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June 1, 2003

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20 Southeastern Vh-ginia Jewish News Jew, sh-Arab group v,s,ts Auschwitz - coil for healing By OH Sedan KRAKOW, Poland, (JTA) - A Hollywood director could not have staged a more dramatic scene: In the middle of a fgrest, on the ruins of a former gas chamber at the heart of the Birkenau death camp, an Israeli rabbi from a West Bank settlement stood and said Kaddish, surrounded by a group of Arabs and Jews. Birds sang along with the mourning prayer but the group lis- tened in total silence, noting that Rabbi Avi Gisser had changed the Kaddish's traditional ending. Instead of the usual "He will make peace upon us and upon all of Israel;' Gisser said, "and upon all the peoples of the world.'" It was a gesture of gratitude to the 120 Israeli Arabs who initiated this unusual visit to the death camps, an unprecedented act of Arab soli- darity with the greatest tragedy of the Jewish people. When Gisser concluded the prayer, no one said a word. People stood in silence for two or three min- utes, Jews and Arabs, some weep- ing, some lost in thought. One woman could not fight her emotions and moved away from the group, hugging the trunk of a tree for support and bursting into tears. Nearly 60 years after the Holo- caust, the prayer in memory of the 1.5 million Jews murdered in this camp, and the support of this unusu- al group of Israeli Arabs, was just too hard for the woman to take. Gisser is the rabbi of Ofra, a Jew- ish settlement in the eye of the Pales- June 1, 2003 tinian .intifada. When he goes to that one"should learn the pain of the that an organized group of Arab pub- their owners, the glasses, the ashes. Jerusalem, a 20-minute drive away, he must reckon with the possibility of a terrorist attack. The Palestinians are his enemy, and he is theirs. Yet he decided to go on this visit to Auschwitz precisely because Arabs -- Israeli Palestinians, as many now call themselves -- ini- tiated it. "I am sensitive to Palestinian pain regardless of the political dis- pute with them" Gisser says. "I came because they showed sensitiv- ity to Jewish pain." More than anything else, the visit of some 450 Arabs and Jews to Auschwitz and Birkenau was an act of courage: It takes courage for an Israeli Arab or a French Muslim to identify with the Jews' plight when it is so much easier these days simply to hate. And yet they came -- 120 Arabs and 130 Jews from Israel. as well as a delegation of 200 Jews and Mus- lims from France. The visit was the initiative of a group of Israeli Arabs headed by Archimandrite Emile Shoufani, pas- tor of the Greek Catholic communi- ty in Nazareth, one of the foremost leaders of the Christian community in Israel. After the October 2000 riots among Israeli Arabs, as relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel deteriorated, and after endless dis- cussions with Jewish friends, Shoufani declared: "I understand that we did not understand." In July 2002 Shoufani published a book in France in which he noted other side to stop the death circles." Seven months later, Shoufani's group called a press conference in Jerusalem announcing its plan to visit the death camps in order to bet- ter understand the Jews' pain. A group of some 150 Jewish public figures was organized to endorse the project, including Dan Patir of the Abraham Foundation, Eliezer Ya'ari of the New Israel Fund and Yeshayahu Tadmor of Jezreel Valley College. A similar group was organized in France. Shoufani stood on the podium at the Temple synagogue in Krakow, an hour's drive from Auschwitz, and pledged: "We are here to be with the Jewish people and its suffering, and tell them, we are with you." Shoufani was aware of the fire his initiative had drawn from the Arab community in Israel. In recem weeks, key Arab figures had charged that the initiative was serving Zion- ist propaganda. "The Zionist enterprise uses" the Holocaust "to justify Israel's crimes today," journalist Amir Makhoul wrote. In his address, however, Shoufani took precisely the opposite tack: He used the Holocaust to point out that pain is pare is pain, whether suffered by Palestinians, Jews or people of any nationality. "We come out of the pain of our own i0pi6:  Shbufani Said, but it is out of this pain that we unite with you in your pain." It was a courageous act, the first time since the October 2000 riots lic figures openly raised the flag of reconciliation with the Jews. They all visited Birkenau and Auschwitz, the twin death camps where much of European Jewry was killed in the Holocaust. The fast stop was the Juden- ramp, the place where the trains came until May 1944, unloading thousands of Jews to face the fatal selection: Some 15 percent of them would gain additional time working in Auschwitz, but the majority would take the long walk to the nearby death camp of Birkenau. Ida Grinspan from Paris is one of the survivors. She stood at the very ramp where she arrived 60 years ago as a 14-year-old girl on a transport from France, separated by force from her parents. She stood, remembering quietly. Next to her stood Majid Zer- ouali," 23. a Muslim of Moroccan origin now living in Toulouse. Zer- ouali was one of a number of Mus- lim boy scouts who decided to join the visit. "It is not just a Jewish tragedy, it is a human tragedy," he said. It was particularly important to join ranks now, he added, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continu- ing and relations between Muslims and Jews in France deteriorating. The group then moved to the death camps, walking from one gas barrack to another d visiting the crematoriums and the Auschwitz Museum. There they saw the hair shaven off women, the collection of suitcases still carrying the names of All that time they were saying ' that they could not believe what they saw. Some Arabs could not proceed Th6y stopped during the visit ano stayed behind. "At one point I said to myself, 'Why did I come here, why did I not stay at home in Nazareth?' " said Tawftk, a bank manager. "I ar telling you, I read books, I n movies, but until I came here saw this, I did not have the faintest idea of what the Shoah was like." " e sallae We leave here not th people that came here," said Jail abu-Tuameh, former mayor of Bal al-Gharbiya. " . Nazir Majali, one of the org ers of the group, said they wer aetermined to enlarge the circle d, call on the rest of the Arab and M" lim world to join this act of reconCil" iation. "We shall not be deterred by e critics, said Majali, the former exlt- tor of a communist newspaper. , . The visit ended with a briet cer emony at the Death Wall it1 Auschwitz. After reading thr chapters from Psalms, an Arab ano- Jewish woman laid wreaths and tlae group sang a song written by H aa a Szenes. The young Jewish P.. . "God" goes the song; qettt  t end for ever, the light, the song ,,ot [ the waves, and the prayer of naan. 1 50th A nnual Meeting of the Jewish C om munity Cente of South Hampton Roads Tuesday June 10, 2003 5:30 -7:00 pm 7300 Newport Avenue Norfolk, Virginia 23505 State of the Center- Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow Honoring of Our Presidents Elec=don of Trustees Recognition of Staff Members