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Creating a Space for Learning and Dialogue, in Good Times and Bad

By Daniel E. Levenson, ALM

March 25, 2011


Several times this past week I have found myself discussing the various political, humanitarian and military challenges facing the world when it comes to recent events in the Middle East and North Africa. Since last weekend we have seen an increase in violence in several places, including between Israel and the Palestinians, with Hamas openly launching rockets from Gaza into Israel and a bombing at Jerusalem’s Central bus station. Israel has responded to these unwarranted provocations and other attempts at infiltration by Palestinian terrorists by fighting back, heightening tensions along the Gaza border. Meanwhile, in Libya, America and its allies have found themselves in the middle of a civil war, staging an intervention that the Arab League was quick to countenance and just as quick to withdraw their open support for. In my conversations this past week one of the things that kept coming up again and again is the importance of trying to foster greater understanding between individuals and communities – to allow for space in which people can tell their own stories and get to know each other as human beings.


This is a theme which came up during a brief conversation I had with Rob Leikind, Director of the American Jewish Committee office in Boston, ahead of a planned joint event between the AJC and the American Islamic Congress, which will take place in Boston this coming week. This meeting, part of a  series entitled “Witnesses Initiative: Stories of Repression and Redemption” aims to bring together members of the local Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities in order to hear the personal stories of people who have suffered from human rights abuses in the Middle East, something which Mr. Leikind pointed out, I think quite rightly, often gets drowned out in arguments by louder arguments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He added that of course the latter conflict deserves our attention, but that there are also many cases of horrific violence going on in the Middle East under the watch of authoritarian regimes, including violence against Christians and women. When he said this I immediately thought of the New year’s bombing of Coptic Christians in Egypt this year, an incident which injured many people and yet garnered comparatively little outcry either within the Middle East or the United States.


Personally I agree that when it comes to the moral obligations of the American Jewish community we should be more vocal out about both the problem of the on-going Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as the overall brutal repression of human rights in the Middle East. This is why I have always said that in addition to the New Vilna Review’s mission of exploring modern Jewish identity, we also have a responsibility to write about issues that touch on core Jewish values, including human rights; This is why we published an interview with Libyan human rights activist Mohamed ElJahmi in December of last year in which he discussed the now more widely known level of abuse that Qaddafi has been subjecting his people to for years. This is also is why we published a piece on the work of Amnesty International Northeast Regional Director Joshua Rubenstein, who has been a tireless advocate for human rights victims for 35 years. This is why I continue, as the publisher of this journal, to reach out to members of other ethnic, religious and national communities here in Boston and beyond, to try and build bridges of understanding, so that when problems arise or there is a need for everyone to come together, say, to advocate for better treatment of women in the Muslim world for example, we already have relationships and connections with one another. I think that for those of us who are working desperately to encourage a final, peaceful end to the Arab-Israeli conflict in its many shapes and forms, there is a realization that it will not be enough to achieve only the end of open hostilities (although this is a vital step) but that if we want a lasting peace we must also be willing to open doors to more normative, day-to-day, human interactions. The more opportunities we can create for such discussions and exchanges to take place, the closer I think we will come to a day when both Jews and Arabs will be willing (and feel comfortable enough) to not only put down their weapons, but begin to see each other as people – if peace is what we desire we can endeavor to achieve nothing less. Furthermore, it is my belief that if we can achieve this goal, we will see a greater respect for human rights and the building of stronger civil societies in the Arab world, something that will benefit the lives of millions of people who have lived for far too long in the shadow of fear and repression.



Copyright Daniel E. Levenson/The New Vilna Review 2011. Full disclosure: the writer of this editorial is a member of the Boston AJC Access Global Circle group.


Welcome to the New Vilna Review

*A Note From the Publisher - February 8, 2012*


Dear readers and contributors,

The New Vilna Review has been going through some changes the past few

months, and our focus has shifted to offering an expanded selection of

poetry, fiction and arts writing. We are once again accepting submissions,

and look forward to continuing to publish some of the most interesting and

thought provoking work in the world of Jewish arts and letters.

-Daniel E. Levenson

Publisher and Editor-in-Chief

The New Vilna Review



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