In Rochester, New York the families closest to me/us were either all Jewish or were families with either a Jewish husband or wife. I/we had the chance to get to experience the extraordinary range in some of these families – Orthodox to Reform to Secular – and something about their traditions and customs. One of them, our neighbor Nathan, born in Poland had fled from the Nazis and in Iraqi Kurdistan had had his life saved by Kurds who made it possible for him and his family to continue to India and eventually to Rochester, New York to become our neighbor.
In Linköping, Sweden the families closest to me have their roots in Iraqi Kurdistan and in African Eritrea. Some are Christian, some are Muslim. As I got to know these families I often commented that their family gatherings reminded me most of my Jewish friends in Rochester.
One of the great gifts given to me as a result of moving to Sweden was the chance to work at the Red Cross helping and being helped by people of all faiths and no faiths who have fled war and persecution to find refuge in Sweden. One of them, Ala B., is an Arab from Jerusalem who has been one of my windows into that world.
My message is very simple. We are first and foremost human beings (människor) who by the accident of our birth were brought up in an environment that was shaped in part by Judaism, Islam, or Christianity. All of us are in that sense the Children of Abraham (see Bono project in New York Times today 3 January 2009). None of us is better than the other because of that. Each of us is perhaps better at doing something we have learned to do thus far in life. We can use my good friend Sonia as example – she sings a lot better than any of the rest of us – and in more languages than you can imagine. She sings so well, not because of her religion or "nationality" but because she has worked so hard.
So read the excerpts from this story published in the New York Times on New Year’s Eve. Then just ask yourself – please, snälla – can I take a little step to try to understand someone who is different from me and then see if by getting to know them what human qualities we have in common. And if that someone needs help I might give, can I give it?
Marya in wheelchair (born a Palestinian Muslim) and Orel (born an Israeli Jew)
(Neighbors and close friends - in Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem)
Marya, her 6-year-old brother, Momen, and their father, Hamdi Aman all are in Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem as patients
Orel and his mother Angela Elizarov, á surgical nurse, share a room in the same hospital. Angela’s husband, Avrel, works with children, and comes as often as possible to the hospital. The couple came to Israel from Azerbaijan
All quotations from NYT story - see NYT 31 December 2009
“Friendship often starts with proximity, but Orel and Marya, both 8, have been thrust together in a way few elsewhere have. Their playground is a hospital corridor. He (Orel) is an Israeli Jew severely wounded by a Hamas rocket. She (Marya) is a Palestinian Muslim from Gaza paralyzed by an Israeli missile. Someone forgot to tell them that they are enemies.”
“When Orel arrived here a year ago, he could not hear, see, talk or walk. Now he does them all haltingly. Half his brain is gone--- Marya’s spinal cord was broken at the neck and she can move only her head. Smart, sunny and strong-willed, she moves her wheelchair by pushing a button with her chin”
“In a way, a friendship between two wounded children from opposing backgrounds is not that surprising. Neither understands the prolonged fight over land and identity that so divides people here. They are kids. They play.”
“But for those who have spent time in their presence at Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem, it is almost more powerful to observe their parents, who do understand. They have developed a kinship that defies national struggle.”
Angela Elizarov (Orel’s mother): “The wounds of our children, their pain, our pain, have connected us,” …“Does it matter that he is from Gaza and I am from Beersheba, that he is an Arab and I am a Jew? It has no meaning to me. He sees my child and I see his child.”
Hamdi Aman (Marya’s father): “(He) is asked how he can live among the people whose army destroyed his family. ‘I have never felt there was a difference among people — Jews, Muslims, Christians — we are all human beings,’ he says. “I worked in Israel for years and so did my father. We know that it is not about what you are but who you are. And that is what I have taught my children.”
My (LL) final comment. These people are human beyond belief. They are role models functioning at the “angelic” level that few of us perhaps can approach. But each can try to move in that direction – one step at a time.
Linköping, Sweden early Sunday morning the 3 of January 2009.