Last week, JRC hosted a visit from journalist Sandy Tolan (above) and nearly 250 people came out on a Sunday evening to hear him speak. Tolan is the author of the “The Lemon Tree” (a book I’ve written about previously and recommend to just about anyone who will listen). It’s the powerful story of two individuals: a Palestinian man named Bashir Khairi and an Israeli woman, Dahila Eshkenazi. Bashir’s family built a house in al-Ramle, Palestine and were among the Palestinians who were expelled from that town by the Israeli military in 1948. Dahlia’s family were Holocaust refugees from Bulgaria who moved into the house (in what is now the Israeli city of Ramle) immediately after the war.
“The Lemon Tree” documents the unlikely encounter and growing friendship between Bashir and Dahlia. Tolan does a masterful job of placing this compelling narrative amidst the a masterfully researched historical presentation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from 1948 to present day. The wonder of this book is that it succeeds brilliantly both as a story about two remarkable individuals and as a nuanced historical analysis of notoriously complex subject.
Indeed, there are precious few accounts of this issue that manage to honor both the Israeli and Palestinian experiences with such sensitivity. We know of course that there are two distinctly different narratives of the events of 1948 – for the Israelis it marks their War of Independence, for the Palestinians, it is referred to as “al-Nakhba” (“The Catastrophe”). Books such as “The Lemon Tree” are so very essential because they allow us to hold both narratives before us, without attempting to negate the other side or sugar coat the differences. I believe that living with these kinds of contradictions is a difficult but necessary first step toward reconciliation and (dare I suggest it?) the eventual merging of these two narratives into one.
During our congregational trip to Israel this past summer, we visited Bashir and Dahlia’s house, which now is now home to an Israeli Arab nursery school and and co-existence programming for Arab and Israeli youth. The members of our trip were so inspired by the experience that they organized our evening with Sandy Tolan as a benefit for “The Open House.” It was heartening indeed to see so many people come out to hear this important story and support the cause of coexistence.
(Thanks to JRC member Jerome Bloom for providing the gorgeous pic of Tolan above. As you can see, the trees outside our east wall window are currently exploding into full bloom…)