The year 1948 is like a Rorschach inkblot test for Jews and Palestinians.
Depending on your point of view, it’s either a cause for celebration or a reason to mourn.
It was neither the night of May 31 at Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont.
The congregation, along with Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker-based peace group) commemorated the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel by providing a platform for three Israeli Jews and three Palestinian Arabs to share their memories of 1948. More than 100 people attended the event.
“Unless you listen to ‘the other,’ there is little chance for any resolution,” said Rabbi David Cooper at the beginning of the evening. “Our purpose tonight is to listen, whether or not we agree.”
In the spirit of balance, after Cooper explained a brief history of Zionism, a Palestinian man, Nabil Wahbeh, offered a similar yet different history, weaving in the Palestinian narrative.
After the introductory speeches, the night was arranged into speaking portions (one person from each perspective) followed by Middle Eastern musical interludes.
The six stories were like snapshots, 10-minute commentaries on where people were and how they felt before, during and after Israel’s independence.
The three Palestinians speakers, all Christians, were Wahbeh, Manar Azriek and Elias Botto, who has participated in Jewish-Palestinian dialogue for the past 15 years.
The Israeli speakers were Tsvi Meidav and Amalia Bergman, and item No. 3 from this perspective was the reading of a piece written by Judith Buber Agassi.
“What do I remember? I remember sitting in our living room and listening to the United Nations vote ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ ‘yes,'” recalled Bergman, who was born in Russia and grew up in Petach Tikvah.
“And everyone was jumping up and down, shouting ‘Oh, at last! We have a state.’ And then there was quiet.
“My parents said, ‘Tomorrow, you know what it will be,'” she added. “And then the war broke out. But death was not understandable to us as kids.”
In a touching moment, the third Israeli narrative — written by author and university professor Agassi, who is Martin Buber’s granddaughter — was read by Seema Dajani, a Palestinian woman whose grandparents were close friends with the Bubers.
All spoke of wanting peace, respecting human rights and hoping for more dialogue and understanding between their two cultures.
All were children or teenagers in 1948, except for Azriek, a 30-year-old who shared her grandmother’s story. Azriek said 17 of her relatives were killed in the Arab village Eilabun in 1948.
Her grandmother’s pain “is still there, though it’s unspoken,” she said. “But for me, I’ve had to deal with the pain on both sides. I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood and went to a Jewish school.”
Some in attendance felt encouraged by the dialogues.
“Raising awareness gives me hope,” said Anna Rogers of San Rafael. “It was really moving for me to hear those stories. I’m much more sympathetic to the Palestinian stories because as Jews we don’t hear them very often.”
Yet others felt the evening was imbalanced.
“It was very one-sided and I felt the pro-Israel point of view was not represented,” said Michelle Booth of Foster City.
Booth came with two of her friends, both women who also felt the dialogues favored the Palestinian perspective. The three women talked to one of the event coordinators, Phylece Snyder, who listened to their concerns and explained that the narratives were “a starting point.”
“We wanted people to start having conversations as a result,” Snyder said.
Program coordinators also invited Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, a longtime facilitator of Jewish-Palestinian dialogue, to officiate the evening’s narratives.
Gottlieb concluded the evening by asking people to call out words that expressed the night’s purpose.
Miracle. Peace. Justice.
Then, Gottlieb led the group in a call and response, ending with the phrase “bring the walls down.”
“May we leave this room and do something with these narratives,” she said.