I Shall Not Hate — Dr. Abuelaish at the Forest Hills Jewish Center

1. The crowd at the Jewish Center… 300 people not caring about a scarf. 2. Dr. Abuelaish’s book.

One thing I enjoy about writing for the Outlet is that it often takes me places I’d never go if left to my own devices. Take, for example, the Forest Hills Jewish Center last night, which in terms of distance I measured by how close it is to JFK airport (four stops), and also that Google recommended I take the Babylon-LIRR out to get there.

Also, I’m not Jewish, nor have I ever been in a synagogue. As I walked through the doors I was wondering: “Can I wear a scarf? A hat? Are jeans ok? Can I take pictures? Am I violating their space?” Well, you get the picture (neuroses).

1. The glorious chandelier. 2. The “bar.”

When I entered the room, I had to stop a moment to admire the giant chandelier hanging from the ceiling. It glowed and hung like an inverted iceberg and centered around the crowd below, which numbered in the hundreds. This was not a bar (they did have coffee and cookies), nor was this going to be a cramped and dimly lit dive. This was something special.

Izzeldin Abuelaish, who grew up in a refugee camp and would later became a doctor, is Palestinian, a Muslim, and a father of three daughters killed by Israeli tank shells, and was the guest speaker tonight at the synagogue.

In short, no one cared about my scarf.

The emcee of the event mentioned how those who showed tonight, were all interested in “[their] heritage, their identity, and their community.” This little door opened up enough for me step inside and feel a part of this group, which I was not. I care about things like that, too. Which seemed to be a theme of the night: at the end of the day we’re all humans.

A rabbi took the podium next and prefaced the reading as a “meta-language that transcends the language which divides us, it goes beyond histories and narratives which we bring upon and at each other.” The meta-language was that which is spoken by our humanity — big words like love, hope, and peace. Only here they didn’t seem so lofty; instead, they seemed needed.

Dr. Abuelaish captured the entire room immediately when he took the podium. You could feel the crowd sit upright and lean towards his words, a spine-tingling experience when you’re with 300 people. He held the demeanor of a politician when the stakes were high, the gravity of preacher when a miracle was being proposed, and the mystic of a man who had been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize (he has).

“My life … is a real war.”

He gave a lecture about hope, and its connection with action, and that killing people in the Middle East needs to stop. His book, I Shall Not Hate, discusses his method of dealing with the death of his children at the hands of the Israelis and his courageous choice to not seek anger or revenge, but to dedicate his life towards healing both sides.

A lively Q&A followed after, with the initial questions batting around the 500 ton elephant in the room, but which were eventually asked in two forms: “Do you want a Palestinian state?” and “Do you recognize Israel as its own state?” To which he answered yes to both, and pleaded that in doing so the violence must stop, for both.

As I walked out, I asked the Auxiliary Policeman where the restroom was, and he said, “I don’t know. I don’t belong here, I’m just watching.” Which is pretty much how I defined my role when I first came into the synagogue. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict concerns me as a humanist but mostly as an outsider, not in the way it concerns Palestinians and Israelis as people willing to die (and kill) for their heritage, their identity, and their community. I have my bourgeois lifestyle where my complaints are measured in how many subway stops a reading is from my apartment.

But I am still a human. And their war is our war. Their suffering is all our suffering. The only distance is that which we create in our own minds.

Synagogue (word)-Cloud: juice, Kippah, “As-Salam Alaikum”

Dr. Abuelaish (word)-Coud: human, doctor, band-aid

I Shall Not Hate

by Izzeldin Abuelaish

Powells.com

***

— Craig Moreau, author of Chelsea Boy, has just finished a book tour and is currently drinking a beer. He is interested in identity, democracy, and word-clouds.

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