The Collegian
Sunday, July 12, 2020

Two stories, one international conflict

Collegian Reporter

One woman telling two stories of either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Thursday rounded out the first Overcoming Hatred week sponsored by the Office of the Chaplaincy.

Noa Baum, an Israeli storyteller and actress, weaved between accents, ages and emotions to portray several different characters in her one-woman show, "A Land Twice Promised." The performance chronicled Baum's friendship with a Palestinian woman and the stories they shared about their childhood in Jerusalem, growing up against a backdrop of constant war and fear.

"I don't do this to change people's political views," Baum told the audience after the performance. "I do this to show the connections between us."

During the show, Baum took on the perspectives of both her own Israeli family and her friend's Palestinian family as the drama of the Six Day War unfolded during the summer of 1967. Her goal, she said, was to use storytelling to demonstrate the common humanity both sides of the conflict shared, even in a city surrounded by fences and minefields.

"We come from the same place," Baum said during the performance. "We come from the land of Abraham. Each side measures justice by their own suffering. But can those who lost so much ever have room for the story of another?"

Baum said the idea for her show had devloped nearly a decade ago, and she had since been performing it around the country. The Chaplaincy members saw her as a perfect addition to their programming schedule for Overcoming Hatred Week.

"It's one of the few performances or events that really take on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without making judgments on one or the other," said Matthew White, interreligious community and justice coordinator for the Chaplaincy.

"It gives voice to perspectives from each side," White said.

Chaplaincy members chose to bring Baum to campus because of her unorthodox and uniquely artistic way of presenting stories about the conflict.

"The idea is that if we can share stories we can begin to realize the pain and suffering that might be on the other side of the conflict and reach out to the shared humanity," White said. "She uses her expertise as a storyteller to challenge people to do that."

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This year's Overcoming Hatred Week was the first in what White said he hoped would be an ongoing annual tradition for the university. It was scheduled in recognition of the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht -- a night in 1938 when 91 Jewish people were killed, 30,000 people were shipped to concentration camps, 7,000 Jewish businesses were destroyed and more than a thousand synagogues were torched.

"It's really important for us to be aware of the impact of hatred in our world, and part of that is looking at history," White said. "When we look back at something like the Holocaust, we're talking about something that's really very recent in terms of historical past. When we keep that legacy alive by remembering that, then we understand the greater responsibility we have to the future."

The Chaplaincy also sponsored a presentation by Holocaust survivor and Richmond resident Alexander Lebenstein, which was an interfaith Kristallnacht commemoration, as well as "Risking Peace," a workshop with Baum on using storytelling to resolve conflicts.

The purpose of Overcoming Hatred Week was to raise awareness about struggles facing minorities, White said, and to challenge students to confront these issues here on campus.

"It's also about awareness of all the forms of hatred we have in our world today, and even in our own community," White said. "Our ultimate goal is to challenge students and other people at the university to turn a critical eye on our own community and talk about how we can strengthen it in terms of inclusiveness and respect for diversity."

The Chaplaincy will seek to expand Overcoming Hatred Week for next year.

"I think it's an incredible opportunity on this campus for growth and for awareness and for unity," said K.B. Levin, Hillel director at Richmond.

Baum closed her performance by encouraging others that they could help change the world.

"There's always a gap between what you see in the world and what you can do about it," she said. "But if we all just make a little stitch and open the world up to voices of peace, than we've done our part."

Contact reporter Michael Gaynor at michael.gaynor@richmond.edu

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