With this article, IH and Partners are inaugurating a new program, Kolot: Voices from Israel. Every issue, and in our other work, we will be featuring the work of a progressive Israeli NGO that is less well-known in the US than it deserves to be. Each article will contain a link to the organization’s own website so you can learn more about them and perhaps contribute to their work.
Partners is committed to building partnerships between progressive Israelis and Americans. During this ongoing and extended period of rightwing government, many Jews and others outside Israel have lost sight of the Israeli progressive tradition – and despaired of reviving it. We want to show that there are many hundreds of thousands of Israelis and hundreds of organizations of all sorts that are working in a wide variety of fields, who share our vision for a liberal, progressive, egalitarian Israel.
“Together we cried and screamed the pain that had been frozen in the body for many years, we experienced fear and terror, anger and hatred, and immense love, and passion and yearning, and such deep human connection. And we were able to see beyond all the stories, to truly see ourselves and one another. We saw that within us there exists everything, all of it, all the voices and the parts and feelings and needs.
I saw within myself all the narratives and points of view at the same time. I saw the voices of extreme rightists, and extreme leftists, Arabs and Jews, women and men, courage and fear, compassion and hatred. And mostly, I saw how much love I have in my heart, how much love there is in everyone’s heart. I will not be the same again after this workshop.”
Amichai (Jewish man) at the end of the five-day workshop organized and co-led by Together Beyond Words
Together Beyond Words (TBW) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the empowerment of women, the healing of emotional wounds and traumas, and the undermining of prejudice; all as a path towards building a just and peaceful society In Israel. We accomplish our goals through workshops and courses using our multidisciplinary approach “Beyond Words” and “Playback Theatre”.
Even though there is and has been for years an agreement on how crucial it is to address the importance of diversity in the Israeli educational system, yet according to the State Comptroller, the Ministry of Education has almost completely failed to address this issue. The disregard for diversity education in a country that is multicultural, has prominent minorities, and is deeply embroiled in a complex conflict, has led to an increase of racist behavior in our schools and colleges, a marked decrease in the ability to voice opinions that are pro-diversity and peace without being targeted, called names, and even physically threatened. The conflict continues and the situation along the border with Gaza and in the West Bank is getting worse.
We believe that much of the destructive behavior, the prejudice, and violence are driven by existential fear, anger, grief, and despair related to our history, to life in Israel, and to the ceaseless conflict. We also believe that women who are empowered have unique gifts they can bring to social change and peace-building arenas.
For the last 22 years we have been working with thousands of people, creating places where Arabs and Jews can transform their painful emotions so they are not transmitted; where empathy and understanding for “the other” are enhanced, where women can reclaim their leadership in working for peace and justice, and where women and men can become allies in healing themselves and others.
For me, one of the most significant moments in our five-day Peace Leadership summer workshop was when Sharon, a 45 year old Jewish woman with a beautiful smile, spoke of her fear of Arabs. She was born and raised in Ariel, a settlement in the West Bank that her parents helped to build. From an early age, fear of what the Palestinians who live all around Ariel might do to her and her loved ones, hung like a heavy dark cloud that is always present even when the sky is totally blue.
Sitting near her was Jamal, a Palestinian from Bethlehem. He looked at her and asked if she had ever thought about what it was like before her family moved to Ariel…
“Who did the land belong to? Do you think there might be people who still feel the loss of this land?” he asked. “Maybe it was not just an empty space before your parents first came to settle there…” He continued looking directly into her eyes.
She held his gaze and I saw a tear slowly making its way down her face. “Please acknowledge our pain, too” he beseeched. “Please do not ignore it….”
Still holding his gaze she said: “Truthfully, I have never really considered your pain…”
Her honesty hurt. I felt as if an emotional marble was making its way up my throat.
Sharon then shared that she had been present in a bank during a terrorist attack. “I saw the man with the rifle run down the street shooting and was terrified he might enter the bank where I was hiding. Since then I feel stress every time I leave my house, thinking all the time when I choose a place to sit on a bus or in a restaurant where the best chances of not getting hurt by a terrorist are. My fears haunt me… I would like so much to just be able to sit outside on a sunny morning, relax, and enjoy a cup of coffee.”
Jamal looked at her and I felt he deeply understood how fear can haunt us. He shared a moment from his childhood when he was seven and played hide-and-go-seek with some friends. “Suddenly I ran into a soldier who suspected that I wanted to throw a stone and began chasing me. For God’s sake I was only seven years old!!! I managed to run home and hid under my bed, shaking with fear for a very long time.”
I looked around the room and saw some people were crying. I too felt my heart aching. I have lived here most of my life and the fear they were talking about felt as familiar to me as the computer I stare into every morning when I begin to work. But I also felt a sense of relief, that right now, at this moment, we had created a space where both narratives could be held compassionately without one shadowing the other. And our ability to cry and even scream our pain together is no small feat in this complex world. To me it feels like the basis of healing and peace.
As a confirmation “from the universe,” I just received a WhatsApp from Dashi, a student in one of our programs whom I had not spoken to in six months. She was part of our From Stage to Change Playback Theatre Ensemble at Tel Hai College, the only Arab/Jewish women’s Playback Theatre Ensemble in the world.
I am not sure why she decided to write this morning but here is what she wrote: “The truth is that life continues to challenge me, sometimes it’s good and at other times not so much. I am not sure how, but somehow I am able to stay connected to myself. And throughout this process I can now understand how meaningful last year was for me [when she participated in our program].
I see how the process I went through with the Playback Theatre still influences my life today. How I have grown and matured, how much I learned about accepting those who are different from me…
It is still a challenge but I certainly feel that I am in a totally different place then most people I meet because of that experience. I ask myself: Is this good? Or is it something that plays against me? And I have decided to view this maturity as an advantage. It is a sensitivity that enables me to speak what I feel in my heart… To be open…I hope you are OK…Sending love.”
With love and deep gratitude for your support of this work….
Nitsan Joy Gordon is director of Together Beyond Words. She is trained and experienced in dance/movement therapy, healing touch and multi-level listening, and emotional healing techniques – all of which are used as part of the Beyond Words Educational Model. She has led many courses on understanding and healing prejudice, as well as workshops and trainings in Israel and the US using the BW model.