May 5, 2017

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The Open House for Jewish and Arab Children in Israel

John F. FinkYehezkel Landau taught Judaism to our class at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem in 1997. He studied at Harvard, and in 1990 received the alumnus-of-the-year award from Harvard Divinity School. He moved to the Holy Land in 1978, and was director of OZ veShalom, a religious zionist peace movement in Israel. Besides teaching, he and his wife directed the Open House for Jewish and Arab Children in Ramle, Israel, and that’s the story I want to tell this week.

Dalia Eshkenazi arrived in Ramle in 1948 at the age of 11 months when her family emigrated from Bulgaria with 50,000 other Jews from that country. The family settled in a house that had been vacated by an Arab family when the Jews forced their evacuation, and that’s where she grew up.

One day in 1967, just after the Six‑Day War, the bell rang at the front gate. Dalia answered it, and found three Arab men dressed in coats and ties despite the summer heat. One of them introduced himself as Bashir Al-Khayri, and he said that he had been born in that house. He had been forced to leave at the age of 6 and hadn’t been able to see the house since. Dalia welcomed them graciously, and the men visited the house as though they were walking on sacred ground.

Before they left, Bashir invited Dalia to visit his home in Ramallah. She did so, and struck up a friendship with the family. At one point, Bashir’s father went to Ramle to see the house he had built in the 1930s. He was old and blind, but he caressed the rugged stone walls of the house and asked if the lemon tree he had planted was still there. When he was taken to the tree, tears rolled down his cheek.

Up to that time, Dalia had been under the impression that the Arabs had abandoned their homes in 1948. She came to realize that Prime Minister David Ben‑Gurion had ordered a collective expul­sion of the Palestinians under threat of death. And since the inhabitants of another Palestinian town had all been massacred, the Palestinians knew it was no idle threat.

Time passed. Dalia inherited the home when her parents died. She married Yehezkel, and they lived in Jerusalem. But in 1991, Yehezkel and Dalia established the Open House to serve Arab children in Dalia’s childhood home. The center sponsored a wide range of activities for both Jewish and Arab children.

Today, Open House continues to consist of both the Center for the Development of the Arab Child that improves the quality of life for the Israeli Arabs and the Center for Jewish-Arab Coexistence, which sponsors a wide range of joint activities for both Jews and Arabs. It has an annual Summer Peace Camp, a Jewish-Arab Parents’ Network, and coexistence training programs for teachers and other social service professionals.

Yehezkel and Dalia are no longer married. In 2003, Yehezkel returned to the United States where he is on the faculty at Hartford Seminary. He continues his efforts at peacemaking among Jews, Christians and Muslims. †

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