Putting together the peace

Putting together the peace

Abraham was the father of two peoples, those who became the Jews and those who became the Arabs, so the Abraham Fund, a group trying to build a peaceful future in Israel for those two peoples, who make up the majority of Israel’s citizens, decided to use his name to advance their cause.

Michael Greenberg

Instead of dwelling on the past, or bemoaning a hypothetical future, though, the Abraham Fund is working hard on the present, running a series of programs in which Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs work together in the name of just getting along.

"Arab-Israelis make up 19 percent of the country’s population," said Michael Greenberg, the Abraham Fund’s development director. "Our mission is to promote a society in Israel where they have as equal opportunity and status as Jewish Israelis. If Israeli society does not address this issue, it’s inviting the Israeli-Arab population to become disenfranchised and alienated, and radicalized."

So, said Greenberg, who lives in Hackensack, the Abraham Fund has set up a number of initiatives in which both populations can work together on social problems.

The fund, which operates on a budget of roughly $3 million, also runs a project called "Mirkam," which literally means weaving, through which Jews and Arabs work on development issues in the Galilee, one of Israel’s poorer and more underdeveloped areas.

A professional and lay leadership board, made up of Arabs and Jews, works together to bring tourism to the area — not just to individual Arab or Israeli towns.

The Abraham Fund is also contracting with Israel’s national police to work on sensitivity training so that Israeli police can better deal with an Arab population that is often skeptical of the primarily Jewish authorities.

Along those lines, the group has started a neighborhood watch group made up of unarmed Arab and Jewish teenagers who patrol both Arab and Jewish neighborhoods together.

Participation in the projects is about 50-50, Arab-Jewish, said Greenberg, who is based in New York, but frequently visits Israel.

"When I was there in September, I met a number of Arab teenagers who were part of the patrol project," he said. "I asked one of them, ‘Why are you interested in doing this?’ He said, "My father owns a small restaurant. I work in the restaurant. We make a nice living, but I never have any contact with Israeli Jews because I live in an Arab town. It’s important for me to feel that I am Israeli like everyone else, and I want to understand others, including Jewish Israelis.’"

Greenberg, 50, became interested in working on improving Israeli Jewish and Arab relationships through his work with the UJA Federation of New York, and before that the Jewish Community Relations Council of one of the precursors to UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.

Greenberg, who grew up in Newark, actually started the local JCRC in the early 1980s, and helped found the inter-ethnic and interreligious Bergen County Human Relations Council, which ‘0 years ago started the area’s annual Interfaith Brotherhood/Sisterhood Committee brunch.

From the local JCRC, Greenberg went to work for the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (now called the Jewish Council for Public Affairs), the national umbrella group that oversees all local JCRCs, then in 1990 for New York’s UJA ederation.

Part of his responsibilities for both organizations was working on Jewish-Muslim relations.

The Abraham Fund, which was founded in 1989, has not changed its mission since the second intifada began in ‘000, he said. If anything, the intifada has made the organization and others understand that its mission is increasingly important.

"Israel faces many, many challenging issues, but increasingly if you look at the leadership and polls in Israel, people understand that the status of Israeli Arabs is something that Israel has to address in a serious way," he said, explaining that most Israeli Arabs would rather live in Israel than in a Muslim state. "If it is not done, Israel will be creating a serious social problem for itself."

"New Voices, New Visions, New Hopes," the ‘006 Abraham Fund Initiatives benefit, is set for Thursday, April 6, at Capitale in Manhattan, Six young Jewish and Arab Israeli coexistence activists will be honored. For information, call (‘1’) 316-3’79. For information about the fund, go to www.abrahamfund.org.

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