The class was taught on a rooftop in the hot summer evenings. The teacher had a warm, loving energy, and often dedicated the intention of the day’s practice to the manifestation of peace. In addition to a challenging yoga practice, then, the class was often emotional and very therapeutic because of this amazing teacher and the community drawn to her teachings.
I wanted to say, “I just think the best way to end violence is to find the root cause of people’s anger and frustration, even if that means being introspective to what ‘our’ side might be contributing to causing it.” But I didn’t.
I don’t remember exactly what I said, if anything. The truth is, I didn’t really know any Muslims or Palestinians yet, so how could I counter his racism? I didn’t have the cognizance yet to know how to manage such situations. I wasn’t as articulate or educated as I wanted to be at that point. But I learned. Boy, did I learn.
I learned from my personal experiences, and I learned from my coursework. More importantly, they fed each other. Conversations with my friends would breathe life into the theories I was learning, just as those theories helped me understand my new friends better. In the fall I would spend a few months dating an Israeli guy. In the spring I would spend a few months dating a Palestinian.
I made so many friends who enhanced my knowledge with wisdom.
We learned about how different religions approach and handle conflict in a discussion with top religious clerics from Jerusalem, Muslim Qadi Iydad Zahalka and Father David Neuhaus.
We learned about the ultimate challenge of forgiveness, and the cooperative efforts of those who have paid the highest price. These are two members of the Parent's Circle, a group of Israeli and Palestinian parents who have all lost children to the conflict.
The Parent's Circle is featured in a film we viewed called Beyond Right & Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness
We spent Christmas Eve in Bethlehem - the most politicized Christmas ever. A stage show in the center square had a banner in the backdrop that read ‘All I want for Christmas is justice.’ Women in hijab were sporting in Santa hats. Palestinian National Guard started to line the streets by nightfall in preparation for the arrival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity. Stopping only to see Banksy’s art on the way to the checkpoint, my friends and I made our way back to spend Christmas Day in Jerusalem.
We witnessed a gay pride parade peacefully pass an active mosque in Tel Aviv. Perhaps the only place in the world where this might happen, regularly.
Perhaps most notable was when we viewed the film The Gatekeepers, a documentary about the Israeli Security Agency, Shin Bet. Following the screening, our class had a private conversation with one of the six former heads of the organization featured in the film, Retired Admiral Ami Ayalon.