Homily for Community Thanksgiving Service at Mary Lyon Church…Nov. 20, 2012
The Rev. Cara B. Hochhalter, Charlemont, MA
When we were driving here tonight…a beautiful white owl flew by our window and we thought perhaps it was a sign of peace…Good evening…
When we decided to be thankful for peacemaking on this night… we didn’t know then that there would be such violence erupting from Israel and Gaza. I DID know that I would be just coming back from a 2-week study/tour through Israel/Palestine with “the Pilgrims of Ibillin” and I figured I would have at least one story to share….but I did not imagine that I would share about peace out of this global context of bombing and fear… I hear that a truce may be imminent …May it be so!
Here’s a little snapshot of two people…two peacemakers…one Palestinian Arab Christian, the other, a Jewish Israeli…both are women.
Her name is Amal… she is a Palestinian who comes from a long line of generations who have lived on top of one of the highest hills about 7 kilometers from Bethlehem in the West Bank. Her family has deeds of ownership for this 100 acres from the Ottomans, then the British, then the Jordanians, as well as the Israelis, but in 1991 their land was called “state land” and Amal and her brothers were not to farm there….but they are. They continue to grow olive trees, almond trees, fig trees and cactus among many flowers….They invite classes of 80 to 100 students to come for camping sessions to learn about living off the land, how to collect water from the rain and use solar for electricity. They teach non-violence and peace to people who come from all over the world to learn from this family of peace-makers.
Amal told us a story… because their farm is not supposed to exist, there have been boulders placed at the lower part of their hill so they cannot use vehicles to get in or out….but one day she was in a town nearby at the bus stop, she saw a Jewish woman who was going to the settlement that covers the hilltop across from where Amal lives.
Instead of ignoring each other and looking down, Amal, decided to make conversation…and in these few words… she began to form a small bridge…a beginning at making peace! She introduced herself to the other woman who asked where Amal’s home was…she told her that her family lived on top of that mountain.
“Impossible,” said the woman, “No one lives on that mountain. We were told that no one lives there…we are people on land where there are no people…” But Amal assured her that for generations, her family had lived there. She told her about their farm and their efforts at educating young people. Amal handed her her card as they parted.
A few weeks later, Amal received a call from her. She wanted to come and see. And so she did…she was served a beautiful lunch, just as we were served…and they talked at the long table looking out over the expanse of hills, a distant Palestinian village, and Jewish settlements.
Amal told us, “You have to know your neighbor if you are going to love them.”
A few months after this visit, Amal received another call from her Jewish neighbor who asked if she could bring her husband to visit because he didn’t believe her when she told him of the family who lives on the mountain and teaches environmental classes and peace-making. He came… And the bridge between these neighbors is building…But it is very hard. Their farm is called, The Tent of Nations as their goal is to bring many different people from all religions and nationalities…together.
The second story is about a woman that some of you may have already read about…in the book The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Tolan. On a rainy evening we pulled up to the very home in Ramla, near Tel Aviv, where the Palestinian family had had to flee and the Jewish family moved in after 1948. In this true story, the Jewish daughter, Dalia Landau, becomes friends with Bashir of the Palestinian family and through their life-long communications, they decide that their home should be used for a preschool for children.
It is now called “The Open House.”…What a privilege it was to sit on little preschool chairs in a circle with Dalia, now a grown woman with reddish hair and a kind smile …The house is not just a place where Muslim and Christian children come to play, but many programs that bring people together are sponsored from this once contested home, summer camps for Jewish and Palestinian youth who seek the creative space that is in the middle between them…women of all faiths work on projects together…
Dalia said it isn’t easy…but she says that “not knowing the other, is a tragedy.”
When I sat listening to her…just a week ago…she told us about something that was going to happen on November 20… today! In light of the turmoil…I can only hope they were able to continue with this program…Today they were to celebrate a Day for Prayer and Action for the rights of children!… How poignant this is as the news images we have seen coming from this same region are pictures of injured children…From “The Open House” they are going to teach about the rights for education and safety and non-violence….The staff were to go into Hebrew and Palestinian Schools …and make stories or plays that demonstrate these rights…they were also to stress the power of prayer from all religions. Today… they were to bring Jewish and Palestinian volunteers into a Bedouin school…and the children would see an example of peace-making in action.
Dalia said that HOPE is a spiritual quality…and I hope and pray that these bridges of peacemaking continue and continue and continue…I give great thanks tonight…for the people whom I met in Israel/Palestine and the people I know right here among you…who dare to reach across to the “other” ….and in that space, in that reach…I believe something of the Holy, enters in…and peace is made visible!
Shalom, Salaam, Peace…Amen