‘Palestinian Neighbor’ to be subject of ‘Milwaukee Jewish Community Read’

Posted Wednesday, Oct 3rd, 2018

MILWAUKEE – Several local agencies and book clubs are partnering to hold a “Milwaukee Jewish Community Read” of a bestselling book, “Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor,” before the author speaks here in May.

The Atlantic has hailed the short non-fiction book, by Yossi Klein Halevi, as “one of the best one-volume introductions to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.” It’s expected the community read will have the book reviewed by book clubs, read by individuals and discussed in numerous forums from now through May and beyond.

The Jewish Community Relations Council, the Coalition for Jewish Learning and the Israel Center jointly selected the book. The three Milwaukee Jewish Federation agencies are spearheading the Milwaukee Jewish Community Read.

Tzipi Altman-Shafer, Jewish education community planner of the Coalition for Jewish Learning, has started promoting the Milwaukee Jewish Community Read to local groups. Several book clubs and synagogues have already committed to read the book, she said. Altman-Shafer said she has commitments from a breadth of local Judaism, including Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Chabad communities, plus Ovation Communities and the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center.

The book is written in a way that allows it to reach people of different perspectives, said Rabbi Hannah Wallick, vice president for outreach, Israel and overseas for the Federation.

“This is an amazing book and a great opportunity to create dialog in our community,” Altman-Shafer said. “It’s a really great way to unite the Jewish community.”

Halevi is slated to speak in the Milwaukee area on Thursday, May 30, free to the community, said Elana Kahn. As director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Kahn is the lead staff on the speaking engagement. Kahn is seeking sponsorships to help support the Halevi visit.

Kahn is impressed with how well the book simultaneously establishes a Jewish connection to the land and recognizes Palestinian pain is inextricably tied to Jewish joy over Israel. For the May 30 event, she hopes Halevi will help increase capacity to know and love the land, while increasing our empathy.

“We are better Jews, better human beings, if we see people as full human beings, not just as foils,” Kahn said. “If we love Israel we have to look at the Palestinians with open eyes.”

About the book

Halevi was a longtime writer for The Jerusalem Post and is a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

“Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor” is written as a series of letters, seeking to give Palestinians a sense of Halevi’s perspective as a Jew in Israel, to initiate dialogue. Halevi writes that he’s making the book available in Arabic for free downloading.

“This book is an invitation to a conversation, in which both sides disagree on the most basic premises,” Halevi writes in the book. “And so I write to you, a Palestinian neighbor whom I don’t yet know, with the hope that we may undertake a journey of listening to each other.”

But as much as the book is a message to Palestinians, it’s also arguably a letter to Jews. It’s a rallying point, an emotional release. It’s a testament to the challenge and the pain.

“I don’t believe that peace without at least some attempt at mutual understanding can endure,” Halevi writes to his imagined Palestinian reader. “Whatever official document may be signed by our leaders in the future will be undermined on the ground, on your hill and mine. It will be a cold treaty, an unloved peace that will wither and die, or more likely be murdered. If nothing else, the intimacy of our geography makes complete physical separation impossible. And so, to live, we must learn to live together.”


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