Whirling Emotions to Whirling Dervishes

Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.

These are the words of Father Elias Chacour, author of the best-selling book “Blood Brothers,” founder of the Mar Elias Educational Institute in Israel and three times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

We met with Elias Abu Janina, Vice Principal of this interfaith institute, with classes from kindergarten through college, that enrolls more than 5,000 children, including Christians, Muslims, Druze and Jews, all of whom study together.

“Meeting with Chacours’ place, was the most inspirational message of the day.”, said Wilfredo Benitez. We were on the bus and I was taking notes for this blog so you share a more visceral experience from the participants themselves. “It was inspirational because it tells us that vision without accompanied by action leads to no where. It’s stifles. It has no life, unless you put your belief into action. “Vice versa…”, he added, “an action that is not inspired by a vision in the end, is an empty shell. It doesn’t build anything. That is why it inspired me.”

Jetlag, too little sleep, foreign smells, and group dynamics all contribute to what Day Three of a group tour is endearingly referred to as “crash day”. This, in addition to the powerful sentiments expressed by people they have been meeting with would make the impact of this well known phenomenon even more likely.

The heated discussion with the Israeli-Palestinian Alternative Voice in the Galilee group stirred emotions and brought to light the various and sometimes conflicting views of how to best handle the inequality between Israel and it’s indigenous Palestinian citizens.

Knowing this, we planned a meeting in the evening with the Jewish – Arab – Palestinian Akko theater company to allow for the pilgrims of peace to express their experience so far. The program opened with the dance of the whirling dervishes, and was followed by an introduction by founders Moni Yosef – Managing Director & Actor and Khaled Abu Ali – Actor & Director, and other members of the interfaith staff.

Moni asked the pilgrims to please introduce themselves and to share their impressions thus far, of their visit to Israel. With my trusty laptop in hand, I transcribed their replies (thank God for my fast typing skills – to whom I owe my eight grade typing teacher a HUGE thanks… who knew then, how practical that skill would actually become in the age of the computer revolution):

Alima Sherman: “Having a heart that is heavy and hopeful.”

Rebecca Jupiter: “I am an actress and singer so it is very exciting for me to be here right now. Thank you.”

Yona Weisman (tour guide): “Seeing another perspective even after being here for so many years. Every day brings another emotion, another calm.”

Jerry Stinson: “Yesterday I heard the hope and the struggle. When we were at at kibbutz struggling to find hope, and then we went into the west bank and it was painful.

Paul Waller: “I have visited Israel once before doing the tourist thing. This time it is talking with real people seeing the problems and it is enriching.”

Joan Waller: “I was born in Canada. I can hear his emotion and for me it is a colidescope of feelings and emotions, I appreciate that it is a crazy country and can be frustrating. At home we work with a dialogue group with Israeli’s and Muslims. This has been an intense experience for us of hearing peoples pain, so I don’t know where I am. But I know it is exactly what I need to be experiencing.”

Steve Puzarne (group leader and tour co-founder): “I am a cantor but I have been doing peace work for a while. I had an opportunity to be involved with Rabbis for Human Rights, and it became clear that unless you come here and experience directly, you never get to see Jews and Arabs actually trying to get along. Unless I could show them first hand, they would never believe me. These are brave people. They had no track record and they came with me anyway. We are hoping that with this foundation, that we can bring hundreds and hundreds of people to share in friendship and love to change the negative impressison of what is going on.”

Wilfredo Benitez: “I am American Puerto Rican and Cuban . I am Pastor of a congregation that worships in four languages, Spanish, English, Vietnamese and Korean. We have a truly multifaith congregation – everything that you can imagine. If we truly practice our religions we will have an easier time together.”

Boaz Gershon: (My partner). “I moved to the Galillee 25 years ago. My wife is a lawyer. She has worked for 25 years in Akko in a Muslim law firm. We have created a start up – we are starting to do something that hasn’t been done before. There are some aspects that are very simple, buses… hotel, hardware, but where we speak of the software, the people, we are writing it right now, all of this will go into the melting pot which is very advanced in what is called, the travel business. ”

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