Toward Redemption, Joy, and Peace
We must stand between reality and possibility amid the struggles that try to pull us apart.
As we enter a season focused on redemption and peace, I am reminded of Friends’ long commitment to nonviolence, a testimony Quaker writer and activist Parker Palmer describes beautifully: “To be in the world nonviolently means learning to hold the tension of opposites, trusting that the tension itself will pull our hearts and minds open to a third way of thinking and acting.”
Whether caused by terrorism or the military response, the death and suffering witnessed in Israel and Gaza have pulled our hearts apart. In the Quaker tradition, Sidwell Friends asks students to reflect on the Peace Testimony, which implores us and all parties in this conflict to embrace George Fox’s creed of living “in the virtue of that life and power that [takes] away the occasion of all wars.” And so, we hope for an immediate end to the violence and hold the suffering, the captive, and the slain in the Light.
Hate crimes and bigotry have deepened our pain. Antisemitism, which was rising dangerously before the war, has spread virulently across college campuses, political demonstrations, and social media. Disillusioning responses from prestigious universities have generated justifiable questions and outrage. The pernicious presence of antisemitism has understandably caused fear in our Jewish community and beyond, resurrecting a long history of persecution, pogroms, and, for many, the Holocaust. The disturbing resurgence of this hatred requires our attention, vigilance, and action. We must prevent history from repeating itself, support Jewish friends, and speak against hate.
Anti-Palestinian bias and violence, as well as Islamophobia, demand equal concern and action. In November, a Vermont resident brazenly shot three 20-year-old alumni of Ramallah Friends School, from which, thanks to the vision and memory of former Sidwell Friends parent Sami Suleiman and family, we are privileged to host a student each year. In this hateful act, the assailant targeted these college students because they spoke Arabic and wore keffiyeh scarves, symbols of their Palestinian identity. Hisham Awartani remains paralyzed from this crime, which has traumatized Ramallah Friends, the Palestinian community, and students, adults, and alumni at Sidwell Friends. We must stand against this injustice, support Muslim and Palestinian friends, and educate for peace.
Amid these circumstances, we are called to find a third way that avoids the dangers of moral absolutism without slipping into the pitfalls of relativism, and yet is wide enough to accommodate the multiple truths and histories our community holds. When Micah Hendler ’07, a Jewish alumnus and musician-in-residence at Adas Israel Congregation, and his Palestinian colleague, Amer Abu Arqub, visited Sidwell Friends in early December, they provided a roadmap toward peace.
In 2012, Hendler founded the Jerusalem Youth Chorus (JYC), a group that assembles Israeli and Palestinian students who, through music, develop friendships, engage in dialogue, and imagine possibilities for building peace with justice. In October, JYC considered pausing its efforts, but students and parents beseeched them to continue.
Speaking to the Upper School, Hendler and Abu Arqub, JYC’s executive director, conducted a master class in deep listening. They instructed students to trade stories about a moment when they were uplifted in community. Each student was asked to listen empathetically to a partner, and then retell the partner’s story in precise detail.
When Abu Arqub and Hendler debriefed the group, students shared compassionate and thoughtful insights, which Hendler distilled into three lyrics—“Listen to understand”; “I got to know my friends”; and “Talk to each other, not past each other”—each one sung by a third of the room. Community deepened as we sang and reminded ourselves to practice these simple but easily forgotten principles. Before the day ended, Abu Arqub and Hendler facilitated conversations between Jewish and Palestinian students who courageously volunteered to dialogue.
To witness the peace testimony, Palmer holds that we must have courage to stand in the liminal space “between reality and possibility.” If we fail to stand in this gap, we remain blind to the third way, to building bridges that carry us incrementally closer to the ideal of peace with justice. Putting ourselves in this position requires us to hold uncomfortable tensions, perhaps even fear. But if we hold firm, we can together travel on the peaceful pilgrimage we all have a responsibility to make.
The road is long, and in January we will announce programs that will provide milestones for our ongoing trek. Hendler and Abu Arqub have only begun their journey with us, but by inviting our students to walk with them, they have already buoyed spirits and rediscovered hope. In this season of miracles, renewal, and resolutions, I hope we might follow our brave students, whose lights shine so brightly. I hope their radiance will illuminate your lives and deliver redemption, joy, and peace to all who seek it.
In peace and friendship,
Head of School
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