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Roots: A Painful Hope

Monday, November 18, 2019 20 Cheshvan 5780

7:00 PM - 9:00 PMGrove Ave. Main Sanctuary

USA Speaking Tour


Richmond Event Sponsors Temple Beth-El • Jewish Community Federation of Richmond • Second Presbyterian Church • First Baptist Church • The Innerwork Center • Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom • Kehillah • First Mennonite Church • Congregation Or Ami

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Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank, Palestinian Territories, Judea and Samaria often live in geographical proximity – yet in separate universes with no real human contact. They know next to nothing about the other and view each other with suspicion and fear.

In the Gush Etzion-Bethlehem-Hebron area, Roots is changing that reality.

Roots is a unique collaboration of local Palestinians and Israelis building a grassroots model for coexistence. 

Roots works primarily among those who have traditionally been marginalized by, threatened by, and opposed to peace and compromise: religious settlers, religious Muslims, and veterans of the Palestinian armed resistance and the Israeli prison system.

Through this program:
 - Each side discovers the humanity of the other, overcoming suspicion and building trust.
 - Joint initiatives ease tensions and improve life on the ground.
 - Perspectives are transformed, creating the foundation from which peace can sprout.

Roots was founded in 2014 by Israelis and Palestinians led by Ali Abu Awwad, Shaul Judelman, and Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger. The initiative's base, Merkaz Karama (Dignity Center), is a little Garden of Eden in the heart of Gush Etzion, on land owned by the Awwad family abutting the Palestinian town of Bet Ummar. It is one of the rare places accessible to both Palestinians and Israelis without special government permits, allowing unmediated gatherings and deep conversations between people from both sides.The Palestinians and Israelis involved in Roots do not hide the many deep disagreements between them. They are profoundly aware of the complexities of the conflict and of the lack of equality between the two sides. What unites them is their honest search for human understanding and nonviolent resolution to the conflict.  Read more about Roots here.

About the Speakers

Shadi Abu Awwad (left) and Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger (right)

Shadi Abu Awwad is a 28-year-old resident of the Palestinian city of Beit Ummar in the West Bank and one of the leaders of the Roots youth group. He studied graphic design for two years at Al Ahliyya Amman University in Jordan and in the past has worked as a building contractor.  Until recently he was the recipient of a Roots scholarship which allowed him to study at Bethlehem University.

Born into a family that took a major leadership role in the First Intifada (Palestinian uprising), Shadi was imbued from a young age with deep Palestinian patriotism and activism – and with hatred for Israelis. He was still a child when his family underwent a major transformation and became leaders of the Palestinian movement for reconciliation with Israel, and he grew up with both the hope that peace is possible and the determination to achieve it.

Shadi is invested in Roots because he believes that Roots provides a model for a solution to the conflict and for the type of connection that both Israelis and Palestinians desire: "The moment you pass through the gate and step into Merkaz Karama you are in a different world, a world in which all of us respect each other, love each other, and accept each other."

In his work with the youth group, Shadi facilitates shared encounters and experiences among Palestinian and Israeli teenagers, building a new generation of leaders who can confront the real problems between their communities while acknowledging each other's humanity.

Hanan Schlesinger is an Orthodox rabbi, teacher, and passionate Zionist settler who has been profoundly transformed by his friendship with Ali Abu Awwad, Shadi’s uncle, and with other Palestinians.  His understanding of the reality of the Middle East conflict and of Zionism has been utterly complicated by the parallel universe that Ali and others have introduced him to.  

Originally hailing from New York, Rav Hanan made aliya (ascended to the Land of Israel) on his own at the age of 20 and has lived over the green line, in Alon Shvut, Gush Etzion, for over 30 years. He spent 10 years studying in Israeli Talmudic seminaries and at Hebrew University. His professional career has been dedicated to teaching Jewish studies in various colleges and seminaries in the Jerusalem area, as well as Florida and Texas.

It was in Dallas about 10 years ago that he became involved in interfaith work, first with Christians and then with Muslims. There he founded Faiths in Conversation, a framework for Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theological dialogue. The mind-expanding experience of these trialogues inspired him to seek out Muslims and Christians back in the Holy Land.

Although always drawn to pluralism and deeply empathic for the other, and sporadically involved in the religious peace movement over the course of the past 3 decades, Rav Hanan had never formed a personal relationship with a Palestinian until he returned to Gush Etzion from Dallas about three and a half years ago. The meetings that began then have become far more meaningful than he could ever have imagined. He found himself part of the small team that founded Roots/Shorashim/Judur and has dedicated himself to bringing reconciliation to that tiny sliver of land that both Israelis and Palestinians call home.

Roots is a project of Keren Chai Shalom, an Israeli nonprofit organization dedicated to continuing the legacy of Rabbi Menachem Froman of blessed memory, a committed settler and peace activist.

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Thu, May 28 2020 5 Sivan 5780