Report from the Middle East: Friendships in many forms

AT THE AMMAN CONFERENCE ON CROSS-CULTURAL CONFLICT: From left, Sarah Jaward, Brenda Rosenberg and Tanya Ghorra.This is a two-part story about two women who traveled from America to Jordan for an international conference on overcoming cross-cultural conflict. That means this unusual Friendship and Faith story really begins with the remarkable friendship between Brenda Rosenberg and Sarah Jaward. Read Part 1 of this story by Brenda Rosenberg, which is an overview of the entire conference, to learn more about the deepening friendship between Brenda and Sarah.
Here is Sarah Jaward’s story about two other remarkable friendships she forged in Jordan:

Sarah Jaward with Frida Tarrab at the Amman conferenceMy week in Jordan at the international conference on cross-cultural dialogue was a growing experience. I flew home with new ideas, but even more meaningful were new friendships with people from diverse backgrounds in faith and culture.

I felt personal connections to most of the participants, but there were distinct bonds with two women. I am a Lebanese-American-Muslim woman and, at the conference, I encountered a Lebanese-Christian woman living in Lebanon and a Lebanese-Jewish woman living in Israel. We shared a language, memories of our homeland and personality traits specific to Lebanese women, yet our paths intersected on even deeper levels. We each had lost a loved one as a result of conflict in the Middle East, inspiring us to walking a pathway united in our search for peace and safety for our families, friends and future generations.

As a trained Tectonic Leader (see Part 1 for more on this), my goal is to bring together individuals from opposite sides of the Middle East conflict to take joint ownership in transforming the conflict. That may sound simple, but people who engage in this process struggle with conflicting feelings of loyalty to our causes and the difficulty of developing real compassion for people who we often have dehumanized. This approach challenges people to use the tension within conflicts to deepen and transform our relationships with each other. Shaking hands is impossible with clenched fists. This training shows us how to open our hands and join with other leaders in new approaches to working for peace.

The first person I met at the conference was an Israeli named Frida who also happened to be a Lebanese-Jew born in Beirut, now living in Israel. She is part of an organization called Wounded Crossing Borders: Israeli and Palestinian natives who have been wounded in some way while crossing borders in Israel and Palestine. Their presence at the conference gave us a glimpse of hope towards a more peaceful future as we saw previously imprisoned Palestinians joining hands with previously imprisoned Israelis. Frida told me the most moving part of working with her group was her introduction to Sully, a former Palestinian prisoner. She felt deeply connected to him as an individual and saw hope in a better future as friends, rather than enemies.

The very same day I met Tanya, a Lebanese-Christian woman born and raised in Lebanon. For both us, this conference was our first meeting with Israelis. Her contribution to peace is her work in promoting non-violent communication and mediation. Her story begins at her children’s elementary school where she created a mediation center to resolve conflict using non-violent communication. Her work has helped to engage students at an early age to change their approach, vocabulary and feelings when tension arises.

We know there always will be conflict, but by sharing our pain, fears, hopes and dreams, we saw in Jordan that it is possible to work together. In Jordan, we made some of our own contributions toward peace in the Middle East. Most importantly, through these new friendships, I can see what our world could look like if we reach out in these new ways we discussed at the conference.

In this peaceful world that I now have glimpsed, I can see friends standing together—like the three of us in Amman: Lebanese-American Muslim, Lebanese-Christian, and Lebanese-Jewish women bonded through our heritage, through love, and through our desire for a better tomorrow.

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