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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Of alliances, and philanthropy, and banquet leftovers !

Monday evening

Suzi left this afternoon, after a very interesting meeting that she’d especially planned to stay for. More on that below. So she left on a high note, although very sad to go.

I am now alone in the apartment, and alone in the gallery. I miss Suzi, and will continue to miss her, as this sojourn enters another phase. A number of people have asked me if I feel okay about staying here alone. I do, at least so far. Don’t feel spooked or anything.

I actually was invited to stay over at a family’s tonight, the same one that invited me before, when I had to return because we were heading to Tel Aviv early in the a.m. But, as you can probably guess, that didn’t work out. I waited an hour, first with Layla until her sister came to pick her up, then another ½ hour outside. Finally I called Kamle, since I didn’t have Samira’s number, and she doesn’t speak any English. Kamle called her, and then called me back. What I understood from Kamle was that Samira’s father was very sick. The rest was unclear. I think Kamle forgot to let me know, and then forgot about the whole thing when I called her!

In the meantime, I had a very nice conversation with a man who was waiting for his wife, who was buying hairdresser supplies for her hairdresser business, in a shop just next to the gallery. He spoke fairly good English, and we discussed the Israeli situation, the difficult role Israeli Arabs are in, caught between two cultures, and how he felt the Jews and Arabs shared common roots and needed to learn to live together. He said most people here, in Umm el Fahem, are of the same view. Everything I have seen and heard here definitely corroborates that. He said he’d never been to the gallery. Although he certainly knew of Said. I encouraged him to come (Suzi, I am taking over your role!) and I hope he does, with his wife and daughters. One of whom shyly said hello to me, with her father’s prompting.

The meeting: It was with a woman named Sana Shatsel, head of a Washington D.C. based organization called the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP) whom Said had met in Washington on his recent trip to the U.S. Said had offered to host the meeting, to which representatives from area social service agencies were invited. ALLMEP works with Congress to obtain AID funding for Middle East projects promoting peace. They have about 85 member organizations. On the list was one I know well, Friends Forever. That organization was founded by a man we know, Bob Raiche, and brings groups of Jewish and Palestinian teens to spend a couple of weeks together in a neutral environment, in the U.S.

Sana explained that the coalition aims to work on a grassroots level, because treaties are only pieces of paper without the support of the people directly involved. They have worked hard to encourage AID to offer smaller grants, (ie. $100,00 and less!) with a less complicated proposal form. Applicants do not need to be coalition members, although they are of course happy to have organizations join. They are also working on a concept for a much larger fund, based on the model of the Irish Catholic-Protestant plan that poured “billions and billions” of dollars into Ireland, from government, philanthropist, European Union and other sources. Sounds pretty ambitious, and it also sounds like Sana is a one woman operation. I was very impressed and need to look further into the organization .I can see why Sana and Said felt immediately like kindred spirits. They both seem to be visionaries with the energy to carry their dreams forward.

Equally impressive was the work of all the participants in the meeting, who each spoke about their programs. One woman was translating, mostly from Arabic, to Hebrew and to English, but also in all the other directions. It was quite a multilingual task. There waa a social worker who worked with the disabled, and stressed that services are severly lacking, that people are not accepted in society, sometimes cloistered away. One woman was the director of two day care centers, that she’,d been at for 16 years, She mentioned that her centers included program for special needs children from birth to three. One woman headed a religious based woman empowerment program. One man lived at the Moshav just outside Um el Fahem, theJewish community Said and Siham had driven us to, where the guard said we should come back during the day. I mentioned that we’d tried to visit. He gave me his card, said I should call and he’d bring me there.t. He had grown up in Tel Aviv, but left there for here, about 40 years ago, and has been there ever since, raised his kids there, has grandchildren who live there as well.

Last to speak was a woman named Edna Fast, who described herself as a returned Israeli. She and her husband had lived for 30 years in the U.S., then decided several years ago to come back to Israel, much to the dismay of her children.

She was a lawyer, now has retired and begun a new career by creating a private fund that sponsors and encourages Arab and Jewish art in Israel. This certainly sounds like a perfect fit with the gallery. I hope she thinks so. She and her husband are art collectors, and have been shifting the focus of their collection to contemporary Israeli art, as she told me later. They’ve had to let go of some of their collection to make room for their new pieces. She also mentioned that her son was a well known artist, although she didn’t mention his name.

Edna described several components of her fund. One is a program that supports high school age Arab students to give them the skills to apply to and succeed in art school. They’ve had a three year pilot program that they are now expanding to other areas of the country. They have sponsored an exhibit called Jaffa Mosaic that is now touring communities in the U.S. And, she has organized Jewish tour groups that bring folks into the Galilee to meet artisans doing traditional crafts. “Sign me up!” I said. But I don’t think she’s got one happening in the next two weeks!

I’m going to wind down now. On the agenda for tomorrow: tutoring Halima, the art teacher who guides the school groups, and who takes the tutoring pretty seriously. I hope I get going in time to join the school group visit itself, love to see them bringing the kids through the gallery, have them dance to traditional music, play with veils, etc. I also am scheduled to meet with Mohammed, to practice his English skills in the Memories of Place exhibit. That has been going extremely well, I will write more about that soon. And, I have my on again/off again staff group after that. Which is now down to just Eiman and Layla, since Mohammed and I have been meeting separately, and Rawan is gone. I think there might be more chance of it working with just the two of them and me. Except that Layla just told me earlier tonite that tomorrow is Eiman’s birthday..

By the way, after today’s meeting, there was an especially elaborate spread for lunch, including chicken, liver, salads, rice, breads, pastries, fruit. And lots of leftovers, some of which staff took home, and some, of course, which is now in my fridge, has provided supper for me tonight, and probably for another day or two.

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