How do We Connect? Lessons from Jerusalem

I'm spending the year in Jerusalem.  Our family is on sabbatical, so we've come back to the city where my partner and I met.  I lived here for a few years about 10 years ago, but it's a whole other experience as a parent.

One of our earliest questions was: where will the kids go to school?  Every option seemed to offer different possibilities in terms of how it might shape them, their outlook, their understanding of the world.  In the end, we decided to send our first-grader and preschooler to a bilingual Hebrew/Arabic school aimed at "building a shared society" of Jews and Arabs.  Unfortunately, this school and its work are exceptional here, rather than the norm. 

And, indeed, its contextually radical commitment to peace and respecting the humanity of all has made it a target for some.  A year ago, the first grade classroom was set on fire by right-wing Jews, who also left behind graffiti proclaiming that "coexistence is a cancer."  This past June, the school was vandalized again, with racist anti- Arab graffiti.

The first time, the school had the children write a banner: "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies."  The second time, there were conversations with the students, parents held joint walks together through the summer, and the school covered up the hateful remarks with, "Here, there is partnership, love and friendship between Jews and Arabs."


What is most remarkable about this school, though, is not what happens when it's reacting explicitly to the painful, tragic conflict raging just outside its doors.  It's what happens every day, in the most mundane of ways: kids eating lunch together, playing soccer at recess, working on math together, and yes, sharing traditions and holidays and food and learning, literally, to speak one another's language. 

The mundane is powerful with the parents, too—we tend to bond much less (explicitly, anyway) over our shared commitment to a more hopeful future for the region than over our kids' homework, navigating discipline and that terrible lice scare from last week.

We talk a lot about Big Questions here at ABQ, and I believe in them.  I've seen them work their magic time and time again, with diverse groups of people in sometimes deeply challenging situations.  But I think there's room for the power of the everyday questions, too—not the insignificant or the trivial, but the quotidian moments of shared humanity that help us to connect outside of the larger stories in which we sometimes find ourselves.

Sometimes coexistence and understanding begins when we ask, "When was a time that you connected deeply with someone despite very different worldviews?"--and listen thoughtfully to the answer.  And sometimes it begins when we say, "Hey, come over here! We need a goalie!"

Our work to create community on campus begins with conversation.  But the transformation really takes place when it moves beyond conversation, into the plain business of living.  When we're able to go past connecting with intentionality into simply creating and sharing relationships with the other humans with whom we share space on campus, and on this planet.  All too often, just being able to come together around the most mundane of topics is a radical act, one that defies the powers of darkness and destruction—that refuses to help those who benefit when we are divided and afraid.