The Orthodox mother of four, in Israel for a year, is riding out of Jerusalem on a public bus to Issawiyah, an Arab village where she will study the Koran with a village elder and continue a dialogue about peace that started month ago in a project called Compassionate Listening.
Along with 16 other North American Jews, Andrea spent two weeks touring Israel and the region talking to a wide variety of people whose perspectives on the peace process differed greatly. The spiritual leader of Hamas, a militant Palestinian group seeking an autonomous homeland, spoke one day, and an another, a father whose son died in a Hamas attack.
The two-week project was “shattering.” “When you see how far apart people are, even in defining the problems, you lose your sense that there is an easy answer,” she said. “Whatever preconceived notions I had weren’t adequate to embrace all the points of view.”
Her greatest difficulties were with the religious extremists on both sides. The prejudice spewed by the “Israeli racists” and the “Muslim anti-Semites” were difficult to listen to, but listening was the goal of the project.
“My grasp of religion brings me to a different point of view. We’re cousins, the Muslims and the Jews, and we have a sacred connection.”
Her spiritual work revolves around the importance of “tikkun olam” – repairing the world. There is an added urgency motivating her work: 14 months ago, at age 42, she was diagnosed with cancer, and it has channeled her energy into work she feels is meaningful.
“Life is a gift from God,” she said. “I’m only one person, and my efforts are small, person-to-person, but this is where I feel I can make a difference in a region of the world I care deeply about.”
On the festival of Purim, she brought a plate of fruit and home-baked goods to a paraplegic living in an impoverished Palestinian tent city for homeless families. In February, she helped organize a relief project for a group of Bedouin Arabs whose tents were plowed down by the government. She brings Jews who fear they will be killed if they go into Arab areas “through their wall of fear” into Issawiyah to meet and talk with Palestinians there.
“A vast number of people on both sides want to share the land in a fair way. The problem is we’re all so mad and hurt. It’s going to take at least 10 years to say ‘I’m sorry, I hear you now.'”
First published in The Hartford Courant, April 27, 1998
Reprinted with permission of publisher. © 1998 The Hartford Courant