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The Power of Stories: I Am a Bridge

21 January 2011 2 Comments

Hanna Jaffe

Hanna Jaffe
Israel

“Once you’ve heard someone else’s story, it’s so much harder to be afraid of them or to demonize them.”

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Shalom Salaam, to friends near and far.

My name is Hanna Jaffe. I live in Jerusalem—Holy City to so many people.

I was born in London. My journey in this life has been shaped by Jewish lore and law. My upbringing, schooling, and higher education have all been within the confines of a religious, observant Jewish life. My father was a Rabbi and Anglo Jewish historian. Family, friends, and neighbors—almost all come from the religiously observant world.

So why have I chosen this path of a peacebuilder? Where does the inspiration come from to meet in a deep place with Christians and Muslims?

In Genesis, God tells Abraham: “Go out, go out of your land.” For me, this means: Leave your comfort zone and the security of sameness; share your God, your story, and yourself with people of other cultures who are different from you and who worship God in different ways.

How do I do this? I build bridges. No, I’m not an engineer! My background is in music, storytelling, and the arts.

The first multicultural project I did was to record the lullabies of many of the diverse cultures here in Israel/Palestine. A few years ago, I went on to record folk songs in Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Yiddish, Amharic, and Russian, among other languages. Working with singers and musicians from such varied cultures was an amazingly vibrant musical journey. The resulting CD won an award from the Martha Stewart Living Magazine and was also used by the Abraham Fund.

I invite you to listen to some of the lullabies and stories at my website: www.stories4peace.org.

Hanna performing with Sheikh Ghassan

For me this on-going project, which I’ve called Stories for Peace, is about harnessing the power of stories to improve the world. Creating space—a sacred space for understanding—can alleviate a lot of conflict and strife in the world. Once you’ve heard someone else’s story, it’s so much harder to be afraid of them or to demonize them. Storytelling is my vehicle for this effort. It is my way of enabling people to awaken to their shared humanity and to the universal themes in their lives.

I have the privilege of collaborating with Sheikh Ghassan Manasra, a Palestinian Sufi Sheikh, in doing this work. Sheikh Ghassan is an incredible man, who has sacrificed a great deal to work for peace and to further the moderate voice of Islam.

I once told Ghassan, “I want to build bridges.” He answered me, “Hanna, we are not building bridges, we are the bridge. And I don’t mind if people trample upon me if it will bring an end to the conflict and the war.”

In October 2010 Ghassan and I undertook a fruitful 12-city tour in the UK speaking to religious groups, schools, and universities. We did this in partnership with an organization called Spirit of Peace.

Spirit of Peace (www.spiritofpeace.co.uk ) is a rapidly growing UK-based charity with a heartfelt vision to foster greater peace and equality in our global society. It is influenced by the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Martin Luther King and others to contribute to the creation of a culture of nonviolence in our fractured world.

Spirit of Peace and its director, Jane Ozanne, have been involved in supporting and partnering peacebuilders from Israel/Palestine for nearly a decade, including the late Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari, Eliyahu McLean, Sheikh Ghassan Manasra and his society, Lights of Peace, The Hope Flowers School for Peace, and Democracy in Bethlehem.  Spirit of Peace is developing a program for heart-centered and holistic peace-building, called Pathways for Peace. The program focuses on healing the wounds created by conflict and on using the arts in community-building.

Spirit of Peace event

I am now working as the Jerusalem coordinator for Spirit of Peace. My partner in this is Hala Bukhari, the the widow of Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari. She supported her husband’s work for many years as well as giving her own talks to women on peace and the Sufi path. Hala and I are currently developing a project bringing together women from different sides of the conflict to address the wounds caused by years of living with the instability of conflict, as well as assisting in other peace projects with Sheikh Ghassan Manasra.

We are hoping to receive some grant money to continue this important peace work. InshAllah!!

As it says in the Mishnah: (circa 500 AD)
“It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but nor are you free to desist from it.”

The views and opinions expressed by the authors of Voices from the Frontlines do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.

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2 Comments to “The Power of Stories: I Am a Bridge”
  1. Roxanne says:

    Inspiring story – I hope you are able to gather the support you need to complete your project. I am admiring from afar.

  2. Roxanne says:

    Inspiring story – I hope you are able to gather the support you need to complete your project. I admire your work.

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