The Compassionate Ones
By Judy Lash Balint
I can't really recall how I got to be a regular on their itinerary. But
every few months, I spend half a day as token right wing guide for groups of
visitors who come to Israel under the auspices of a little-known
Seattle-based peace group known as the Compassionate Listeners.
During their two week stay here, almost all the other Israelis they will meet
are representatives of far left organizations who denounce Israeli government
policy and promote the Palestinian point of view. People like Jeff Halper of
the International Committee Against House Demolitions; Rabbi Arik Ascherman
of Rabbis for Human Rights and Gila Svirsky of Bat Shalom. The rest of the
Listener's time is spent in Palestinian areas including Bethlehem, El Khader,
El Bireh and Issawiye so the Americans can hear "the other side."
My role is to explain the Jewish historic, spiritual and strategic
significance of eastern Jerusalem, and to show them examples of Jewish
development in this part of the city.
The group I took around last Friday morning was an interfaith delegation that
included 17 members of a Seattle area Congregational church and a Reform
temple. I lived in Seattle for more than 25 years, so it isn't difficult to
establish my bona fides as a graduate of the state university and colleague
of their rabbi in the Soviet Jewry movement. Maybe that's what makes the
questions asked by members of this group less hostile than those I've
encountered from previous visiting Listeners.
Still, it's always enlightening to see how myths get shattered. As the bus
drives into the southern Jerusalem suburb of Gilo, home to more than 40,000
residents most of whom live in typical Israeli post-1970s style four and five
story apartment houses, I hear someone whisper to his seatmate: "I thought
Gilo was a settlement."
When we get to the Shimon HaTzaddik neighborhood just east of Meah Shearim,
about half a mile north of Damascus Gate, most members of the group are
astounded at what they see. Contrary to their preconceived notion that Arabs
and Jews can't live together, they learn that six young Jewish families and a
small synagogue co-exist side by side with the Arabs who have been squatting
on the Jewish owned property since the 1930s. "Is this the West Bank?" one
woman asks tentatively.
Our time runs out and I can't show the Seattle guests a few other places that
might have raised an eyebrow. The Maale Hazeitim development that's almost
ready for occupancy overlooking the Temple Mount in the area known as Ras El
Amud, or Yeshivat Beit Orot, the only live Jewish presence on the Mt. Of
Olives, just below Hebrew University.
The Listeners have a lunch date at a restaurant on Saleh e- Din Street in the
commercial center of east Jerusalem. I'm compelled to leave out some details
at this site too. Somehow I can't quite find it in my heart to tell them that
this is where some Arabs celebrated the attacks against America on September
from the February Purim 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine