I am presently on my first visit to Israel and will share some of my experiences with my readership. Today I was very excited and emotional after visiting the home of a Jaffa family. Their names are Ehub and Ora Balha. Prior to the 1947 war of Israel independence, Ehub’s Family had a restaurant with some land and lived happily in Jaffa. Then the war came, and 97% of the Arab population fled, most leaving the land to other countries. Only his grandfather stayed. After three years, his father, age 13, returned to Jaffa with his grandmother (his father’s mother). Some of the family died as a result of the war and their exodus from Jaffa. She eventually married and had 8 children, 6 boys of which Ehub was in the middle. He was brought up to hate the Jews as were all of the Arabs in Jaffa and elsewhere. When he finally graduated from high school, he went to work in his father’s restaurant serving tourists, many Jews, and smiling but hiding his hate of Jews behind the smiles.
One Thursday, an angry, large framed, loud Jewish man came into the family restaurant and wanted to express his hatred for the Arabs. After creating a bit of a row, he left. Ehub’s hatred was more confirmed then ever. Two weeks later, the man returned, this time carrying some documents to prove that the Arabs were troublemakers, warmongers and hateful people. He stayed about an hour, then left. This process repeated over and over again every two weeks and soon Ehub started to accumulate written material to counter the Jew’s arguments. The arguments were heated and went on for cycles over many, many months. It seemed that Ehub started to look forward to these encounters, because it helped him express who he was and understand his faith in Islam better. As another Thursday’s came closer, Ehub prepared more and more material, enough to impress and win the argument with the Jew.
One Thursday, after the usual, somewhat less heated argument happened, the Jew said to Ehub, “Let’s argue in private. Come to my home in Telaviv” and gave him his address. Torn between his logic not to go and his curiosity to go, he decided at the last moment to actually visit the Jew on the appointed Thursday. When he got there and the door slowly opened, that angry Jew was not angry anymore, but sad. He told Ehub that his wife walked out on him two days before and he was now all alone, lonely and very sad. The Jew cried and reached out for compassion which was instantly given by Ehub. They spent three hours talking about love, women and friendships.
Two weeks later, the Jew came to the restaurant and brought two Jewish friends to continue a dialogue of disagreement. Two weeks later, the Jew returned again with 4 more Jewish friends and Ehub matched those with 4 Arab friends. Four went to 8, then to 16 and soon the numbers were in the hundreds. The restaurant no longer could hold the visitors so Ehub looked for other venues. Eventually, 3000 people came to regular meetings that became a foundation of dialogue and understanding. Ehub traveled overseas with his story, met the DaliLama on one trip and learned much in a 1 hour 15 minute meeting with him. He learned more about tolerance to others and the beliefs of other peoples.
His family did not like what he was doing and disassociated with him for 5 years. Eventually, he persuaded his father to meet him at the restaurant and there happened to be he a Jew there. Some dialogue occurred. Every week, when he met with his father to make peace, there were two Jews present (planted by Ehub), then 4, then 8 and then eventually his father opened up to his social causes with more tolerance. Eventually, his father and 4 of his 5 other brothers bonded again, and although though not happy with Ehub’s activities, they still loved him.
When Ehub was 35, his father said to him, you are the only 35 year old not married and you need a wife. So Ehub took the advice and started to look for a wife. On his first and only trip to Sinai, where he hoped he might find a wife, he didn’t like the partying nor the crowds, so he found a place 2 miles away at another beach and stayed there for 3 days. On the third day, there was a campfire and a beautiful woman who was dancing. He was dumb struck and senseless. Never before was he so overwhelmed by a woman, yet he said nothing to her, just sat and watched, totally love stuck. To his right were two Muslim women but to his left was an empty seat where the beautiful woman deposited herself. Breaking the ice, she asked him what the Muslims women were saying. He said that they were talking about her, how beautiful she was, what a great dancer she was (none of it true, of course). They talked briefly for about 20 minutes. It was getting late so he asked her where she would be in the morning and she responded that she was seeing a fortune teller at 10am. Stupidly, he said to her it was a coincidence because he too was seeing that fortune teller at 10am (lying through his teeth). They separated and he walked two miles to his hotel room, singing about love, kissing a lone Arab on the road and even kissing a standing camel. He never felt like this before. When he went to bed, he couldn’t fall asleep until about 5am thinking about her. When he woke 12 hours later, he realized he missed the 10am fortune teller and ran the two miles back to where he had last seen her. He searched for her for some time. Eventually, he found her again dancing by a fire. He sat and watched. When she stopped dancing, she sat next to him and the two said nothing for almost 20 minutes of silence. Then she broke the ice and said: “If you want me, you must marry me.” In Israel, an Arab and a Jew (Ora was Jewish) cannot be married, so they went to watch the dawn come, made the bonds together and married themselves. (In Islam, a Muslim man can marry a Jewish female as standard set by Mohammad). He was happy beyond belief and so was she. Neither told their parents.
Five months later, after having her visit the restaurant with other Jews frequently so that her father got to know who she was, he took the plunge. “Father, I have some wonderful news for you, with one little problem”. His father knew he must have met a woman but knowing that there was a problem asked: “Is it a divorced women?” No, Ehub responded. Then he asked: “Does she have some children?” “No,” Ehub responded. Finally, Ehub told his father who was his bride and the father and all of the brothers threw chairs at him and kicked him out of the restaurant. When he returned to his bride, he said “I have good news.” She waited and he followed: “I wasn’t killed”. Some years later when he had his first child, a son, his father started to warm up to her and as she has 5 more children, she seemed to be accepted because they knew who she was and saw the goodness in her heart.
The next problem that they had to tackle, was their children. How to educate them. So he asked his father for some land to build a kindergarten and he reluctantly agreed. They hired an Arab and a Jewish teacher and eventually built up that kindergarten plus 9 others in Jaffa and others elsewhere in Israel. He continues his organized meetings as a full-time activity and she formed a foundation for building schools for kindergarteners. He believes that the movement to tolerance will take time and it must be done through the younger generations. I have little doubt of Ehab and Ora’s conviction to a cause greater than themselves. If only those who hate so much, opened their hearts to see that we are all people capable of great love, then the world would be a better place.