kronish was careful to emphasize that both he and Jaber were involved in building peace, not making peace. According to Kronish and Jaber, making peace is what politicians do; they sign “pieces” of paper (pun intended) called treaties, which provide formal structures within which peaceful societies may – or may not – develop.
In contrast, it is people like Kronish and Jaber – social workers, educators, clergy, community organizers – who help build peace among individuals and communities. They seek to accomplish their goals through carefully chosen person-to-person activities in which Arabs and Jews learn to respect each other, to value the dignity of the “other,” to see the face of the “other.” The ultimate aim of such activities is for the “other” to cease to be “other.”
Though this work of building peace is often difficult and frustrating, it is absolutely necessary if the efforts of the political peacemakers are to yield sustained and tangible results.
Toward the end of his presentation, Jaber told of an incident that illustrates the tragic challenges to building peace. Two brothers from Abu Ghosh were working at the crowded Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem. Suddenly, one of the young men heard a bomb go off in the section of the market where his brother was working. As he ran toward the explosion – which killed his brother – he was attacked by an enraged mob of Jews, who beat him to within an inch of his life because he happened to fit the Arab stereotype (it was an Arab suicide bomber who had caused the murderous explosion).
Jaber went on to say that the parents of the bomb victim, as well as the surviving brother, chose to foreswear revenge, to accept the bitter reality, and to move on to the work of building peace between Palestinians and Jews; they chose to honor their murdered son and brother with a constructive, life-affirming response to violence.
All the peacemakers in the world with all of their pieces of paper called treaties cannot repair the wounds of the human heart; that urgent task is for the peace-builders.
As I was leaving Temple Habonim at the end of the evening, I felt that I had been in the presence of two heroes – two men who have devoted their lives, without headlines or fanfare, to turning the heads and the hearts of their communities to what is most noble in our human nature. Mayor Jaber and Rabbi Kronish are truly builders of peace. It is no exaggeration to state that the world cannot survive without men and women like them.
JAMES B. ROSENBERG is rabbi emeritus at Temple Habonim in Barrington. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.