Thursday, November 5, 2009

J Street Redux

There has been so much written about last week's 1st annual J Street conference that I feel pretty superfluous. This posting could essentially just be a bunch of links to other articles. But I will ignore that feeling and post a few original thoughts of my own.

1) The opening night of the conference, I had a conversation with a guy who works at the U.A.E. embassy and who grew up in Dubai. He told me that he had just arrived in DC a few weeks ago and spent part of his first pay check on the conference fee. When I pointed out to him that this was quite a gesture, he said that growing up in Dubai he never learned about the Holocaust or heard Jews spoken about in a positive way. It wasn't until he was at college in Australia did he learn about the Holocaust and was overwhelmed by how much he didn't know about Jews and Jewish history. Since then, he has been a strong supporter of real peace in the region and was excited by what J Street is trying to do. He didn't, however, tell his colleagues at the embassy that he was attending the conference.

2) I also met a junior member of the Swiss Embassy who was there officially. I didn't realize how engaged the Swiss government is in the Middle East and how it tries to provide a neutral ground for many of the parties involved. The ambassador told me that the Embassy likes to keep up to date on the various movements within the American Jewish community and so he was there to get a sense of what J Street was all about from the inside. They didn't spring for the gala dinner though...

3) One of the best breakout sessions I went to was a theater performance sponsored by TheaterJ. It was a one woman show performed by Noa Baum, an Israeli who now lives in the DC area. She took her years-long friendship with a Palestinian woman and wove their conversations into an incredibly moving mediation on friendship, war, and family. Through her show, Noa was able to vividly bring to life the real people behind the 'Israeli' or 'Palestinian' label and demonstrate how often they have much more in common than they imagine.

I'll post a longer piece soon on one of the major debates of the conference: what it means to be 'pro-Israel.' Stay tuned.

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