It is the evening of the holiday of liberation, a time of joy and celebration. I am sitting with Forsan Hussein, an Israeli Arab, in the 26th floor apartment of my son Dr. Daniel Fenster, in Manhattan. I am hearing of the reality of Israel as he sees it.
Forsan is a joy in-and-of-himself. Still a young man, he has been the head of the Jerusalem “Yimka” (YMCA), for the last five years. His personal story reads like a replay of Moses in the biblical tale.
Born in Sha’ab, a small Palestinian village in the northern Galilee in which 4,000 people regularly draw their water from one local well, Forsan worked as a young shepherd. One day, while tending his flock, one of the sheep went astray into a nearby Jewish village.
Forsan went to retrieve his wayward sheep and in so doing met young Jewish Israelis for the first time, who turned out to be much more friendly and welcoming than the stereotype he had learned. Thus began a trend in his life that has continued to this day.
At the YMCA in Jerusalem, Christians, Jews, and Muslims mix easily. It is one of the central meeting places for cultural, athletic, and social activities in the heart of Jerusalem, a huge and magnificent building that always seems to be humming and overflowing with activity.
There is a small hotel and a dining room for the convenience of guests. Its once vaunted tennis courts have given way to an elegant complex of new apartment buildings that have made the area across from the King David Hotel into the Park Avenue of Jerusalem.
While conversing informally with Forsan in Dan’s den, our grandson Zachary joined our conversation. After all, it is taking place in his home, to which he has returned for a short visit from Jerusalem.
Zach is officially the assistant to Forsan, and has worked with him in order to bring more commercial activity into play between Arab and Jews in Jerusalem. It seems that Jerusalem lags behind other major Israeli cities in economic opportunity for residents.
Behind our easy conversation, I wondered whether I could bring up the serious issue: Is there any hope for a Palestinian-Israeli solution, or are both sides just biding their time and spinning their wheels? Does he think Abbas is a serious peace partner? What of Benjamin Netanyahu?
I hesitate to ask because Forsan is such an open and engaging person, at once accessible and sophisticated. He has degrees from Brandeis and John’s Hopkins, and an MBA from Harvard. His organizational ability is obvious: 250 staff members work under his supervision at the YMCA, and Forsan is still in his 30s.
So I pose the questions as delicately as I can. Forsan does not hesitate and responds frankly. My report here is a paraphrase.
The current situation is unsustainable, he explains, as any small spark could set off a conflagration — something major and uncontrollable. Both sides have lost their moral compass without regard for the feelings and sentiments of the other.
A grand gesture on the part of Netanyahu would help restore a renewed search for a two-state solution. Abbas would have to do the same.
What kind of gesture does Forsan have in mind? Something like Netanyahu introducing Abbas at the U.N. as a partner for peace, and Abbas standing together and shaking his hand in return to demonstrate their shared search for a solution.
As for the occupation of the West Bank, Forsan is aware that 60-70 percent of settlers are prepared to leave if they receive reasonable guarantees of resettlement. Netanyahu has spoken of withdrawing from the major portion of the West Bank, leaving only established settlement blocks behind.
There is even a tentative agreement on refugees, Abbas reportedly having agreed to a reasonable number in his previous negotiations with Prime Minister Ahud Olmert.
In regards to Jerusalem, there have been leaks that Abbas agreed to the idea of a Jewish mayor for a city that would at once be the capital for both Israel and a Palestinian state, but which would remain governed by one unified municipality.
The major plus for both sides would be recognition by the Western world of both capitals. All of this could happen only after serious negotiation.
We are not yet there. But it is conceivable. Here too, we need a spark to start a real search for a two-state solution. It is not unattainable.
Personally, I am deeply aware of the difficulties of both leaders in dealing with the more extreme factions on their sides, which has long held up any progress.
On Passover, Jews open the door to the Prophet Elijah during the Seder, praying for a future redemption. They sing to Elijah, “speedily, in our day, come to us!”
With people like Forsan, Zachary, and legions of others, we need not rely on the 4 cups of wine to imagine a better future and to hear the footsteps of Elijah. Next year, in a united Jerusalem, could happen!
Rabbi Myron M. Fenster is the rabbi emeritus of the Shelter Rock Jewish Center in Roslyn, N.Y. A graduate of Yeshiva of Flatbush, Yeshiva College, and the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Fenster also studied in the graduate school at Columbia University for a degree in philosophy. He was the first American rabbi sponsored by the Rabbinical Assembly to an Israeli congregation. He has written for several publications, including Newsday and the Jerusalem Postand Hadassah Magazine. Read more of Rabbi Fenster's reports — Go Here Now.
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