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Faces on Faith: Rickets, airstrikes and ceramic tiles

By Staff | May 21, 2019

Rev. Dr. John H. Danner

Earlier this month I co-led an interfaith trip to Israel with Rabbi Stephen Fuchs of Bat Yam – Temple of the Islands. While we were there tensions erupted in Israel, as they often do, and hundreds of rockets were fired from the Gaza strip into the southern part of the country. Israel responded with airstrikes over Gaza. Many were injured and some killed on both sides. We were scheduled to go to the border between Israel and Gaza, and almost changed our itinerary. But then a cease fire was declared, and the rockets and airstrikes ended. So, we went ahead with our scheduled visit. But is was a powerful reminder for us all, as my co-leader Rabbi Fuchs put it, we can change our itinerary, but folks who live here can’t.

I am so grateful we didn’t have to change it. For we had the opportunity to meet with Tsmaret Zamir, a woman who has lived in the collective Moshav Netiv HaAsara with her husband and children, for twenty years now. The threats of attack are ever present, and scatted all around her community are bomb shelters. And every home has a safe room. And when the sirens go off indicated a rocket has been launched, they have five seconds to get to safety. Five seconds. But, Tsmaret told us, “This is my home.” And she has no intention of moving. But she does intend to work for the day when the rockets and airstrikes stop. And so she has founded an organization called Path to Peace. And she has opened her home to visitors to hear about her efforts and those of others to bring about peace.

Between the Gaza Strip and Israel there is a border fence. And around the collective there is a wall. Between the two there is a section of land, not more than one hundred yards wide. When you step into that space you are looking right across the border. And folks at the other side are looking right at you.

Tsmaret is a ceramic tile artist, and so she decided to put her skills to work for peace. Along the wall that surrounds her collective, facing right into Gaza, she has created a mural, covered with peace symbols, and the words for peace in English, Arabic and Hebrew. She has created thousands of brightly colored tiles, some with words or symbols for peace, others with splotches of color. When she takes visitors to that open space, she invites them to take a tile, write a prayer or encouraging word on the back of it, and then adhere it to the wall. We each had the opportunity to do just that. Imagine what her children are learning – lessons about courage, dedication to home, and a willingness to take risks for peace.

So what lessons, what values, have you passed on as a mother, a father, an aunt, an uncle? What truths have you shared with your grandchildren, your nieces, your nephews or even the kids down the street What we say, what we do, can indeed make all the difference in the world we will leave behind. Because, as the old song from South Pacific reminds us, you’ve got to be carefully taught to hate – but you’ve also got to be carefully taught to love and respect the stranger, the person across the border, the person of differing religious beliefs.

The Rev. Dr. John H. Danner is the senior pastor at Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ.