An Open House to Understanding
Bashir and his cousins approached the house. Everything depended on the reception, Bashir told himself. You can't know what the outcome will be, especially after what had happened to Yasser. `It depends,' he said, `who is on the other side of the door. --Sandy Tolen in The Lemon Tree
The scene described above--three Palestinian men visiting their old home in Ramle, Israel, just after the Six-Day War--was a moment of tension in 1967 that has served to ease hostility and increase understanding for decades.
In that moment, Dalia Eshkenazi (now Landau) was alone at home and had every reason to turn away the three well-dressed young men led by Bashir Al Khayri, who asked to come in. Dalia had to make a quick decision: stay safe behind a locked gate or accommodate their request.
Instead, she told an interviewer, "It was as if I had been waiting for them. They just wanted to reconnect."
She opened the door.
That uneasy homecoming, documented in the acclaimed book, The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolen, led to the creation of the Open House Peace Center in Ramle, Israel. Bashir and Dalia formed a partnership that endures to today. Open House has a 20-year history as a beacon of Jewish-Arab reconciliation from its children’s daycare to its multidisciplinary summer camp. Each year, Hebrew and Palestinian children and adults come together in a spirit of learning and joy at the center's programs.
Throughout its history, the center has operated in an informal, family-like manner, which has been a big part of its gaining an international reputation. But that also creates organizational challenges from a business perspective, so the center is going through a period of intense self-examination looking forward.
Fetzer is partnering with Open House in a four-pronged effort:
1) professionally evaluating their work after 20 years of operation;
2) enhancing communication through a multilingual website and social networking;
3) initiating four joint programs for Arabs and Jews in the area of youth leadership, interfaith women's groups, public arts, Arab nursery school mothers’ support group; and
4) strengthening their annual summer peace camp.
“This quality of intimacy and collegiality has been a source of identification and profound dedication for everyone involved in the organization,” says Friends of Open House Board Chairman Yehezkel Landau. “It is vital to preserve this exceptional vision and spirit.”
This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on World Religions and Spiritualities.