Tuesday, May 28, 2024
May 28, 2024

Viewpoint: Evening of imperfect, amazing grace


When I arrived at last Saturday’s Middle Eastern dinner in support of Gaza citizens, my first conversation was with a friend who said, “I wasn’t sure I was going to come. I have terribly mixed feelings about this. But I’m here.”

I thought, “Oh dear. This is going to be hard.” 

But how could an evening dedicated to dialogue about the war in Israel and Palestine be anything but hard?

And it was. Hard, compassionate, messy: and transformative. 

The program began with the panel moderator, Eva Peskin, walking slowly through the crowd, singing  Leonard Cohen’s Come Healing. She sang,

Behold the gates of mercy

In arbitrary space

And none of us deserving

Of cruelty or the grace.”

This was the first sign of how vulnerable, and painstakingly careful, the organizers would be. Before the discussion, we were introduced to a care team comprising counsellors, present to support people overwhelmed by grief, and — though there was no need — to mediate in case conflict erupted. Attendees were asked to read, and sign, a community agreement outlining respectful rules of conduct.

We heard  from people who’d spend time in Israel and Gaza acting as human shields, as aid workers, and as peace negotiators. Though they shared a variety of perspectives, many of the speakers repeated a similar entreaty:  we can disagree with one another, without tearing each other down. 

My friend, who’d been so reluctant in the beginning, ended up staying for the wonderful feast of lamb and tagine. After more challenging but compassionate conversations, she shared that though she’d found it difficult, she was glad she’d come. 

It is devastating, even so far from the conflict, that the bombs keep falling, and the hostages remain incarcerated. It must be unbearable to be living in Palestine, or Israel, with the horror unfolding day-by-day.  

But when we gather, in all our diversity, with a shared commitment to respect one another’s points of view, we create more than safety for one another. We create the conditions, in our hearts, for peace to take root. 

I admit: I was also nervous to attend. I am so grateful to Omrane Hassan, Eva Peskin and the emergent Arab-Jewish Coalition for Peace in the Middle East group for helping us to overcome our fears so we could break bread together.

Of course the evening was not perfect  — though the baklava absolutely was! But: because we took the time to listen to, and honour, each others stories, we found a way to be with one another — in imperfect, amazing grace. 

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