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Peacemaking Trip to Israel December 30, 2009

Posted by jayocallahan in Adventures.
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In December I went to Israel to meet Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers. I went with an extraordinary woman, Claire Shaeffer-Duffy, a long time peace activist. Claire is also a mother of four, a reporter and along with her husband Scott, she has run a Catholic Worker Hospitality house in Worcester, Massachusetts for a quarter century. At the Hospitality house they welcome the poor, refugees and people who are struggling with life, into their home.

Our trip was extraordinary but I’ll tell you only two of our many adventures. One was going to the Jenin Refugee Camp to the Freedom Theatre. The Freedom Theatre was started after the first intifada (1987-1993) by an Israeli Jew, Arna Mer-Khamis. Arna was concerned that the Palestinian children in Jenin had suffered so badly that their imaginations would be overcome by violence. She taught them to play, to express themselves and to act and she began the theatre. In the second intifada (beginning in September 2000) the actors took up arms when the army invaded and all but two were killed. Arna’s son, Juliano Mer-Khami, made an award winning documentary called Arna’s Children.

Juliano is now directing the Freedom Theatre. There are twelve students, three of them women, in a three year program. They’ve put on two plays so far, Animal Farm and Images which they took to Germany.  Juliano asked me to tell a story to the acting students: I told a bit of The Herring Shed. Then I made up a hand story. I took the hand of a young woman and using some of the lines in her palm to spark my imagination made a little story. I answered questions about my creative process. It was a joy to see these young actors in their twenties, discovering they are artists.

Our second adventure took us to Be’er Sheva to The Hagar School, a bilingual kindergarten where the  children learn both Hebrew and Arabic. Half of the students are Jews and half are Arabs. Lauren Joseph, the daughter of Rabbi Joseph of Hingham, Massachusetts, greeted us with great warmth. Lauren is teaching there, working on her Arabic and she introduced us to the director Shaul (Uli) Kornberg, Executive Director and principal Suha Ibrahim.

The school was bright and warm and it was great fun to see the children playing in the sand out back. Mira plays on the slide. Yassan prefers building blocks. Annabel eats chicken schnitzel, which she notices is shaped like a heart. Ariel draws a treasure map. The children sing lyrics while moving their hands to the words “Yadaim l’malah” (Hebrew, Hands up) “Al al-ras” (Arabic, On the head) “On the Shoulders” (in English). They learn that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and that there is more to the human ear than we can see. Their smiles are contagious; so, too, should be their belief in a peaceful future.

We also met Neve Gordon, Senior Lecturer and head of the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Neve’s son is at The Hagar School. Neve was one of the parents who worked extremely hard to create the school. Neve said that there are 250,000 Jews in Be’er Sheva, but to get just fifteen Jewish children was extremely hard. Making peace is not easy. Lauren Joseph is trying to raise $300,000 for the school. She believes deeply that this is one of the ways to make peace. Neve Gordon considers the school a miracle and feels there are lots of miracles going on everyday that will contribute to making peace. You can help out by donating money through The Hagar School website http://hajar.org.il/. And if you know of a foundation, let Lauren Joseph know. Her email is: lauren@hajar.org.il.

I returned inspired by Claire Shaeffer-Duffy, Juliano, Lauren and the many, many Palestinians and Israelis we met who are working for peace.

Happy New Year,


“Forged in the Stars” on NPR December 16, 2009

Posted by jayocallahan in Projects.

Jay recorded a 48-minute “broadcast” of his NASA story, “Forged in the Stars”, for NPR’s Living on Earth. It will air the weekend after Christmas. You can listen to the story Christmas night on Living on Earth’s website www.loe.org. To find out when Living on Earth is broadcast on your local NPR station go to www.loe.org, click on Where To Tune In, then click on your state or go directly to your local NPR station.