Love ye therefore the stranger; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. – Deuteronomy, 10:18-19
Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him: and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers… – Qu’ran 4:36.
It makes no difference whether you have ever heard of Baha’u’llah or not, the man who lives the life according to the teachings of Baha’u’llah is already a Baha’i. – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 106.
Don’t you love to read good news?
When I read the “feel good” stories sprinkled in between the many articles that address the negative aspects of life that shock and sadden us, I feel some renewed hope for the future. So I want to share a personal story about my Jewish relatives that I trust will do the same for others.
My nephew, Jeremy, and his 13 year old daughter, Isabel, recently experienced an exciting and educational five day bike ride in Israel. An interesting back story explains what led them to participate in the ride:
Twenty-five years ago, Jeremy’s college application essay offered a naive but optimistic proposal to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict: “integrate Jewish and Arab children starting in kindergarten. By the time that generation of children grew up and enrolled their kids in the same kindergartens, their mutual dislike would have disappeared.” His idea helped get him accepted to Harvard University.
Fast forward to 2014:
Isabel learned about a school in Israel where Israeli Arabs and Jews go to school together. It seemed like a ray of hope. Then in November, the Arab-Jewish school became the victim of arson by extremists.
Jeremy and his daughter’s common interest in Israel’s struggle and their wish for peace in the region led them to try and make their vision a reality.
What they chose did not surprise me. Jeremy has always followed his words with action. One day after the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, Jeremy and his wife, Michele, headed to the area with brooms, dust pans and bags and helped clean the streets.
A supporter of the Arava Institute, Jeremy suggested to Isabel, who whole-heartedly agreed, that they participate in the #2015IsraelRide, to help raise funds towards tuition for an Arab student who wants to study but who lacks the funds to enroll.
Isabel made the bike ride her Bat Mitzvah project. When Jewish youth reach the age of thirteen they have completed intensive study which culminates, in part, in them reading from the Torah at a Sabbath service, giving a speech on what this milestone in their life means, and choosing a charitable project. Isabel chose to support the Arava Institute:
With a student body comprised of Jordanians, Palestinians, Israelis, and students from around the world, the Arava Institute offers students an exceptional opportunity to learn from leading professionals while forming friendships and developing skills that enable them to lead the region and the world in solving today’s most pressing environmental challenges.
Here, the idea that nature knows no political borders is more than a belief. It is a fact, a curriculum, and a way of life.
Isabel was one of two #2015IsraelRide participants selected to be interviewed on YNET, an Israeli Internet news station. It went, in part:
Isabel, you chose to celebrate your Bat Mitzvah here.
You know you could do that in Disneyland for instance.
What brought you here?
Well, there’s been a lot of conflict here, and after my Bat Mitzvah, I’ve actually been planning this for a while, and… we do a Bat Mitvah project, and for me, a lot of my family live here in Israel, and so I wanted to help the conflict and bring peace and make sure there’s safety for them and for everyone else, so by helping and biking for the Arava Institute I’m able to support that cause and bring peace here.
The ride turned out to build the mind as well as the body. An educational program integrated into both the riding route and evening schedules led Isabel and her father to some new conclusions:
…we did learn a lot about the desert ecology, and how the Arava Institute promotes dialogue among Palestinian, Israeli Jew and Israeli Arab students. One Israeli alum remarked on how after he studied at the Arava Institute, he treated Palestinians with more trust when he was in the reserves, compared to his earlier military service. Another student talked about how the wastewater treatment plants in Israel are among the best in the world, but in the Palestinian territories, it’s another story — and it’s complicated because the PA (Palestine Authority) doesn’t always want assistance because it creates some sort of dependency that they don’t want — it’s complicated!
It has been a challenging but rewarding journey to take with my daughter ever since we began training for this in March. Many thanks to those that supported us, particularly those that sponsored Isabel who raised $10,000 — more than enough to cover the tuition of one student at the Arava Institute in Israel.
My wonderful Jewish relatives may never have read any of the Baha’i teachings, but they live them:
Cleanse ye your eyes, so that ye behold no man as different from yourselves. See ye no strangers; rather see all men as friends, for love and unity come hard when ye fix your gaze on otherness. And in this new and wondrous age, the Holy Writings say that we must be at one with every people; that we must see neither harshness nor injustice, neither malevolence, nor hostility, nor hate, but rather turn our eyes toward the heaven of ancient glory. For each of the creatures is a sign of God, and it was by the grace of the Lord and His power that each did step into the world; therefore they are not strangers, but in the family; not aliens, but friends, and to be treated as such. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 24.