Archive for April, 2009

How serious is the threat of anti-semitism in Europe?

20/04/2009

I’m often bewildered by media reports and conversations with some Jews about  the serious threat of anti-semitism – these stories are totally at odds with my experience living in England.  In a recent online survey of the views of Jewish leaders and opinion-formers in 31 European countries on the major challenges and issues concerning European Jewish communities, it seems that my perception is shared by other Jews. These people ranked antisemitism ninth in a list of 12 items. The first eight threats included loss of Jewish identity, lack of Jewish knowledge and declining numbers.  Antony Lerman, writing in the Guardian Comment is Free asked a reasonable question: wouldn’t investing more charitable funds in the kind of cultural programmes that show a community interacting with and looking out on the world with confidence do more for the Jewish sense of security than some of the activities of the Community Security Trust ( The Trust monitors and reports on antisemitism, provides security at Jewish events and buildings and works in close cooperation with the police)? My involvement with Radio Salaam Shalom achieves that for me.

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Lend for Peace

20/04/2009

A Palestinian woman who loves to cook needs a loan of $2000 to buy a fridge and a rotisserie for her small restaurant. Through LendforPeace.org, a global non-profit that puts individual lenders in touch with vetted Palestinian entrepreneurs, we can do something constructive to help her out of poverty without making her a recipient of charity.   “By encouraging economic opportunity and hope through microfinance, LendforPeace.org seeks to foster stability and peace in the Middle East.” Check it out. I did and it feels a lot better to give her a loan than to give her a handout.

Anne Frank and You Exhibit comes to Bristol

18/04/2009

Building Bridges in Bristol – Just as in Anne Frank’s time, there are communities in Bristol today who are excluded and marginalised. Come to a compassionate listening dialogue session to hear the person behind the label, to make connections with each other and to recognise our common humanity. Facilitated by Lisa Saffron (Radio Salaam Shalom and the Liberal Synagogue) and by Cassandra Howes (inter-faith practitioner). Phone 079207 46150. Small donation requested for room hire.

Wednesday 13th May, 7.30pm, Pierian Centre, 27 Portland Square,  St Paul’s, Bristol BS2 8SA

Monday 18th May, 7.30pm, Horfield Meeting House, 300 Gloucester Road, Bristol BS7 8PD Map

“The Trouble with Islam Today” – read it before judging it

18/04/2009

On mepeace.org, there are some great recommendations.  Here’s another. I recommend Irshad Manji’s book, The Trouble with Islam Today. She writes the book as an open letter to her fellow Muslims,  challenging them to join her in Operation Ijtihad (read the book to find out what this is).  She throws in a call to non-Muslims as well, urging us to be careful of the racism that comes from over-compensating.  This book is an inspiration to reaffirm our commitment to freedom of expression, individuality, and human rights for all.

Sufi Soul music and the image of Islam

15/04/2009

In Sufi Soul on Wild Dervish Writes, the musician Youssou N’dour states his belief that Sufi music can correct the present image of Islam.  I’m happy to add Sufi music to my expanding image of Islam.  I know little about Islam but what I do know is shaped by what I read in the media (most of which is best ignored) and by my direct experiences with Muslims (which I take seriously).  So far, I’ve had many stimulating and positive experiences with open-minded Muslims I’ve met through Radio Salaam Shalom and by some frustrating experiences with homophobic and intolerant Muslims disturbed by my lesbianism. As with any group of people, Islam includes the full diversity of views and behaviours.  Stereotyping and generalising from a small sample doesn’t lead to a correct image of Islam. Maybe there is no correct image.

Peaceful Solutions: Being Peace Workshop

12/04/2009

Sadly, we had to cancel this workshop as not enough people signed up.

A One-Day Workshop on 19 April led by Sheila Yeger and Lisa Saffron The only way out of violence and conflict is for us to embrace the practice of peace, to think and act with compassion, love and understanding.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Working together creatively through Mind, Body and Spirit, we shall explore ways of developing inner peace, peace within relationships, peace in the groups in which we work, and live, and a firm conviction that we can all actively contribute to world peace. These are some of the tools we shall be introducing :
BODY : Qi Gung exercises and a relaxation technique.
MIND : Non -Violent Communication skills, and a positive reframing exercise.
SPIRIT : Loving-kindness Meditation, the Buddhist practice of Tong Len (Giving and Receiving), and Compassionate Listening.

“We must be the change we want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi

Date: Sunday April 19th, from 12 noon to 6 p.m
Venue: Horfield Quaker Meeting , 300 Gloucester Road, Bristol BS7

Sheila Yeger is a writer, a teacher of meditation and mysticism, and a student healer. Born into a non-observant Jewish family, she spent 16 years studying and practising Tibetan Buddhism, receiving teachings and initiations from many high Lamas, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She is now an active member of the Bristol and West Progressive Congregation, where she regularly leads services based on meditation. She is a mother and a grandmother.

Lisa Saffron is a writer and peacemaker, committed to breaking down barriers between people through the teaching of compassionate listening and constructive dialogue. She belongs to a liberal synagogue and is involved with Radio Salaam Shalom, an internet radio station for Jewish-Muslim dialogue. She is the author of a novel, Checkpoint, set in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Gay marriage becomes law in Vermont

10/04/2009

I was overcome with joy to hear that the state of Vermont just became the first state in the USA to vote in favour of gay marriage.  I went on to Democracy Now (www.democracynow.org) and listened to Amy Goodman tell us about this momentous event.  Go to her website to hear her speaking to Beth Robinson, chair of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, to Rep. Bill Lippert, chair of Vermont House Judiciary Committee, and longtime gay rights activist and to 12 year old Evann Orleck-Jetter, daughter of a lesbian couple, who testified at the public hearings on gay marriage last month before Vermont’s Joint Senate and House Judiciary Committees.

Inspiring Peace

07/04/2009

On the 31st March, Sheila Yeger and I held a Peace Fair in Bristol to celebrate grassroots peacemaking initiatives in the Middle East.  We wanted to be inspired and to inspire others with the possibilities of non-violent peaceful coexistence and harmony between Israelis and Palestinians.  We knew of many creative projects where people were working together but we rarely hear about these projects in the news. The media focusses on conflict and violence, giving a misleading impression.  We wanted to show another set of facts on the ground – another version of reality.  So, we selected 20 peacemaking groups and prepared information sheets about each of them.  The groups were:  Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, Sabeel, ICAHD, British Shalom Salaam Trust, Combatants for Peace, OneVoice, Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salaam, Bustan, Parents Circle – Families Forum, Lend for Peace, Creativity for PeaceJerusalem Peacemakers, Just Vision, Arab– Hebrew Theatre of Jaffa, Health Project – Naomi Segev,  the McGill Middle East Programme for Civil Society and Peace Building, Seeds of Peace, Gate to Humanity, and the All Nations Cafe. To encourage people to learn about the groups, we made up a quiz which we handed out as they came in. There were questions like:

1. Is OneVoice a dialogue group?

2. What citizenship and national identities do the residents of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam have?

3. What did 4 young American men – an observant Jew, a Muslim Palestinian, an observant Cuban Jew and a Christian Palestinian create together?

There were ballot papers – the money raised at the Fair went to the group with the most votes. As it turned out, it was ICAHD, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions that received the most votes.

In the background, we played the continuous Jewish-Muslim music mix from Radio Salaam Shalom (www.salaamshalom.org.uk).  We set up tables as in a cafe and served homemade food – fatayer (see the previous post for the recipe), baclava, k’mish breut, humus, pitta, salad, dates, nuts, fruit, olives and juice.

The Peace Fair didn’t attract as many people as we’d hope. I don’t know why. I wonder if good news isn’t as compelling as bad news. Maybe it doesn’t generate the sense of crisis and the desire to take action. For me, creating the Peace Fair was fun, informative and inspiring.  I certainly feel more optimistic and positive about the prospects for peace in the region knowing about these wonderful projects.

Answers: 1. No     2. Citizenship – Israeli, National identities – Jewish, Palestinian Arab     3. Lend for Peace (microfinance for Palestinian entrepreneurs)

Counter-Rhetoric

02/04/2009

Counter-Rhetoric – Challenging “conventional wisdom” & reframing the conflict. This is the title of a pamphlet put out by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, written by Emily Schaeffer, Jeff Halper & Jimmy Johnson.  It’s a very useful publication since it provides a clear, concise message that frames the dialogue in the context of international law, human rights and justice and does it in short soundbites.  Here’s an example:

Conventional wisdom: “The land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people.”

Challenge: “It’s a genuine historical tie but not exclusive. Jews were the majority in this land for only some 1,900 of 10,000 years of modern history and were the governing authority for even less. Exclusively maintaining the land ignores the 21st century reality, one in which Jews have lived outside of Israel for centuries and must accommodate the other populations who have lived, and continue to live here. .. Jews have no more and no less, a right to the land than any of the others who have populated land, including the Arabs (1200 years).”

The pamphlet is available for £1.50 from ICAHD-UK, www.icahduk.org

Fatayer – an adventure in Middle Eastern cooking

01/04/2009

My contribution to a recent Peace Fair in Bristol was to gather some food-loving friends and cook up a big batch of Middle Eastern and Eastern European food together. As well as humus, baklava and k’mish breut, we made fatayer from a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi, chief-patron of Ottolenghi in London. These are spinach bread snacks from Palestine and Lebanon and are exceptionally delicious. I was first introduced to them here in England by my good friend Mirian Walton. Here’s how to make them:
For the dough:
40 ml milk at body temperature
1 teaspoon active dried yeast
300g white bread flour
165 ml water
1/3 teaspoon salt
40 ml sunflower oil
Stir the yeast into the milk. Set aside for 10 minutes, then mix the rest of the ingredients together and knead until the dough is smooth and silky. Cover with a moist cloth and leave somewhere warm for 45 minutes or until doubled in volume.
For the filling:
200g chopped spinach
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1.5 teaspoon salt
1.5 tablespoon sumac or grated lemon rind
1.5 tablespoon olive oil
1.5 tablespoon lemon juice
0.5 tablespoon pomegranate syrup (optional)
2 tablespoon toasted pine nuts
Black pepper
80g feta cheese
Put the spinach and salt in a bowl and set aside for 15 minutes. Then squeeze out as much water as you can. (I’m not sure how important this is as no water came out when we squeezed). Mix all the ingredients, adding the feta cheese last. Taste – it should be a sharp, sweet and sour.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Divide the dough into small portions, roughly 40g each. Dust the work surface with flour and roll each portion into a round about 0.5cm thick and 10cm in diameter. Stretch them to make them thin enough. Place 1.5 tablespoons of the filling in the centre of each circle. Imagining the circle as a triangle, lift 2 sides and pinch them together halfway down, to make a thin, raised joint, then lift the third side and pinch it to the loose edges – you should now have a rough triangle with a Y-shaped seam at the top. Pinch the seam and lift it upwards.
Transfer to an oven tray lined with a baking sheet or well oiled. (If the filling leaks, they stick to the baking sheet so make sure the dough is sealed around the filling and the baking sheet is covered.) Space them 2cm apart. Score with a fork in a couple of places and put somewhere warm to rise for 15 minutes. Brush with olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve at room temperature if you can wait that long before you eat them.