Compassionate Listening

I have had the privilege of meeting many extraordinary people in my life.  They include some who are very famous and some who are not well known.  Recently one of these passed away.  Hs name was Rabbi Menachem Froman.  There is a wonderful video about him at http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/126661/the-peace-seeking-settler-rabbi?utm_source=tabletmagazinelist&utm_campaign=fb85a46b7e-3_12_2013&utm_medium=email

I met Rabbi Froman in his home in the settlement of Tekoa during a mission to Israel that gave me new understanding about how to go about making peace.  It was sponsored by Compassionate Listening (www.compassionatelistening.org) and was specifically a Jewish mission.  There were sixteen of us plus a film crew.  In the course of two weeks we met with all kinds of Israelis and Palestinians including settlers, peace activists, PLO officials, Israeli farmers, Palestinian farmers, journalists, and even the founder of Hamas.

Our mission was based on an approach to peacemaking that is controversial among peace activists.  Instead of choosing aggressor and victim when approaching the arena of conflict, our mission was to engage people involved in the conflict and get them to talk about it.  One of the first steps in making peace is letting everyone understand that they are being heard.  This requires setting aside judgment.  We had two or three days of training ending with meetings with people who were in on what we were doing.

Then we got on the bus and visited people.  Sometimes they were not celebrities or activists.  We met with Palestinians living on the West Bank whose houses were under threat of demolition by Israeli authorities.  We met with settler activists and also with representatives of the Palestinian authority.  We even went to Gaza where we met with the Palestinian governor (after a nearly two-hour meeting he was literally in tears).  We met with the head of the local Red Crescent who was a founder of the PLO.  He spoke about his childhood in Hebron where some of his friends were Jews until the 1936 massacre.  We met with Iyad Seraj, a psychiatrist who believed that our two peoples needed each other to heal from our wounds.  (I hope he still feels that way after all that happened in Gaza since then.)  We met with Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder and spiritual leader of Hamas.  We were allowed to ask questions and we did.

In addition we had two week-ends.  During the first one we stayed with Palestinian families in Hebron, which has to be the most tense place in the whole land.  I love the memory of the hospitality shown by the peasant family I stayed with.  Their house, the one I stayed in, was demolished a few months later.  I donated to help them pay for new building permits and visited the new home around a decade ago.  The second weekend we enjoyed home hospitality in the settlement of Efrat.  My host, Joshua, was a remarkable man.  He is a settler and an Orthodox Jew but he is also a man of compassion and wisdom who has spent time in Thich Naht Hanh’s Plum Village in France learning Buddhist spiritual traditions.  As I left with the group he reminded me that the ear is not only the organ for listening but the organ that provides balance.

On our last night we ate in a café on Ben Yehudah Street near a place where a suicide bomber had killed many people.  Next door was a CD store and I was eager to buy Israeli music, especially that which blends Jewish and Arab musical traditions (I have a quite a collection of this genre).  The name of the shop was (in Hebrew) “The Way of The Ear.”  That just seemed so right.

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One response to “Compassionate Listening”

  1. mike feldman says :

    thank you for the post. it made me think further.

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