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Photo by Mark Abramson, NYT

The war between Israel and Hamas brings untold pain, death and destruction to people in such varied positions, including us who are physically far removed, and there isn't much good to be heard. In the midst of the devastation, I was heartened by a New York Times article telling the story of New Ground, "a nonprofit fellowship program that has helped more than 500 Los Angeles Muslims and Jews learn to listen, disagree, empathize with one another — and become friends." Run by Aziza Hasan, a Muslim with Palestinian roots and the associate director, Andrea Hodos, a devout Jew who spent her post-college years living in Jerusalem.

The women describe their relationship as much deeper than that of coworkers. "Aziza is like a sister to me," said Ms. Hodos. "She is family."

"We're so connected," said Ms. Hasan, "that sometimes Andrea can complete my thought or start a sentence and finish it for me."

On October 15, a week after Hamas's attack on Israel and a week before this article appeared, Hasan and Hodos met with a circle of other Jews and Muslims, all members of New Ground, in a Los Angeles park. The meeting began with Ms. Hasan speaking of loved ones who had died in Israel and Gaza, then quoting from the Quran, asking God, "Show us the straight way, the way of those whose portion is not wrath and who go not astray." Then Ms. Hodos sang a Hebrew song and translated it, "On my right side is Gabriel, God's strength, Behind me, God's healer, Raphael. Above my head is God's divine presence." Following this dual introduction, the New Ground group in the park broke into small groups that shared their fears, their losses, their love.

One thing that struck me about this story was how these two women began their life-changing friendship––which has reached out to encompass many others in peacemaking and understanding through honest listening and telling––long before the present war that has so impacted them began. It tells me something about how important friendships across differences and disagreements are to the healing of our world––to tikkun olam, to use the Hebrew phrase. And that we can and must make this effort before such devastating tragedy strikes because then we will have the foundation that can take us through the great troubles that arise.

Writing this brought me up short as it occurred to me that I need to make such an effort with one of my brothers. He reached out to me a couple of weeks ago after a long silence. It was yet another overture to turn me from what he considers ways that will lead me to eternal destruction. Hell, in other words. I'm so over all this that I don't feel I can engage with him and other family members on the intersectionality of my sexuality and religion. But if I'm so affected by the story of these Jewish and Muslim women and how they come together for support and deep conversations, walking through the fear to friendship, shouldn't I be at least willing to try with my brother, with whom I share family ties and a history of once having a close relationship, at one time spending every single day of our lives together? We've tried unsuccessfully before, and I know we need some agreement about how to go about it, so I hope we can take a page from New Ground's values, placing curiosity over assumptions, relationships over beliefs, for a start. 

After the attack on Israel, Ms. Hodos was reeling. Her son's friend had been taken hostage. She received a text from Ms. Hasan, "How are you holding up?" Then Hasan expressed anger that these actions had been taken in the name of God. She texted her fears that there would be violent retaliation and loss of innocent lives. Then, " I love you. I am sorry."

One of Ms. Hodos's fondest memories is of the two friends making cookies together in her kosher kitchen––pinwheel cookies from an old Palestinian recipe.


I've linked to the NYT article, but if you don't have a subscription, you may hit the paywall. If you want to read it, let me know in the comments, and I can probably share it with you directly.

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